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Back to the Barricades

By David Haldane

March 10, 2022

 

 

For the first time in decades, I feel like an antiwar protestor.

It’s not an entirely novel sensation. As a young man in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, I took part in many massive demonstrations against the then-raging Vietnam War. To be honest, I even helped organize a few.

These days, those ancient emotions are re-surging as I witness the obvious cruelty and viciousness of Russia’s heartless invasion of Ukraine. But there’s something else happening too, a burgeoning consensus reigniting the passions of old and a fragile hope for the ultimate conclusion.

In Russia, thousands of protestors have already taken to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities. Police there have reportedly arrested at least 13,000. The capitals of Europe—including Berlin, which once was my stomping grounds—have erupted into frenzied opposition. And in Los Angeles, near where I am now, Ukrainian flags recently flapped in the breeze as motorists honked their support for dozens of marchers chanting “Glory to Ukraine.”

The object of their wrath is Russia’s autocratic president, Vladimir Putin, who seems to have planned this ruthless takeover in pursuit of his own demented dream. Its essence: to restore Russia’s lost glory in the wake of the Soviet Union’s 1991 demise. As of this writing, the sorely outgunned and out-manned Ukrainians are offering fierce resistance as Russian forces close in on their capitol, wantonly targeting civilians along the way. Let’s hope, as you read this, that Kyiv still stands.

There are a couple of obvious problems with Putin’s long-term goal of resurrecting the Russian empire.

First, an entire generation of Russians—including most of those fighting this war—are too young to bear any memory, let alone strong emotional attachment, to the once-powerful Soviet Union. “I didn’t believe until the very end that war was possible in the 21st century,” one shocked 23-year-old Muscovite told the Los Angeles Times. “I just couldn’t take in that this was the new reality—that we’d talk about the beginning of a war while having drinks at a bar.”

The other problem, of course, is that starting the biggest European conflict since World War II could easily ignite another world war. And this one might very well go nuclear.

Many Filipinos still harbor painful memories of the grave suffering they or their progenitors endured during World War II. While the Philippines recently joined 140 other countries in approving a United Nations resolution condemning the Russian invasion, President Duterte has sent mixed signals, insisting that his homeland remain neutral, at least for now. That may be wise. It’s also true, however, that what others choose to do could, once again, deeply affect what happens in the Philippines.

“PH among ‘biggest losers’ in Ukraine war,” screamed a recent headline in the Manila Times. The underlying story conveyed a report by Japan-based global investment firm Nomura predicting that “A steep rise in oil and food prices triggered by the war in Ukraine could hit Asian economies hard, with the Philippines among the biggest losers.”

In a country still reeling from the economic effects of COVID-19, that is no minor matter.

The other elephant in the room is the Philippines’ simmering polygamous flirtations with both the US and China, which recently described its friendship with Russia as “rock solid.” Many observers fear that a Russian success could embolden China to invade Taiwan and, ultimately, strengthen its hold on other areas it claims, including islands owned by the Philippines in the South China Sea. Should that happen, the Philippines may face an ungainly choice; either bend over for China or get in bed with the US and its friends for another brutal war.

The upcoming national elections will doubtless affect what the country decides.

All of which leaves me stuck in a strange déjà vu. Once again, the fear of nuclear oblivion clouds my life as it did my childhood. And once again, the passion for resistance so ripe in my youth has raised its vaguely remembered head.

Last time, the path seemed achingly clear. The erring nation, I believed, was my own and redemption mine to grab. Today’s misbehaving villains live far away in a nation over which I have little influence.

And yet we have something now that didn’t exist back then, the Internet. It is the means by which individuals separated by oceans can become a burgeoning community. A way one can feel the suffering of others as if it’s one’s own.

In recent days, I’ve seen videos of Ukrainian mothers hunkered down in underground bunkers. But I’ve also witnessed captured Russian soldiers calling their own moms back home. “Please tell everybody,” one says, “that our president has deceived us.”

Last week, the Russian government blocked its citizens’ access to Facebook and other social media platforms, an ominous development we must resist however we can. At about the same time, though, Fox News interviewed Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D., an associate professor of National Security and Political Science at the University of New Haven and an expert on strategic analysis in foreign affairs. “Tell us,” the interviewer asked, “where do you see all this going?”

Schmidt’s answer was short and succinct.

“Mark my words,” he said, “this war ends in the streets of Moscow. It’s those protests—the Russian public—that are the defeat mechanism for Vladimir Putin, and nothing else.”

So far, he added, Putin seems to be losing the information war he declared on his own people and, more broadly, the world. Let us pray it remains so.

 

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David Haldane’s memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” recounts growing up in countercultural California to eventually find a bride in the Philippines. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author, and radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.

 

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