Commentary and Lessons from History
With few exceptions, the lock-step mainstream national media is proving an unreliable news source on the Russia-Ukraine War. This makes a dangerous war even more dangerous. The United States has not been as close to World War III since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. I remember those 13 days between October 13 and October 28 well, because I was an Air Force Photo-Radar Intelligence Officer at Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and had some responsibility for locating and identifying Soviet missile sites in Cuba. Those days were far more ominous than the present situation in Ukraine to date, but there seems to be a reckless war fever stirred by some politicians, media pundits, and business executives that could easily push moral and intellectual objectivity and common sense aside and ignite devastating destruction and loss of life, which most people would later recognize as stupid and insane.
As I have written before, I believe the U.S. and NATO should help Ukraine defend itself by supplying quality conventional weapons, ammunition, and supplies, but not involving U.S. or NATO military personnel in or over Ukraine. We should definitely help with medical and refugee needs.
It was recently proposed that Poland should give all of its 28 MiG-29 fighter-bombers to Ukraine. The restraint should be that they must be flown and maintained by Ukrainian military personnel and based in Ukraine, at least not in any NATO country. Anything we do should be weighed as to its probable effectiveness versus its costs and risks.
I am sure the Ukrainians could give a good account of themselves, but for how long given the vast superiority of the Russian Air Force’s numbers (1,407 fighter, attack, and multi-purpose aircraft) and newer and more effective equipment. The 28 much older Polish MiG-29s (introduced in 1982) might not last long against substantially superior forces and might be easily wiped out on the ground. The Russians still have 259 MiG-29s, but also 1,148 more modern and more versatile equivalents, including 134 multirole Sukhoi Su-34s first introduced in the Russian Air Force in 2014, and which are highly competitive with the U.S. F-35. (The above Air Order of Battle for the Russian Air Force, the second most powerful in the world, was taken from Wikipedia.) Thus deploying 28 Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine might have little chance of effectiveness. Using NATO personnel or bases would thus be taking an unacceptably high risk of potentially disastrous and extremely difficult to control escalation of the area and intensity of war to inflict minimal short-term damage to Russian forces. There are other covert actions NATO might take, but they will not be covert if revealed by the media or politicians.
At least one prominent U.S. Senator and a Fox News commentator have proposed to attempt Russian regime change by assassination or other means. Russian General Staff military doctrines and plans almost certainly have a choice of ready responses, which could result in unacceptable risks of massive American and NATO military and civilian casualties. Moreover, there is also the question of who would take an enemy leader’s place and possible political disorder that might result in unanticipated negative consequences. In U.S. history, several CIA regime change attempts have had disastrous results. The worst of these were CIA attempts to remove allied leaders!
According to both Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, one of the three biggest mistakes of the Vietnam War was the CIA coup ordered by President John F. Kennedy to remove South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem from office in November 1963. This resulted in the arrest and murder of Diem and his brother and right-hand adviser, Nhu, by the Military Junta headed by South Vietnamese General “Big” Van Minh on November 22. As a consequence, the South Vietnamese presidency became a revolving door with ten changes in government over the next two years. This threw the South Vietnamese government and military into chaos for two years until Air Force General Nguyen Cao Ky, a strong leader, assumed the full powers of state as President in December 1965.
The North Vietnamese, supplied and orchestrated by the Soviet Union, took full advantage of the two years of chaos created by the regime change. In two years, 48,000 North Vietnamese Army troops infiltrated into South Vietnam, followed by another 192,000 in 1966 and 1967. These were equipped with heavy Soviet infantry weapons to reinforce the struggling Vietcong insurgents, many of whom were also North Vietnamese. Regimental size North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units continued to enter South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia. Consequently, under Lyndon Johnson, U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam climbed from 25,000 advisors to 150,000 combat troops by November 1965. The U.S. First Air Cavalry was the first to encounter and badly maul NVA regiments near the Cambodian border at IA Drang that month.
President Johnson refused the advice of the Pacific Commander and Joint Chiefs at least five times to make strategic air and naval strikes against North Vietnam. Instead, U.S. forces rose to peak of 549,000 in 1969. President Nixon began to reduce American troop levels under his Vietnamization policies and finally brought North Viet Nam to its knees by strategic air and naval operations in December 1972. A new Congress, however, threw it all away in 1973 and finally abandoned Southeast Asia to Communist domination, murderous purges, and millions of civilian deaths in 1975.
The United States suffered over 58,200 military deaths in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. How many were the indirect result of the 1963 CIA regime change? I agree with Lyndon Johnson that it was the biggest mistake of the Vietnam War, creating chaos and inviting invasion. Moscow and Hanoi could hardly believe their good fortune.
President Kennedy did not intend for President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother to be murdered at the hand of the CIA arranged Vietnamese Army Junta, but the reason for Kennedy’s action was shameful.
The staunchly religious Roman Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem was a successful, tough-minded, but autocratic political leader. Democratic leaders facing Communist insurgencies are forced to be tough-minded and relatively autocratic. Strong leadership is required, and weak leadership results is disaster. The plot against him began with Buddhist protests in South Vietnam orchestrated by Communist leaning Buddhists in Hanoi, claiming Diem was persecuting Buddhists. On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, clothed in saffron yellow robes and sitting in the Buddhist posture of prayer, was doused with gasoline and set himself on fire. Leftist Buddhist monks had tipped off their friends in the American media. Thousands of pre-mimeographed copies of his thoughts were distributed by the militant left-leaning Buddhist cadre who had recruited him. The dramatic photograph and propagandist commentary were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines and on TV commentary around the world. Diem, who had been a successful President since 1955, was now the greatest anti-liberal villain in decades, and the liberal U.S. media, led by the influential New York Times, began to pressure Kennedy to abandon Vietnam or abandon Diem. Kennedy had stood up to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but he mistakenly thought the New York Times and other liberal media were his primary constituency.
The bottom line here, however, is that U.S. orchestrated regime changes have a history of making things a lot worse.
Another unfortunate characteristic of politicians and media pundits is to brand their enemies as evil. It is sometimes a matter of necessary truth to brand certain behaviors as evil, but even that should be cautiously exercised. But when you brand your enemies as evil, you blind yourself to their real nature. As Sun Tzu said, to win battles, you must know your enemy and yourself. It may make us feel good to brand an enemy as evil, but it blinds us to their strengths and weaknesses. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote that in order for the Communists to do great evil they had to believe they were doing good. Believing your enemy is purely evil leads to self-righteous atrocities.
In a recent interview with Donald Trump, the interviewer pressed twice to get Trump to call Vladimir Putin evil. To his credit, former President Trump successfully avoided parroting such imprudent virtue-signaling. It is a sign of evil times, when political correctness prompts people to condemn others to purchase their own acceptance.
If the United States had remained energy independent, there would probably be no war in Ukraine, and even if there were a war, we would have far more powerful military and diplomatic options.
We have also severely weakened our armed forces and opened the door to attack on the United States and our allies by forcing Critical Race Theory, Critical Gender Theory, identity politics, and misguided anti-Christian distortions of social justice on our military personnel. Misguided Covid over-control has also weakened our military retention. Vladimir Putin saw these foolishly self-inflicted weaknesses.
I strongly believe in the Geneva Conventions and the Biblical concepts of Just War and Just Conduct in war laid down by St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but I wish the media had some perspective on degrees of their violation.
In 1918, during the First World War, California U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson stated:
“The first casualty, when war comes, is truth.”
It is getting hard to find truth about the Russian-Ukraine War. Some interesting foreign news alternatives are Gravitas Plus on Indian WION English language You-Tube. They are not pro-American, but more thorough and objective than most. Meduza is a Russian anti-war English and Russian website based in Latvia. The Russian Federation is now actively trying to block and stifle them, but they continue to work. Military censorship is now in effect in Russia. There has been a tremendous upsurge of Christianity in Russia since 1991, which the U.S. Media ignores as unimportant, but it is becoming increasingly important to understand Russia. Russian Faith is a weekly updated website. In addition there are a number of U.S. military interest websites that are informative, such as Warthog Defense, which claims over 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed as of March 11.
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving the peace.”—George Washington.