Myths do play in war. And legends in the history of war. Temporal myths drive leaders and their armies to war. Legends venerate leaders and armies who not only win the fight but also brought peace and prosperity to their people.
Here are some of the myths I see that are playing and colliding with each other in the making and protraction of the war in Ukraine.
- There is only one side of the story—Putin just wants to attack and conquer Ukraine
Russia is huge and has already what it takes to maintain itself and thrive. Ukraine does not. Besides, Ukraine is large enough to conquer. For Putin, with significant intelligence background (more than Zelensky and Western leaders), conquering the whole of Ukraine does not make sense.
A more pragmatic view is that Putin is trying to protect Russia’s border from a perceived invasion by NATO via Ukraine, and secure contested areas mostly populated by Russians. Biden’s lack of diplomacy allowed the conflict to escalate into war. And as the Pope pointed out the war was either provoked or not prevented.
Portraying Russia as a threat to Europe is not sensible. Russia is even having difficulty quickly winning the war in Ukraine, more so conquering the whole of Europe. The phobia of the Russian invasion of Europe is the residue of an imagined reality of the Cold War mentality. Unless, of course, there are deeply hidden agendas. One may speculate that the Commonwealth of Independent States is a sort of revival of the Soviet Empire but Ukraine is also a part of it. And CIS is composed of independent states. It is no different from the British Commonwealth of Nations. CIS countries are more focused on their respective national economic well-being and political stability than war.
The pervading mindset against Putin is like the anti-Trump one, where the only truth is hatred against Trump and his visions of America. Yes, he was arrogant and rude. Though I am not American or a supporter of Trump, candidly the vicious authoritarian anti-Trump hatred during his presidency was irrational. So is the anti-Putin spirit. And worse, we may strongly disagree with Putin, but propagating and praising Russophobia is pure racism.
- Putin and Russia just want war, while Zelensky wants peace
On the contrary, Putin expressed a few times his willingness for diplomatic solutions while Zelensky is adamant about escalating the war. Zelensky’s insistence may have been emboldened by Biden’s US and Stoltenberg’s NATO. Did Biden just leisurely assent without deep cognition of the global implications of the war? Is NATO anxious about its irrelevance in the absence of perceived and actual threats to European security?
The worse scenario though for Zelensky’s refusal of diplomacy is having a delusion of the grandeur of defeating the powerful Putin and Russia. This is risky because the character played, if not judiciously redirected, may evolve into a Hussein complex, a supposedly loyal ally persona but eventually became obsessed with personal glory oblivious of the common regional peace and economic progress.
- Russia is a rogue state that is always anti-peace and against global security
Browsing a historical overview on the US State Department website, I was surprised (pardon my lack of historical awareness) to discover that US and Russia did have significant constructive cooperation. It included the unification of Germany (ironically Scholz now wanted to defeat Russia), global peace (including the Middle East), joint space programs, antiterrorism (both were victims), energy, and unexpectedly, even affordable housing for low-income families. Bush Jr and Bill Clinton had diplomatic dealings with Putin, Obama had some, and probably had there been a chance, with Trump also. So, the assumption that Putin and Russia are always anti-global peace, anti-stability, and staunch enemy of the democratic world is erroneous.
Moreover, Russia is not a rouge backward country devoid of civility and decent culture.
Contrary to the Cold War portrait of Russia that still lingers in our contemporary notion, Russia has rich and diverse fine cultures, advanced science, and technology, and civilized people. Russia is not a bare country merely populated by soldiers or mafias that just need to be irradicated. They have ballet, opera, diverse ethnic cultures that coexist with one another, space technology, religious tolerance, malls, and metro stations that are grander than many North American ones. Ukraine also has a rich historical heritage that could just be wasted by the war that could have been resolved at the onset of the conflict. The demonizing of Russia is an irrational phobia based on the imagined ghost of the bygone Soviet Empire. And, in some ways, the phobia is popularized by Hollywood and mass media still clinging to the stale Cold War mentality.
- Ukraine is and will be fine despite the ravages of war
Ukraine is not powerful enough and does not have enough economic resources to sustain a protracted war with Russia. Its power is borrowed and not inherent. Its country is devastated. Many of its people have left. It’s only winning in socio-psychological theatrics supported by some Western leaders (with their respective national detractors). Even with more military empowerment, Ukraine cannot sustain the war without further death and destruction. Even if it defeats Russia in contested areas, its recovery to a bare minimum will still be a long way off.
And even before the war Ukraine was already tagged as the poorest country in Europe because of high corruption. Even amidst the war, its government is still corrupt. Corruption cannot be erased in a superficial one-day show. It is an embedded culture that takes generations to expunge, if not a radical revolution. The expectation of more aid will even encourage more corruption.
With its massive destruction and greater risk to its grain export, prolonging the war can result in irreparable damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure, historical heritage, and economy. Ukrainians should learn lessons from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The only winners in those wars were the select few who benefited from them. The horrible losers were their people and their countries.
- Ukrainians just want to die as martyrs than make concessions for peace
The fact that many Ukrainians left their country indicates that like any other people in the world, ordinary Ukrainians just want to live in peace, raise their families, have a decent living, and work for their bright future. Despite what Zelensky like to portray Ukrainians as doggedly committed to war, they don’t regard themselves as radicals (heroes in life or death with no negotiation with infidels), who are committed to staying, coming home to fight and would rather die as martyrs to free their country. Besides, it’s not their whole country that is invaded. And Biden’s US, Stoltenberg’s NATO, and von der Leyen’s European Commission should not be senseless enough to cheer up escalation to turn it into a more deadly global war.
Although as usual, political leaders are engrossed with their self-interests, or obsessed with their fantasy world, the masses are just concerned about living a normal life that offers them well-being and socio-economic mobility. Ironically, the present supposedly “compassionate” Christian Western leaders seem to enjoy the show of the game of death instead of diplomatic resolution.
Years back, as a fundamentalist Christian and then a fundamentalist clergy, I was deeply convinced that the only truth (in religion, science, culture, or even politics and food) in the universe is Christian. And by that, I meant not the whole of Christianity, but my particular sect. In college, my friends and I were even discussing our commitment to rather die of hunger than eat forbidden food like pork chop or lobster. My psyche only saw my self-absorbed notion as the only object of devotion and wanted to doggedly pursue it no matter what. I see the similarity in Zelensky’s and the new Western leaders’ psyche on the dogged insistence on no concession for peace.
- Ukrainians always hate Russians and vice versa
Interestingly, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine have a historical fraternity, and they all claim a common Kievan Rus cultural ancestry. Kievan Rus was a vast empire known as the “Lands of the Rus of Kiev.” Under the USSR, though their relationship was not always perfect, they did live as kinsfolk. However, in contemporary times, Ukrainians, despite their original desire to be neutral, have their loyalty polarized by Russia and the West. This creates tension that results in detrimental conflicts. Had they remained neutral and not allowed themselves to be played by superpowers, their country could have been more peaceful.
Candidly, Ukraine has become the European arena of Western versus Russian politics and religion. It is this polarity that sparks a deadly blow to Ukrainians. Like Russians, most Ukrainians (except those in power) abhor war. If most of them love war, they could have stayed and become martyrs of someone’s else ideological god as in ISIS. But they don’t. They love peace and life more than dying for an ideological myth.
- Ukraine’s Territory is historically fixed and well-defined
Ukraine’s territory has evolved many times in history—ruled, divided, and re-ruled by her fellow Europeans. In fact, during the Cold War Era, Crimea was originally Russian but was gifted by The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet to Ukraine. Then lately Russia claimed it back. While Ukraine and the West tagged Russia’s takeover of Crimea and related areas as mere aggression and unwarranted invasion, Russia claims that these are the lands and territories of their people.
It’s unfortunate, that Ukraine’s story, even in its early history, is highlighted by the many dominations of its European kin. In the 20th century alone, it was dominated by Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and the USSR. So, for Zelensky to ardently envision a free Ukraine is indeed a noble dream. But such freedom cannot be realized if Ukraine is devastated and remain entangled in Biden’s Western war against Putin’s Russia. The best option is for Ukraine to work for mutual peace, establish its deeper political independence and neutrality, develop and utilize its resources (being the second largest country in Europe next to Russia), clean its government, and advance its socio-economic state. It’s in this latter field that it has the potential to compete with Russia. When this scenario becomes a reality, then this war will be legendary for Ukrainians.
- Economic pressure on Russia will end the war without negative global consequences.
First, the economic pressure on Russia does not work. It creates more animosity and encourages others to join the conflict. Second, it encourages economic realignment and strengthens new alliances that could also hurt Western economic interests. Third, we are in a global economy that is not detached from one another.
We cannot isolate economic pressure on Russia without global consequences. We already see the consequences of oil, natural gas, and grain supply shortages, and supply chain disruptions. We live in a global ecosystem where a problem in one part either immediately or eventually affects the whole. We are no longer living in a fragmented and separated ancient world. An unresolved issue can infect and spread throughout our entire global life system.
Our global society needs to rationally and sensible address and resolve the conflict in Ukraine. We also need to seriously decipher the implications of the polarization of loyalties in the war. The European and Asian cases are wired and could explode at any moment. Though some leaders may enjoy playing with their political hobby horses inside the luxury of their ivory towers, when this volatile matter burst into a global war, it will wreak havoc on our civilization more than Covid-19 does. While science, technology, and medicine advance to make human life better, our politics need to be like these fields and offer humanity a better life and future.