Atheism and The West

I recently read a discussion in which both of the participants expressed atheism, but one had a softer application of that way of thinking, in which he did not seek to ignore religion, but to eventually phase it out. He called it a “soft atheism.” Well, it was hardly a barn-burner, as the participants differed only by slight degrees. It’s on the level of two intelligent design gradualists speculating on how much of the creative process was autodrive and how much was the hand of God.

I read that discussion and reflected on my own religious experience. To tell me there is no God is as ludicrous as trying to convince me there’s no such thing as Oklahoma. My own experience tells me it is a reality that I must account for as I deal with the universe. The existence of God is not a matter of personal choice: it is a fact as stark and insurmountable as the moon.

To me, the arrogance of Western Civilization demands that there be nothing unseen in order to sustain its thought processes. All depends upon the discovery and the eventual arrival of the human mind at the frontier of the infinite. The West demands of its participants a towering yearning towards the goal of human supremacy. Even its major religious turmoil – the Reformation and Wars of Religion – was fought over the notion that perhaps man needed one less intermediary between him and God than was supposed in the Roman Catholic dogma; a notion that can, to me, be clearly placed on a continuum between the statements in that article and the Renaissance, which itself was a questioning regarding who an ultimate authority should be, man or God?

But in that quest to place man at the head of all things rational, there is no safe place for any thought that raises a question of man’s ultimate destiny to be a God unto himself, with no need for any other concept of God. In spite of eyewitnesses with testimony to the contrary, God must be dismissed as a non-factual construction of minds affected this way and that by certain chemical reactions in the body and mind. Ultimately, the same must be done for other spiritual concepts such as love and devotion. Either they are outputs of biochemical processes or they are simply myths.

For, to me and to many others, God is synonymous with and equivalent to love. I find no explanation for my love, or for the love of others, save that I love because I love. Biochemistry tells me that infatuation is explainable by a rush of chemicals that lasts from 18-36 months. Is my body somehow faulty and in need of a cure if I continue to experience the symptoms of infatuation towards my wife some 27 years after meeting her? Or are there deeper, spiritual mechanics at work that do not fit tidily into the notions of man and his place in the universe as determined by The West?

A friend of mine recently linked me to a document that amounted to an 87-page compendium of arguments regarding the grounds for deeming my religion to be inconsistent with itself and therefore false. Prior to any factual refutation of those arguments, I have in front of me not only my personal witnessing of God, but that of my ancestors and people of their day. God spoke to me, and he spoke to them. We are witness to the fact that God is God.

Is the experience a repeatable one? Absolutely, but the preparation is non-trivial. Much as one does not simply pile up enough cut stone and labor and proceed to construct a Rome in a day, one does not simply say, “All right. Let God speak to me, too, then I shall believe in his existence.” The belief in his existence is a prerequisite to experiencing his existence. It is not enough to believe, either: the mind must be ready to receive a word from God, and that involves a re-ordering of influences in one’s life. Just as moving quickly through a forest while listening to music through headphones and looking only at a cell phone screen will render one incapable of noticing the birds in the trees, so exposing ourselves to stimuli that diminish our spiritual sensitivities will render us incapable of noticing God.

But I and many others have prepared ourselves, and we have experienced the truth that God is God.

There are those that had once been prepared to receive God, but who participated in activities that diminished their spiritual sensitivities. They are those that believe no more. There are those that received God in one way, but, through different thoughts born of their experiences, now receive him in a different way. There are those that never truly prepared to receive God, who think they have prepared correctly, who then testify quite vocally and sincerely their experience that God is not God. So be it. But I will not let a blind man try to tell me that colors are ultimately imaginary and that I really should focus on the good things that I associate with colors rather than the colors themselves. Likewise, one who squints or closes his eyes or refuses to look in a certain direction cannot inform me that I am in error. I know what I know, because I have prepared myself in the way I have been told will produce a successful reproduction of the results of others’ experience with God. I prepared and I let myself be patient, and the word of God came to me.

A close analogy to this to me is that of a hunter or a fisherman or a farmer. To succeed as any of those, there is much preparation, but there is also great patience involved. One must not only have the right gear, not only be in the right place at the right time, but also have the right frame of mind to be patient, to understand that every rustle in the bush is not a target, every tightening of the line is not a bite, and that no plant will bear fruit overnight.

Indeed, consider further the experience of the farmer, for that is a frequent analogy in religious teachings. Weeds can spring up among the desirable plants, and they are nearly indistinguishable in their early stages. Droughts can pass over a land, leaving barren the fields of hope. Vermin can devour the fruit in the field. All these and more can plague the farmer: the patient among their number will abide another season. The impatient will abandon the profession. I’ll end the analogy there.

No, I won’t. The supermarket, where all those non-farmers will get their food, is itself a massive demonstration of faith that, despite a massive amount of unknowns, the food will be there when we desire it, and all will be well. It is a massive expression of that ideal from The West, that man will triumph through better organizational methods, better scientific knowledge, and better understanding of how a society should work.

But who does not trust in mankind the way The West does so powerfully in its supermarkets and other economic structures? Survivalists, those who hoard up food and other things because they suspect that the whole business of The West is capable of sudden implosion, are certainly those that do not share the belief that others will provide food for them. They want to be self-sufficient in that category. So it can be with God: rather than trusting that the beliefs of others will lend a salubrious effect to eventually calm and heal humanity of its rages and woes, those that choose to believe in God are those that wish to be self-sufficient in the healing and calming categories.

There are those that profess to believe in God that offer neither healing nor calming to humanity: I assure you that such persons are not true believers in God.

Anyway, back to the idea of Survivalists: they certainly do not trust other men to be their salvation in the world. Before the wave of millennialist defection from the trust in The West that we see today, however, there were others that chose to not only keep a supply of food always handy, just in case man made mistakes about supply chain management: They also kept a faith in God handy, just in case man made mistakes about biochemical determinism explaining all the phenomena associated with spiritual experiences.

I am one of those people, and my ancestors were numbered among those people that did not place trust in the arm of man. I suppose I can say that I come from a long line of defectors from Western Civilization. I can look back to a will written in 1745 in which William Webb passes down to his descendants a testimony of his grandfather’s about the reality of God, the imminent day when he would restore his church, and the reality that we can all join with God after this mortal existence, even if we were born before the day that God’s truth was again restored to the earth.

I read that 1745 document and I see in it a powerful wording of basic Mormon doctrines. I do say “powerful”, for there is a spiritual effect upon me as I read it. It is more, far more, than the feeling I have when I realize that I am correct in a guess about something through someone else’s confirmation of experience that I was not privy to. No, there is more to that feeling I have and I can only say it is through preparation that I experience that feeling. But I see my faith, the tenets of my religion, expressed by a voice from the dust. Now what am I to do with that other than face my religion and either accept the truths I know it embodies, or to reject the truths and create a paradox in my life in which I must actively deny what I know to be true? Absent your own personal experience with God, you do not have such a dilemma. Absent an experience with God, you cannot have such a dilemma. And, knowing that there are those that do not share my religion but yet believe in God, this experience will confirm to you the portions of your own faith that intersect with mine.

For me and my family line, most of us have defected from a bargain with The West. Even my relatives that don’t share my core religious beliefs still persist in a suspicion that The West is not as permanent as some would make it out to be. The Webbs that I know tend to hoard a little food, a cache of weapons, perhaps more ammunition than may be deemed necessary for recreational purposes… now, does this mean that I’m from a distinguished line of nutcases that shares a common delusion that Western Civilization is headed for a collapse, which underlines a possible biochemical explanation about why I identify so strongly with both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as economic observers that point to flaws in the system? Perhaps my family are all nutcases – and I am further delusional in imagining that, somehow, we are distinguished.

Or, perhaps, we might be sensitive to the flaws in The West because of our experiences and those of the people around us. My family on my Father’s side comes from Arizona. If you’ve ever spent time in that state, you know it to be a place where, generally speaking, there is a strong sentiment towards opting-out of Western Civilization, particularly in regard to how California used the structures of The West to appropriate rather a lot of water from the Colorado River. Dissent from The West runs high in Arizona, and that dissent is born of a common experience there. When I discovered that dissent, I found that it fit in with my own dissent from The West.

My own personal dissent from The West began long before I joined up with the Mormons on an official basis. I recall the powerful effect that James Burke’s “Connections” series had upon me – the first episode most strongly. In it, Burke asked what happens to us when the lights go out because technology itself fails. It’s happened before, and then the lights came on again. What happens if they don’t come back on? What then?

Burke asks a very rational question that casts a shadow of doubt over the idea of The West as a perpetual expression of human civilization. Through technological arguments, he constructed a scientific extension of Oswald Spengler’s assessment that The West, like other civilizations, would experience a downward cycle as surely as it experienced an upward one: an ending as surely as it experienced a beginning.

And what of the thoughts of The West, after the civilization that gave them impetus is no more? I believe that when the noise and distraction of The West is no more, we will have a great stillness around us. In that stillness, it will likely become much easier to prepare to hear the word of God. And, while I know there are people that would deny the existence of God to his face, a great many more people will one day affirm the existence of God without having seen his face at all.

A Fun Idea

If you’re lucky enough to be able to work with little kids, try this idea out. I’m talking about kids aged 5-8, by the way. Anyway, strike up a conversation with the 5-8 year old by asking a question. If the question is the start of a riddle, so much the better. Do it totally straight and don’t plan on giving the punch line, because the story that kid is going to tell is going to leave you wondering why in the world Hollywood isn’t having 5-8 year olds write film scripts.

I had one such conversation today that started with “Why do sharks like to swim in salt water?” The riddle answer, of course, is “Because they sneeze too much in pepper water,” but the 6-year-old I put this question to told a sweeping tale of undersea drama, adventure, and harsh consequences for hapless humans that don’t respect the habitat of the salt-water shark. It was delightful.

He then asked if I knew how to play rock-paper-scissors. Of course I did, and we started into the game. Pretty soon, we had rules for dynamite, lizards, guns, swords, the number four, Transformers (which can be beaten by swords, in case you did not know), tornadoes, and what do to when both players play “rock”: do a fist bump and say, “BROS!”

I remember watching Bill Cosby and Danny Kaye working with kids. When I was a kid, I loved those interactions. As an adult, I love them just as much, even if now for different reasons. Don’t argue, don’t try to correct, just ask lots of questions and be enthusiastic about seeing the possibilities in what the kid suggests. I’ve had fun discussing all kinds of things with kids over the years, including what’s the difference between elephants and prunes, what’s worse than finding a worm in your apple (hint: it’s an alligator in your apple), and the possibilities of earning a hundred dollars A MINUTE as a lawyer.

Welcome to the Wilderness

Years ago, I started blogging with a site called Sobaka.com. There were some incredibly interesting voices there, and all the writers did their homework. They found connections between some of the most horrific evils perpetrated in the world and some of the most globally esteemed world leaders and organizations. When I started to write there, I worked at making the connections… and I found myself in the wilderness.

The USA’s invasion of Iraq was just underway, and I was one of the few that was saying it was a terrible idea and that it would not end well. I said what I had to say and endured being ignored. Other voices joined with me as the years wore on, but that didn’t draw me into the mainstream. They joined me in the wilderness. They, too, got ignored.

The Panic of 2008 hit and I was there to find connections. I was used to being in the wilderness, so I was used to being ignored. At that time, though, I noticed there were many more people with me that were being actively ignored by those that walked in the halls of power. They were surprised to find that, as a majority of voices in a land that claimed to be based upon democratic principles, their voices counted for very little.

I read, with a complete lack of surprise, a recent scholarly article that concluded, based upon the high correlation between the passage of unpopular legislation and support for that legislation among elites, that the USA was no longer a republic of the people, but an oligarchy. There is the occasional concession to the notions of democracy here and there, but only to sustain a hopeful illusion that popular voices in the USA still have a meaning.

The good news is that life still goes on under an unrepresentative oligarchy. Yes, your government ignores you and you grate under a system that treats those outside of power with unrelenting cruelty and allows those in power to commit all manner of heinous crimes and then pay a few pennies’ worth of fines, if not walk free altogether. Yes, it’s a dread to realize that your government fears you to the point of keeping the general population under surveillance, and that it will forcefully move to smash any movement that threatens to upend the existing power structure, even if the movement is simply an appeal to human dignity.

Life goes on, indeed. Such was the world of Jesus. Such was the world of Gandhi. Such was the world of Martin Luther King, Jr. Such is the world of the USA. I choose those names because they embodied lives of truth, honesty, and love – and a refusal to compromise on their values. Yes, they were all killed for those uncompromising lives of truth, honesty, and love, but at the end of the day, their lives had those values, and therefore, their lives had value.

To me, the message of Jesus is most important. He that truly had all the power, but the proper use of his power was not to dominate, but to find the people in the wilderness and to bring them in, to bring them together. He used his power to teach and to give true hope to those that were completely outside the worldly power structure. His message was simple: love will be your reason to live.

So, as I live my life in a nation that promises me freedom, but would kill me without a trial in an instant if I was so much as just near someone that it considered to be a threat, I do not plot how to take power. I do not plan how to join the power structure. I do not desire any of that. I look to Jesus’ example of life in the wilderness. The most important message to deliver is his message of love, for that is what sustains us. Not freedom, not justice – which can be stolen by those in power – but love.

The May 15th Incident

In much of the public mind, there are only two organized political threats to freedom: Nazis and Communists. In the public mind, both those movements are over, save for a few Nazis that serve to validate Godwin’s Law on demand in Internet debates. In reality, the threat to freedom came from a variety of vectors. Just because America is not currently going down the road that Germany took in 1933 or Russia in 1917 does not mean that it’s not on a side street that runs parallel to what happened in Japan in 1932.

On 15 May 1932, 11 Japanese naval officers assassinated the Prime Minister and then took taxis to the police station, where they turned themselves in. Even though they had murdered the head of government, public sentiment was such that they received very light sentences. Four years later, on 26 February, army officers attempted the same thing. Although the 26 February 1936 plotters were dealt with harshly, their action resulted in a more complete takeover of the nation’s politics by the military. The time of “government by assassination” was over, but the assassins were now themselves the ones in charge.

As I read that in my World History class on Coursera, I reflected on how the USA has a similar situation, but with bankers. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial wipeout, none of the parties that caused it faced any sort of punishment, unless appearing before a Congressional committee is some sort of substitution for prison. No, instead of punishment, the bankers were rewarded with even deeper hooks into the government and the financial flows of the nation. Fear became a tool for the bankers and their supporters in Congress and the bureaucracy to extend their hold on government.

Now, there are rumblings about high-frequency trading. These aren’t just people crying about it in the wilderness: these are actual, official, rumblings. These HFT guys have gone too far, so say the rumblings, and they’re going to get punished. If 2008 was our banker’s own May 15 Incident, the HFT traders are going to be made to take the fall when the market crashes again – our own February 26 Incident. They’re expendable and their fall will make for more fear and chaos that the bankers will easily exploit. The criminals will end the exploits of the HFT gang, but the cost will be that they will have near-complete control of the government. Not just the current high degree of control, but they will be primary among the elites that vie for influence in government.

Whether or not the bankers stay in charge depends on whether or not Mao was right. Power does emerge from the barrel of the gun, but does it originate with the gun itself, or does the money control the gun? We shall find out, I believe.

A Voice From the Dust

Just today, I read a comment from a job seeker who was giving up on pursuing his goals. He was frustrated, and quotes from famous people that were very, very successful only seemed to make him more depressed. I wrote a response, because I was in the same position. Believe me, there were times when seemingly inspirational quotes only reminded me of how low my position was. What I needed then was a voice on my level. Thankfully, I have access to such a voice.

No quotes from famous people here. Just my great-great-gradnfather. In 1912, he had to flee Mexico with his family – children and grandchildren – because of the revolution there. He left everything behind. This was not the first time in his life he had to abandon everything and take his family miles and miles away from where he had settled.

He was 65, and arrived at Tucson, Arizona just before summer started. Summer in Arizona is brutally hot. He and his family lived in tents. Although he was a skilled teacher and had started schools across the West, he had no teaching jobs. Although he was a skilled brickmaker, there was no demand for that trade, either. So he got a job pulling mesquite tree stumps out of the ground. In Arizona. In the summer. While living in tents.

When asked about his situation, he said, “Next year will be better.”

And it was.

It wasn’t better because he knew it would be better. It was better because he believed and hoped it would be – and he took the actions he needed to take in order to make those hopes and beliefs become a reality.

If you want to give up hope, that is your choice and your decision. As for me, last year I was ready to leave my career of teaching and become a networking professional. At this time last year, I was saying “Next year will be better.”

Well, I took my great-great-grandfather’s example to heart. I worked hard – thankfully not pulling up mesquite stumps in the desert heat – and got my CCNP. I had some very very old experience in systems and networking, but I know it was the CCNP and the skills I learned in pusuing that cert that got me my internship, first job back in IT, and from that, the job I have now, which I enjoy greatly.

If you decide right here, right now, that “Next year will be better,” and are prepared to make great sacrifices in order to realize that goal, you can do it. You will prevail at finding the goal that others have abandoned, simply because you will still keep trying and the ones that abandon your goal will make room for you.

This much I do know – if I had kept my certifications active during the 11 years I had been a teacher, I would have had an easier time in my initial job search. I had an expired MCSE and CCDA. I’m going to recertify on the CCDA this year and then pursue CCDP/CCNP R&S after that, because as nice as things are now, I have decided that “Next year will be better.”

So never mind Edison, never mind Michael Jordan, never mind Martin Luther King, Jr., and never mind Gandhi. Never mind Thomas Jefferson, never mind Abraham Lincoln, never mind Steve Jobs, and never mind any other inspirational quote from someone that attained heights you think are unattainable. Listen instead to my great-great-grandfather, Edward Milo Webb, Jr. Listen to a voice that speaks from the dust, the dust from which he pulled up mesquite trees, and the dust upon which he spread his tent. Listen to a voice that came from behind a smile that endured the hardest of hard times and that spoke of a hope that fueled his soul all the time it was on this earth. Listen to the voice that spoke truly, and make it your own voice:

Next year will be better.

C’est la Vie, C’est la Guerre

Terry Kincaid spun around in his ergonomic chair while the proto-punk blasts of the MC5 blared at nearly unbearable volume inside the Launch Control Center of the 17th CIA Nuclear Weapons Division. Terry always did stuff like that when he was flying on acid. It helped to while away the hours and he didn’t have to leave the LCC – which made it better than smoking. Besides, it was so cheap in the commissary, so why not?

Terry’s buddy, Chuck Burzus, staggered into the LCC with a fully loaded water pistol and proceeded to discharge it all over Terry. Terry responded by drawing his sidearm and firing, barely missing Chuck’s head.

Chuck spun around to see where the bullet struck the wall, just a half-inch away from the fire alarm. He laughed, “Dude, no way can anyone die here.” Chuck took another beastly swig from his bottle of Jack.

Terry laughed right back. “Not until God says it’s time to die! Whoo-hoo!” He started to pound randomly on his keyboard and the buttons at his station. Several red lights started to flash, repeatedly and urgently.

Chuck pointed at the flashing lights. “Armageddon rave!” He proceeded to dance the Frug. The dance seemed rather macabre, what with him performing in front of the melted remains of a bulkhead that had fallen victim to a time when the pair brought a flamethrower to work.

Terry was laughing his head off as he played out a drum roll on his station, knocking his coffee into the innards of some sort of vitally important equipment. Smoke began to rise from the stricken system. That only made him laugh harder.

Chuck wasn’t doing acid, though: the liquor was starting to make him think. “Hey, Terry… Terry?”

Terry stopped laughing and focused what was left of his brain cells on what Chuck had to say. “Yeah?”

“You know how, uh…”

“Yeah?”

“Like, in science fiction stories… there’s like, always, an ironic ending?”

“Yeah?”

“You think that’ll ever happen here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like with all the insane stuff we do, you think we’ll accidentally start a nuclear war or something?”

“Naaaah.”

“Really? How do you figure?”

“That stuff is only in stories. This stuff here…” Terry held his arms high and made another ergonomic spin. “This is reality, dude. If God wanted nuclear wars to start accidentally, that would have happened back in 1948.”

“So, no irony for us?”

Terry shook his head. Only irony we’ll ever have is if we launch and blow ourselves up by mistake.”

Chuck knocked back his bottle and wiped his lips on his sleeve. “I dunno. Maybe we’re tempting God with all the stunts we pull.” Chuck threw the empty at an important-looking computer, whose lights suddenly went dark.

Terry kept shaking his head. “No way, dude. God loves us. That’s why we’re here with the best job in the world. We keep America safe and nobody gives a flying flip how we do it.” Terry then had a funny idea and wondered where he could get a box of hand grenades.

Chuck looked at the broken glass by the broken computer. “I still say something ironic is bound to happen. To us, even.”

Terry went back to shaking his head. “No way, dude.”

The red phone rang. Terry answered.

“Yeah?… Really?… OK, then… yeah, we got it… no problemo, sir.” Terry hung up.

“What was that?”

“We got a go code. Time to launch one.”

Chuck’s buzz went along well with the rush of adrenaline. An actual launch. Chuck sat in his chair and typed in his username, followed by his password, “password.” Having unlocked his launch control station, he selected one of the CIA’s best and brightest missiles to shoot into the sky. He clicked on the missile, armed it by typing in the arming password, “password1,” and then asked Terry, “OK, dude, where does this one go?”

Terry squinted, hoping it made what he was about to say all the more dramatic. “Take a guess.”

Chuck thought hard, hoping against hope that this was the ironic moment he anticipated earlier. “London!”

Terry made an honestly surprised face. “What the hell, dude? That’s not even funny. Guess again.”

Chuck composed himself. He remembered their mission and who their targets were supposed to be. There wouldn’t be anything ironic in this LCC. Not now, not never. “Boston?”

“Close. Providence.”

Chuck selected “Providence” from the drop-down list of targets on the CIA launch control program and then clicked on the “Launch” button. He then clicked the “OK” button on the confirmation screen. He turned to Terry. “OK, bro. Bombs away. One less nest of rebellion and terror.”

Terry pulled out a bottle of wine. “L’chaim, dude!”

Chuck produced two coffee mugs. “L’chaim back at you, bro! Time to pour!”

Terry poured and enjoyed his inebriating draught. “Life is good.” Suddenly, Terry suffered a massive stroke.

Chuck’s eyes widened in amazement. “Holy crap! Irony!” He watched Terry die as he kept drinking the wonderful wine.

Steps Toward War

In 1962, Russia took a chance on putting ICBMs in Cuba, only a few dozen miles away from the USA. In October of 1962, the USA very nearly invaded Cuba and very nearly triggered the launch of those ICBMs – which had their warheads already installed – as well as the ICBMs in Soviet submarines stationed in the area… submarines that were observing radio silence and that had orders to launch should the USA so much as touch a Russian ship en route to Cuba. One voice in the USA spoke to the president on the verge of ordering forces to undertake actions that would result in the launch of thousands of nuclear missiles… one voice spoke, and managed to convince a room full of hawks to take a different path. War between great powers did not happen that day.

Ten years later, Richard Nixon gave orders to the USA’s nuclear bombers to make glancing probes of Russian airspace. He ordered the missions to show the Russians how determined we were to win the war in Vietnam. Russia responded with minor violations of our airspace, presumably to show how they were equally as determined. Both sides had made their point and managed to step away from mutually assured destruction.

But this latest matter in Ukraine… this is perhaps too close to home for the Russians and too much of a stretch for the USA to back away from. Or, maybe this one, like other close calls before it, will be just that – a close call. But it will be one less close call before the final one that isn’t a close call at all, but the beginning of the real thing.

Look back 100 years ago to see a similar pattern. The great powers of Europe had nearly come to blows over colonial matters quite frequently in the years leading up to 1914. They managed to avoid wars in those cases, but each of those incidents made it more possible for those great powers to contemplate war with each other. In the end, it was a particularly violent and dramatic expression of violence in the Balkans that provided the sudden release for that pent-up violence. It didn’t have to be the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo that launched the Great War, but it was. Had a Serb not slaughtered a Hapsburg, something else was bound to have happened to get the great powers to commence destroying each other. 100 years ago, the great powers had exhausted the exploitation of the world to the south and east of them. Their economies demanded new asymmetric relationships, and that meant doing to each other what they had done to the Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans.

Germany got it first, good and hard. Its reparations fueled the boom of the 1920s in the nations of the victorious West. Its bankruptcy caused a sudden starvation of the whole system, triggering the seizures of the Great Depression. The Germans emerged from that experience with a leader and a mass of followers that were determined to reverse the asymmetric relationships and use the plunder of nations to fuel its own growth.

The German nation failed in that enterprise, leaving the USA and USSR as the premier consumers of nations on the planet. They struggled mightily with each other, with the sudden collapse of the USSR in 1991 leaving the military-industrial complex of the USA in a quandry. If it had no great enemy to fight, what was the massive military might of the USA needed for?

The answer came in the form of tiny nations around the world that tried to find their own way, preferably those with oil under them or in possession of some strategic bit of land. But after the USA paid a bloody visit to the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan, it found itself in a world in which its own ability to act unilaterally greatly curtailed.

China held a large amount of USA debt. Russia’s military strength had grown along with its fortunes in the energy trade. Once again, the world was host to competing great powers, playing their great games.

What will start the next, terrible, cataclysmic war? Will it be the shoving match between Japan and China in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? Will it be the squabble over the rocks that pass for the Spratly Islands, where China demands what the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and even Taiwan claim as their own? Will it be in Ukraine, where the CIA-backed government refuses to back down to the Russian-backed government? Will it be in Syria, where Russian terrorist proxies do battle with American terrorist proxies? Perhaps it will be in Turkey, a state on the verge of violently unraveling as horribly as did Libya or Egypt? Could we see it all begin with one mortar shelling too many across the Line of Control in Kashmir? A misfire in the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula?

Any of those could be the spark, or something else equally minor yet elevated in importance because of the context in which it happens. 2014 is not 1914, but the world of 2014 is very much the world that was in the days leading up to 1914. At one point, one of the great powers will step too far, make a miscalculation, or simply decide that this time, it cannot back away from an ultimatum. At that point, the war begins.

We might take some solace in the thought that the combatants of WW2 did not use poison gas as often as those of WW1. Then again, the intention to starve entire populations to death prompted campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare and firebombing of cities – only the defeated in WW2 were tried for war crimes. WW2 saw the first use of nuclear weapons. If WW3 does not see them, well and good. But WW3 would still see the carnage of machine guns, fuel-air explosives, cluster bomblet munitions, anti-personnel landmines, so-called “poison” bullets, and the like. Perhaps the nascent developments in biology and customization of microbes will see the first biological war, in which diseases ravage nations that are too afraid to use nuclear weapons on each other.

None of this informs the actions of nations in the present day, because their leaders all depend upon a myth of invincibility and ultimate triumph to sustain their grip on world power. Do your worst, we shall rise victorious in the end – so they all boast. So it was in 1914, but of the eight mighty empires that entered that war, four of them were completely shattered five years later. That was only with a few of the horrors mentioned above. If we see the use of nuclear weapons, we may see all of the mighty empires that enter into the next war come to their end.

And yet, we keep taking steps toward war.

Pipelines and Boots on the Ground

When you look at US military bases in Afghanistan and place them on top of proposed pipeline routes from Turkmenstan to Pakistan, one sees that the bases trace out the pipelines. Back in 2001, the hope was that the USA would take charge in Central Asia and, by association, the petrochemicals beneath the soil and sands of that region. The neocons spoke highly of the dictators of geologically-blessed regions until news of their boiling opponents alive came to light or, worse, said dictators chose to orbit either Russia or China and not to play ball with the USA, which never really got Afghanistan calmed down enough to get that pipeline project underway.

Now that the Central Asian dictatorships are no longer interested in American ventures, we no longer need to keep troops there to guard a pipeline route that will never exist.

Interestingly enough, Chevron, a company that had great interest in the Afghan pipeline, is also quite interested in exploring hydrocarbons beneath Ukraine. If they weren’t behind the recent riots that unseated Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, I’d be surprised. Oil companies have been behind assassinations, bombings, massacres, coup d’etats, wars, and other assorted acts of mayhem since the start of the 20th Century, when it became clear how much money and power was connected to black gold. Fun fact: Condoleeza Rice, a huge proponent of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is a former Chevron employee. How about that?

So, we’re at Chevron being interested in Ukraine and probably getting the CIA to topple a tinpot elected official. Like it or not, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was elected after a runoff election between him and his opposition that received the most votes. His election was as fair and valid as the USA’s own 2000 election, if one wishes to cast aspersions upon it. The guy was elected, and he certainly leaned towards Russia. Chevron got him out of the way and…

… obviously, Chevron totally forgot that the USA isn’t the only nation with an interest in putting its soldiers along pipeline routes. Russia today is not the disorganized post-Communist mess that it was in 1991. It has its act together, and is not afraid to project its power. If one looks at the major natural gas pipelines that cross Ukraine, one notices a line that goes strictly through predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the east and south. If Russia pushes into those areas to defend Russian-speaking people, it will also be securing a major pipeline route to Europe. Another pipeline to bypass Ukraine completely should be finished by 2017. All the same, Russia would prefer all of Ukraine to be friendly to its interests, but Russia does not like take a risk without hedging its bets.

At the very least, Russia will occupy eastern and southern Ukraine. The pipeline dictates that. Will Russia stop there? Maybe not: the other pipelines dictate that. But will Russia go beyond the borders of Ukraine? I don’t think so. It has customers on the other side of Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine couldn’t pay for Russia’s gas with money, so it has to pay for it by other means. Germany and the rest of Europe have cash and can pay for that gas, so there’s no need for Russia to move further west unless that money runs out.

Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea

Crimea is part of Ukraine, right? The USA is right to backstop the territorial integrity of Ukraine, right? Well, let’s take a look…

Truth be told, Crimea hasn’t been a part of Russia for as long as Ukraine. The Russians conquered it from the Turks back in the 1700s. Back then, the Russian Empire tried to leave its stamp everywhere, to the point of suppressing local languages in favor of Russian, a policy that continued under Communist government. When Gogol wrote Taras Bulba, the Czarists took the Ukrainian epic and forced it to become Russified. When the book was made into a film a few years ago, the very Russian producers made it a very Russian movie, even though all the characters were Ukrainian. The Russian attitude towards Ukraine is that it is an integral part of Russia’s sphere of influence, preferably a part of Russia’s state.

Ukraine itself is a gradient of a nation, with stronger Ukrainian culture in the west that begins to blend with Russian culture the further east and south one goes. The part around Lviw wasn’t even a part of Russia until 1939, having previously enjoyed a large degree of autonomy under the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy and then becoming part of interwar Poland. That region has never comfortably identified itself with Russia and has persistently been the core of resistance to Russian domination.

During the Russian Revolution, Ukraine attempted to break away as a state and Russia forcibly integrated it into the USSR. During the 1930s, Stalin stripped the Ukraine bare of food, creating a mass murder by starvation known as The Holomodor. Back when Hitler was only severely restricting Jews with no organized plan of mass murder, Stalin was killing people by the millions – and Stalin kept it under wraps as much as possible, with Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalists shouting down any reporters that tried to get the truth out. We may point fingers at Swiss bankers that touched Nazi gold looted from Jews, but we hardly ever think about how our own New York Times was knowingly complicit in Soviet genocide.

When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, many Ukrainians hoped for a lessening of the oppression and welcomed the invaders. That mood changed when the Germans proved as brutal as the Russians, leading to the formation of a Ukrainian nationalist resistance movement. The Ukrainians wanted full independence, nothing less.

By 1943, it was clear to the Ukrainian partisans that the Germans were on the way out. There was no further point in resisting their government: the Russians were the real, long-term threat. And so, in order to gain German equipment and training, the Ukrainians began to volunteer for the foreign mercenary parts of the Waffen-SS. The 14th Waffen-SS division “Galizien” formed and it fought ferociously on the Eastern Front. When it was posted to France, it deserted ferociously, so the Germans put it back on the Eastern Front, where it would sustain upward of 80% casualties in nearly every engagement it participated in.

Truth be told, much of that casualty rate was fudged by unit commanders in order to hide the truth that, once trained and armed by the Germans, the Galizien soldiers would desert to get behind the Russian lines to carry on the fight for Ukrainian independence. The Germans would have preferred for them to stand and fight, but there we are. The Ukrainians weren’t collaborating with the Nazis as much as they were using them as a vehicle to help them arrive at their own desired ends.

The Ukrainian resistance actually created a political entity independent of Moscow from 1944-1946, but the best recognition they got from the West was clandestine US support of the movement until 1946. After the war with Germany ended, the Russians set about crushing the Ukrainian resistance, finally clearing the field in 1949.

So, even if the Ukrainians had been part of Russia for centuries, the events of the 20th Century showed that there was a real desire on their part to be independent of Russia. The Russians that lived in Ukraine, however, held no such sentiments. They rather enjoyed being part of Russia, all other things being equal. The Russians in Crimea, the peninsula attached to the south side of Ukraine, were very happy to be part of Russia all the way up to 1954, when that region was administratively attached to Ukraine. Later on, Ukraine granted it some autonomy. As far as Ukrainian territorial integrity goes, it’s not really part of Ukraine. Demographically, it’s got a Russian majority.

Strategically, it’s got Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s home base. While Putin could hem and haw about the need to keep Ukraine in Russian orbit if he wanted, he can not and will not entertain any flexibility on that base and the land around it. It will be Russian, full stop. It is necessary, so the Russians will do it. If Ukraine clings to the West for a while, its hyperinflation and lack of natural gas will get it to face East again after the next winter. But if Russia loses its naval base, that would be a disaster for its ability to project its power. It cannot let that port slip through its fingers for even a moment.

In this chess game, Russia is committed to defending the Crimea to the hilt. Russia is destroyed without it, so it will risk destruction to avert a guaranteed destruction. Does the West have the same set of outcomes at stake? And as far as territorial integrity goes, why did the West not insist upon Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity in the 1990s? It actively broke apart that nation, because it suited the desires of the West to do so. It’s harder than ever for the West – particularly the USA – to try and claim a moral high ground, given how the USA exercises police state powers on the level of the Stasi, KGB, and Gestapo. Have I gone too far? Consider the extra-judicial killings and torturings carried out with Presidential approval, and we have an apt comparison.

As I typed this, Russia cut off its natural gas discount to Ukraine. I’m not surprised. Next will be to cut off the flow of natural gas to Ukraine, which will also impact Europe. Is Europe committed to Ukrainian territorial integrity if it means its energy costs will become much, much higher?

I said this was a chess game. The USA just took down one Russian pawn, but its knight’s position is threatened. Will the USA bring in supporting pieces to threaten those Russian pieces involved in taking down the USA’s knight, or will it withdraw its knight and give back the Russians their position on the board?

Put even more bluntly, is this Ukraine thing worth a sacrifice of cities, destroyed with nuclear missiles? The Russians will be ready to go to that level when their survival is on the line, as it is here.