Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Philae Calls Home

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I know, it’s in the news. I have been insanely busy, and not able to post, but this came along and I just had to add my two cents. The Philae lander, a probe that made the first landing on a comet, has returned to life after seven months in unintended frozen hibernation on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This is truly a historic moment in space exploration, I don’t think there’s ever been a case where communication was lost with a  probe, and then re-acquired months later. It’s a wonderful moment in an amazing mission in the ongoing Golden Age of space exploration. I will try to share my sense of awe and excitement. Humour me.

The twentieth century. It’s passed now, but it was packed with events. Most people now would talk of Hitler, communism, World Wars, assassinations, the rise of technology, etc. Future generations may remember it for one thing, on July 21 1969 humans first set foot on the Moon. The human exploration of the galaxy had begun. A true Golden Age of exploration had begun. When I was a kid all that was known of planets and bodies beyond Earth was a few fuzzy telescope pictures. All we knew about the Solar System (let alone the galaxy) could be summarized in a few pages in the beginning of atlases.

Well, a few decades later, and we have learned a few things. Dozens of probes have been sent out, some leaving the Solar System itself. And while many probes have been lost, most have succeeded. Humanity now has active probes all over the Solar System. Mars and the Moon are under continual satellite observation. It’s been the greatest Age of Exploration ever. Columbus re-discovered a few continents, we now discover new worlds almost daily.

And part of that exploration has been comets. As most people know, the Solar System is a bunch of planets orbiting the Sun. Also spinning around the Sun are small bodies of dirty ice, comets. Like Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, helpfully illustrated above. It’s about 3 km (2 miles) long, not very big compared to Earth, but still, a flying mountain in space. And while it was still outside the orbit of Mars, the next planet out from Earth, the Rosetta space probe went into orbit around it. It was in fact the first probe to orbit a comet. Comets are believed to be leftover stuff from the birth of the Solar System,  so it is hoped this probe will help understand the early Solar System, the same way the actual Rosetta Stone helped understand human’s early history.

And after it went into orbit, the Rosetta Probe dropped the Philae lander, a probe about the size of a washing machine, which was to hit the comet and anchor itself to the surface. Alas, the surface of the comet was harder than anyone expected, and instead of anchoring itself safely, the lander bounced. And bounced. And bounced. And landed somewhere shady, worked for a few days, then went to sleep because its solar panels were in the shade. And that was that, the lander had done some good science in its few days, and there was some possibility it would wake up again as the comet got closer to the Sun, but most people wrote it off as one of many lost probes.

Nope. It’s back. Philae has called home. It survived months in the dark at about 35 degrees Kelvin (-400F, -240C) in a complete vacuum. So cold human flesh would almost instantly freeze solid. So cold virtually every device humans have made would instantly break as parts of it contracted in the cold. So inhospitable to human life that it’s hard to imagine. And even if one was in the sunlight on Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it would result in a fatal sunburn. And yet our engineers and scientists were able to build a robotic machine that survived intact and dormant in this frighteningly extreme environment, and has returned to life to send us more data.

This is human ingenuity at its best. This shows that humans can build machines to work in environments so extreme they don’t exist on Earth. This shows a desire to understand reality that is on par with other great human endeavours. This accomplishment was science fiction just a  few decades ago. Fantasy if not madness a few centuries ago. We may be destroying our own planet, but we are simultaneously reaching for the stars. That Philae has returned to life is a good sign. Let us be happy.

No worries, future posts will be more depressing.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and copyright: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles. And because people just have to know, if comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko was to hit Earth (it can’t) the results would be catastrophic. It would make a 40 km (25 mile) wide crater for starters. Continent wide devastation, global effects. It would be the worst disaster to ever befall the human race. It might even interfere with publication of this blog.)

Written by unitedcats

June 15, 2015 at 6:52 pm

June 8 1967, Another Day that Lives in Infamy, the Attack on the USS Liberty. Yada Yada Yada.

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USS_Liberty

Ah, the USS Liberty incident. June 8 1967, the USS Liberty, a “technical research ship,” IE a spy ship, is in international waters off the coast of Egypt. This was during the Six Day War, when Israel was fighting Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Israeli air and naval forces repeatedly attacked the USS Liberty, despite the fact that it was clearly marked as a US vessel. 34 crewmen were killed, 171 (or 174) were injured, and the vessel was badly damaged. Afterwards, both the US and Israel concluded it had been an accident, and Israel paid tens of millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the dead and wounded. Many people did not accept this explanation, and controversy and conspiracy theory roils to this day. Two survivors run a website dedicated to exposing the alleged cover-up.

The whole Liberty incident from beginning to end is rather complicated. I’m not going into the nuts and bolts of it, because it’s not really relevant to this post. And I don’t imagine I can add anything when countless others have examined the ins and outs of it, I certainly don’t know if the attack was deliberate or not. It might have been, and one or both governments might have conspired to cover up the truth. These sorts of things have happened, and while they sometimes get cleared up in the decades or centuries after the fact, sometimes they don’t. It’s safe to say that unless there are some revelations, we peasants will never know for sure how it was that Israel repeatedly attacked a US ship.

However, there is one aspect of this incident where my opinion has changed. Or at least grown more nuanced. Much has been made of the fact that the ship was clearly marked as an American ship. Which to many people’s way of thinking makes it impossible that attackers didn’t recognize this, and thus must have deliberately attacked an American ship. Alas, what science now knows about human perception, especially under stress, is that our perception is really inaccurate. If the pilots and sailors involved were told they would be attacking an Egyptian ship, it would be quite understandable if that is exactly what they saw. The image we see is created by our brains, and our expectations and focus can affect what we perceive. The attackers didn’t see the American flag and markings because they were focused on other things, and not expecting to see an American flag and markings. The same way these people didn’t see the gorilla.

Does this mean we can’t trust our own eyes? Nope. Nor our brains either. Add to that the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s a wonder that we make any progress at all. Still, here we are. Trying to make sense of it all. At least some of us. Are there any other lessons in the Liberty Incident? None that I can think of, it certainly wasn’t of strategic or even tactical importance. If the ship had been sunk, it might have made more of a public impact, but that would have faded. If the Liberty hadn’t been attacked, I can’t imagine how that would have changed history. One of the dead would have gone on and been the next Hitler? Seems pretty unlikely. In my final analysis, these deaths, like most war deaths, didn’t really mean much at all. Soldiers are cannon fodder, dying in wars is part of the job. And what a sucky job that is. How many other jobs involve people trying to kill you? Hockey. Politics. That’s about it.

Aside from the Liberty Incident, did the Six Day War have any other influence on history? Yes, even if the gentle reader has never heard of it. (Sometime I forget that I am above the median human age, and many people don’t remember the sixties because they weren’t alive yet.) It was a very important war, as war importance goes. Almost anything I say about it will be controversial. Or cause offence to some people. They aren’t the same, despite what generations of Evolution deniers maintain. For one it established that Israel had absolute military superiority over their neighbours. It also put Israel in control of all of Palestine, and the Golan heights, which were not traditionally part of Palestine. Ultimately, it got the nations bordering Israel out of the mix, Egypt and Jordan at least. Both sensibly decided that Israel could have the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and that was the end of noise about “driving Israel into the sea.

And of course with Israel ultimately at peace with its neighbours, the now safe Jewish homeland of Israel made a just settlement with the Palestinians who also now lived in Israel, and everyone lived happily ever after. Alas, no. Israel had the land, but didn’t want the people living there because they weren’t Jewish. And since then has worked to steadily disenfranchise, legitimize, impoverish, and demonize their Palestinian neighbours, while bit by bit stealing their land. Fortunately all is not hopeless, many Palestinians and Israelis are working peacefully for a just solution to the Palestine problem. I in fact I am joining JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace, and will be posting more on the topic in the near future. (Honestly, some readers were surprised by that? I hope.)

(The above image is from Wikipedia, so I am assuming it is public domain. In any event it’s not being used for profit, yada yada yada. And can someone explain to me why yada yada yada is not in my spelling dictionary? It’s been in the OED for a decade or more. We have computers now people, we’re supposed to keep up with stuff like this. Sheesh.)

Written by unitedcats

June 8, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Yesterday, a Forgotten Battle. Today, One That is a Bit More Familiar. June 6 1944, D-Day.

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June 6th 1944. The day John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Sean Connery waded ashore in Normandy. Oh wait, that was the movie. It was a good movie, at least that’s what I recall. I plan on watching it again soon, I see that it’s on Netflix. What an age we live in, I can have a movie I watched in my childhood beamed into my room. Plus 871 billion cat pictures.  So, 71 years ago, the largest wartime invasion in history. And the most carefully planned military operation in history. It’s a big deal, no doubt about it. I’m sure there’s all sorts of articles about it, as always I hope to add at least some perspective. Or have some fun.

Could the invasion have failed? Eisenhower was prepared for that eventuality, he had a statement ready in case the invasion was a failure. German troops might have secret weapons, Rommel might pull off a brilliant feat. His worst fear must have been that the Germans had found out about the Allied plan and were ready for them. In any event, that didn’t happen, the Allies successfully fooled the Germans into thinking the attack would happen at Calais, 200 miles (300 km) away from Normandy. And in fact, extensive wargaming has shown that the invasion couldn’t have failed in any military sense, the forces the Allies deployed had an overwhelming advantage. The Allies for example flew more than 10,000 air sorties on D-Day. Two (count them) German fighter planes made a quick strafing run of the landing beaches. No, the only way the invasion realistically could have failed was if the weather had turned really really bad and stayed that way for weeks. Thus keeping Allied aircraft on the ground and limiting Allied shipping to the landing zone. Didn’t happen, and the Allies won a great victory and opened up the western front in the war against Hitler’s Nazi occupied Europe.

There’s a few common misconceptions about D-Day, as astute readers may know. While it was a great victory, and it hastened the end of the war, the war was already over before the D-Day landings. The Germans had suffered catastrophic defeats in Russia, and the Russian juggernaut had grown so huge that there was no question Soviet armies would be rolling into Berlin. D-Day was also not just an American affair, which one wouldn’t know from watching Saving Private Ryan. Only two of the five landing beaches were American, two were British, and one was Canadian. 25 Australians also came ashore, and I’m sure a scattering of other nationalities. 150,000 men … and one woman.

Losses were less that the Allies had planned for. Maybe 3,000 dead. Only one warship was sunk, an American destroyer, the USS Cory, was hit and destroyed by German shore batteries. It may have also hit  a mine, and that’s the official story, not that it really matters. Over 100 aircraft were shot down by German antiaircraft fire, losses the Allies could easily afford. On D-Day the Allied soldiers were ordered not to take prisoners. That part Saving Private Ryan got right. The order was not always followed though, I mean, the Germans were white people. Japanese soldiers, yeah, they rarely made it to the prison camps. I digress. One group of soldiers surrendered to a passing American ship, not all the Nazi defenders were enthusiastic in their service to the Reich.

In any event, I’m not trying to discredit the American and Allied accomplishment. Perspective is everything. Just trying to strip it of jingoistic nationalistic nonsense. And see it for what it was, one of the great military efforts in history.  And a great success, thanks to the careful planning … and the disaster during Exercise Tiger in April, where the deaths of hundreds of American GIs in a training exercise showed that there were some kinks in the plan still. In any event, I have no great wisdom to impart. I’ve no doubt written about D-day before, it just seemed like a good topic to get back into blogging with.

Lastly, yes, the picture I chose is somewhat grim. A dead American soldier on the beach. In today’s weird insulated media world where to Americans the only danger from war is the unlikely chance one will get electrocuted by their PlayStation, I just thought it was a reminder that no matter how great the victory, afterwards the victors have to clean up the bodies of their dead friends.  One would think that might make people want to avoid wars, but I’m an optimist. One other point about World War Two, is that we still pretended soldiers coming home from wars were heroes, and couldn’t admit they had problems. Most people I know who had fathers who saw combat in World War Two said pretty much the same thing about them. They never wanted to talk about it, and it haunted them all their lives. Yes, World War Two veterans had high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. War is not healthy, and many of its survivors will be sick for life.

Even now this war is fading into history. Most of the veterans are long dead,  in a few decades the last will die and World War Two will slip from memory into history.

(The above image was taken by a US government employee and is thus Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s what I said it was, I don’t know his name. I did promise some fun, but the only D-Day joke I could find was kind of lame. And, full disclosure, the PlayStation comment isn’t original.)

Written by unitedcats

June 6, 2015 at 9:59 pm

Posted in History, Movies, War

“For Sale, Iraqi Army M-16, Never Fired, Only Dropped Once.”

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I’m trying to have a sense of humour about the dreadful situation in Iraq and Syria, but it’s hard. It’s been going from bad to worse for two weeks now as the ISIS blitz continues. They have consolidated their control of Northern and Western Iraq and are tightening the noose on Baghdad. It’s pretty clear at this point that the Iraqi army is an army in name only, they just keep running when the ISIS attacks as town after town falls without a fight. Some Iraqi special forces are trapped in the refinery in Baiji and have held out for days, but they can’t run and know surrender means almost certain death, so not surprising they are fighting. The Iraqi government has been unable to relieve them as the ISIS controls the roads to Baiji. There’s no question the ISIS has captured huge stores of military goods, captured Humvees have already been used to capture a town in Syria. How long Baghdad will hold out is anyone’s guess, but they are using volunteers with a weeks military training to fill the gaps left by massive desertion in the Iraqi army.

And if the situation wasn’t bad enough, just today Israel launched major air strikes against the Assad regime’s military in Syria. Assad was making progress, but his forces were being bolstered by Iranian supplies and Shia fighters from Iraq. Well, the ISIS has cut the roads to Iran, and the Shia fighters are returning home to defend Baghdad. It seems crazy on Israel’s part, they’d prefer the ISIS to win? Apparently an anti-tank gun fired from Syria killed an Israeli teenager in the Golan Heights. I can’t imagine that Assad would provoke Israel that way, makes me wonder if the ISIS tricked Israel into attacking their enemy. I can only suspect that Israel has decided that the situation is hopeless, and they want it to get worse so they have an excuse to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the so called “transfer” plan.

In other words, I think this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I don’t really see how the situation can be stabilized. US air strikes aren’t going to stop the ISIS, if anything they will strengthen it. And it would be unpopular in the US and put Americans at risk. Washington doesn’t have any good options I can see, and is paralyzed by partisan politics. One of the most amazing aspects of this is that the architects of the US invasion of Iraq, people that lied us into an invasion and were utterly wrong on every count, are now sought out by the media as “experts” on the crisis. This is why I refer it it as the “lamestream media.” At least in other countries they have real experts on the news. On the plus side, at least we know since they were wrong about the invasion, and still haven’t admitted it was a disaster, it’s safe to say every word out of their mouths now is garbage. Still garbage I mean.

So what now? Who knows. I think this is the worst international crisis in decades, and I don’t see it going anywhere but downhill from here. I think the Maliki Regime will collapse. We might see Iran with Russian help hold onto the oil fields in Southern Iraq. The Assad regime’s days are numbered, and with the ISIS in charge, Israel will expel millions of Palestinians into Syria, making what is already a horrific humanitarian catastrophe all the worse.  And a defacto caliphate in Iraq and Syria, with an independent Kurdistan to boot. Even this scenario could be optimistic, this could be the start of  a much larger war or even a  world war.

My current take on history falls into the “punctuated equilibrium” realm. IE history is long periods of more or less stasis, with smaller periods of “shit happens.” And no one ever correctly calls the specific results when the shit is coming down. Could I be freaking out? Maybe. Will this affect us in the USA? Not likely. I do think now is a good idea to fill those extra gas cans. The price of oil is going up, and there might even be temporary disruptions of supplies. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Lastly, the human aspect. Imagine what people in Baghdad are going through now. For the second time in a decade conquering forces are approaching the city. A city of seven million people. I can’t imagine. I really can’t. God save us all.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit. Etc. I hope I don’t have to majorly update this tomorrow. What a mess.)

Written by unitedcats

June 23, 2014 at 12:28 am

Posted in History, Iran, Iraq, War, World

Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, Iraq Crisis

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baquba

Tuesday Morning. Don’t really have time for a full review. Christians are fleeing to what is now effectively Kurdistan. The Kurds have announced they have no interest in helping the Maliki regime recapture Mosul. No kidding, they have their homeland and they are digging in, at some point soon I would expect them to declare independence. And fighting has gotten closer to Baghdad, the ISIS appear to have resumed their push south. The city of Baquba is being fought over, less than 40 miles from Baghdad. It’s an important city of 500,000, many whom are fleeing south. I think the image is Iraqi volunteers heading north out of Baghdad.

Tuesday Evening. The ISIS appears to be advancing on Baghdad. A few larger perspective points. Right now, the events of the past week appear to have been game changers. I don’t see how the clock can be turned back and the “status quo,” whatever that was, will be restored. I think that the Sykes–Picot Agreement, the unnatural borders imposed on the former Ottoman Empire by France and England after World War One, may finally be unravelling. A major war may be in the offing, no one knows how those ever turn out. The ISIS advance so far has been stunning and almost unprecedented. Certainly in recent history. Other points:

“It’s Obama’s Fault.” Sigh. Well, at least the GOP is consistent. Anything bad is Obama’s fault. On the first pass, Obama’s foreign policy was the same as Bush’s foreign policy in any significant regard, so, wtf? Secondly, Bush was the one that invaded Iraq on lies followed by an occupation based on wishful thinking. Bush couldn’t fix the mess he created in his six years, so it’s Obama’s fault he couldn’t fix it? I don’t think anyone expected the ISIS to explode, although I was raising alarms a few months back, but the GOP certainly wasn’t. In any event looking for blame in a situation like this is like blaming Pearl Harbor on Roosevelt. Which the GOP didn’t do. The rise of the ISIS is the worst crisis the US has faced since 9/11, partisan politics has no place here. At the very least they should tone it down and try to help.

As a codicil to this, the people who thought the invasion of Iraq was such a great idea in the first place are now doubling down. Excuse me, but could we just give Senator McCain and his ilk rifles and send them to Iraq? Misguided US military action is what created this mess, it’s clearly not the solution. As Obama recently said, paraphrasing here, “Just because you have the best hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.” Sure, the US military could likely recapture Mosul and the rest more or less with ease. Then what? The ISIS would just melt into the population and wait for us to leave. They aren’t from Mars for God’s sake, they live there.

Which is the last point, the Manichean heresy. In essence, the idea that there are good guys and bad guys. And by extension the idea that if the good guys just kill all the bad guys, everything will be just fine. (That’s been tried repeatedly, it never works.)  Or as the Manichean heresy might be called today: the 12 year old boy’s comic book view of the world. The ugly truth is that people are people, they are all pretty much the same, and differences between them are due to circumstances and history, not inherent good/evilness. I’m not saying there aren’t just wars, and indeed people like Hitler do show up. My point is that when leaders say “They are the bad guys, we must wage war,” it’s not a logical argument. The first is simplistic at best, the later is a does not follow argument.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. There are other points I should toss out for discussion. Like the fact that this could result in a huge loss of American influence in the world. Two Saudi Arabias, neither of which require the US as an Ally. Sleep tight.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit. It is arguably an historic image. I will gladly properly attribute it if I find out who to attribute it too. God save us all.)

 

Written by unitedcats

June 17, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Patomskiy Crater, a Real Earth Mystery

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Well, there it is. Patomsky Crater. A 40m high crater in remote Siberia. Discovered in 1949 by a geologist named Vadim Kolpakov. Well, discovered by the outside world, the locals had known of it. It was made sometime in the past few centuries. How was it made? That’s the mystery. Geologists have been studying it for decades, and they still don’t know. Yes, scientists don’t know how this pile of rock was made. I’d say it was like a crop circle made of stones, but scientists know how crop circles are made.

What could it be? At first it was thought maybe it was something that Stalin had made by gulag labour. It’s certainly possible, he had some odd things done.  However, geologists visiting the site ruled that out, it is clearly a natural formation. One possibility was that maybe it was some sort of explosion caused by uranium ore going critical. Something similar happened in Gabon, Africa, some 1.3 billion years ago. Alas, no Uranium or radioactivity has been found, so that idea was ruled out. Impact? Well, some scientists still think so. In fact for awhile it was thought it might be related to the Tunguska impact of 1908. Alas, no meteoric material has been found. And its date has been pinned down to about 250 years ago, long before the Tunguska event.

So, volcano? Well, there’s no volcanic rock in the region. The crater itself is made of limestone, hardly a volcanic materiel. There’s no volcanoes or extinct volcanoes in the region. And it doesn’t resemble any known volcanic crater. Still, most geologists think it must be some sort of eruptive process. Some geologic process heated ground water causing one or more phreatic eruptions. Research continues.

The significance of this discovery? It’s interesting on several levels. The first thing is that it is an example of the limits of science. Lay people, especially fundamentalist religious types, often seem to be under the impression that scientists know everything. No, they don’t. In fact it’s safe to say that what scientists don’t know is vastly, maybe infinitely, greater than what they do know. Every new scientific discovery expands the boundaries of what we know … and expands the boundaries of what we don’t know. It’s certain religions that claim to understand everything, most scientists long ago got over that conceit.

Anything else? Well, the woo woo crowd has weighed in. Some have claimed that Patomskiy Crater is a crashed UFO. Some reports claim that a cylindrical object has been identified buried in the crater. I’m pretty sure if Russian geologists had actually identified some mysterious object was buried in the crater, it would have been excavated promptly. Still, it’s not a big topic in the woo woo crowd. Which in and of itself says something. they aren’t really interested in mysteries, only mysteries that can be easily folded into their pseudoscience view of the world.

Yes, I’ve become more intolerant of science deniers. The religious ones are worse, because they are destroying the political process in the USA. That’s a story for another post. The woo woo ones, well, they aren’t helping. Because science doesn’t yet doesn’t have an answer for something, UFOs aren’t the default. Or angels. It’s the beauty and wonder of the world, science has discovered that there is no need for supernatural explanations, and right now UFOs are as supernatural as angels and demons.

So, what created Patomskiy Crater? I’ll certainly go with the scientific consensus. Some sort of as yet unexplained geologic process. Still, the exotic impact theory hasn’t yet been ruled out. Exotic as being an impact of something other than the typical stone or ion meteorite. Something much denser than either. The universe is stranger than we can imagine, Patomskiy Crater is proof of that.

And the most wonderful thing about science, when it does explain Patomskiy Crater, it will make our understanding of the world a little bit bigger. We will not understand everything, but the more we understand, the safer we are. Our campfire in the dark gets a little brighter.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the case. I don’t know who the copyright holder is. And lastly, a joke. Some claim that the Tunguska event was caused by Nikola Tesla. Enjoy.)

Written by unitedcats

May 28, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Posted in History, Science, World

The US Goverment Offers Crimea to Putin on a Silver Platter, Then Freaks Out When He Accepts Their Gift

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Invaders In Flight

Ukraine. Crimea. Putin. Russia. What a mess. If the gentle reader can’t find Crimea on a map, fair warning, this post might make them angry. That’s what the comment section is for. Here goes: By any definition, the Russian actions in Ukraine far more fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention” than say, the US invasion of Iraq. I think the death toll was, what, zero? And the majority of people in Crimea actually wanted to be part of Russia, not living in Ukraine … especially a Ukraine with a nationalistic government that clearly wanted to treat ethnic Russians as second class citizens. While Putin’s actions were clearly self-serving, Crimea is of paramount strategic importance to Russia, the idea that this is some sort of Hitleresque invasion is nonsense. US foreign policy has become so knee jerk and predictable that it’s easy for clever mofos like Putin to take advantage of them. And that’s exactly what happened, the US in it’s mindless zeal to expand NATO and the EU right up to the Kremlin’s doorstep essentially handed Crimea to Putin.

How’s that? How much the US influenced the ouster of the democratically elected government in Ukraine is debatable, but they certainly played a role, possibly a large role. And they got their wish, the government of Ukraine was overthrown and a government much more to their liking (profoundly anti-Russian) was installed. (This was not some sort of popular revolution against a dictatorship, it was mob rule at its ugliest.) A “government” who decided that their first order of business was to pass laws diminishing the status of Russian speakers in Ukraine. A government that the US immediately recognized as legitimate. And this is where the shortsightedness of America’s current policy becomes clear. What, exactly, did they think Putin was going to do? Did it even cross their minds that Putin might do exactly as he did some years earlier in Georgia, send in the troops to protect Russia’s interests? Apparently not, since their reaction to Putin’s move has been mindless hysterics. As is the case with so much of America’s modern foreign policy, there was no plan B.

Even the sanctions are looking to be a joke. The Europeans are in no mood for an actual economic war with Russia or something as mindless as a resumption of the “Cold War.” So the US is reduced to histrionics. I suspect that after all is said and done, Crimea will remain part of Russia, and the US will blame the “loss” of Crimea on its allies … and carry right on with further ill conceived foreign meddling. There will not be a resumption of the Cold War, there will not be World War Three, nor does this have any similarities to the rise of Hitler. The fact that the US media and most Americans can only think about foreign policy in terms of cartoonish similarities to past events is a wonderful example of how uneducated the public discourse has become in modern America. And sadly many of our leaders are just as uneducated and shallow in their world view. This is what happens when religion and ideology become the basis for getting into office, you get parrots spouting nonsense to their base instead of educated people trying to run the country effectively.

On the plus side, boy, Putin came out of this smelling like a rose, demonizations in the western press notwithstanding. In one fell swoop he humiliated the USA, reasserted Russia’s historic control of Crimea, brought large numbers of ethnic Russians back into Russia … and made himself one of the most popular leaders in recent Russian history. His approval ratings are the envy of Obama and Congress. The lesson here of course is that foreign policy needs to be based on a  realistic assessment of the world. “Might makes right” does work sometimes, but it’s not a substitute for things like diplomacy and common sense. And instigating trouble in Ukraine made about as much sense as Russia trying to stir up trouble in Canada or Mexico. Even if they succeeded, and a pro-Russian government came to power in either, the chances the USA would sit back and do nothing would be zero. Yet that’s exactly what the US did in Ukraine, and then acted shocked and surprised when Putin did exactly what any sober assessment of the situation would have strongly suspected was a possible consequence.

Watching US foreign policy is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It’s also a wonderful illustration of one of the definitions of insanity. Insanity is repeating the same actions, but expecting different results. The US will continue to meddle in “unfriendly” governments, and continue to achieve results that weren’t what it expected, or even the opposite of what was expected. It’s easy to destabilize a government and make a mess of things, it’s much harder to put together the pieces afterwards. Maybe someday Washington will learn that.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s German soldiers retreating from Crimea during World War Two. Foreign armies have been fighting in Crimea for centuries, one can only hope we don’t backslide that far this time.)

Written by unitedcats

March 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in History, Propaganda, War, World

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