I've been kicking this around for a while, and wanted to get it down before I wander away from it.
What have we learned from what's been happening in Eastern Europe over the past month or so?
1. Thucydides is still correct: the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
We like to think, we pampered wealthy white Americans, that there is a "justice" that transcends simple brute force. If we're Christian we like to think that there's a "God" (and his kid) who cares about people and sort of wants them to do justly and love mercy.
And then comes something like Ukraine, where the ugly reality is impossible to hide.
So no. There's no arc of history that bends towards justice. If people want justice, they need to defend it, by force at times, with their lives if they must.
That lesson is bolded by the actions of Russia in Ukraine. But it should resonate with us here, since we have steadfastly refused to take action against those who have already attempted once to use force to "do what they can" thinking that they were the strong and we are the weak. If we do not, then we ARE the weak, and they will do with us what they can.
Putin isn't the only leader of authoritarian goons in the northern hemisphere.
2. When someone tells you what they are, believe them.
Vladimir Putin has said one thing consistently since loooong before he was Donald Trump's mancrush; that the devolution of the USSR was the Worst Thing EVAH and that if he could he would get the band back together.
Well, because the successor state to the Soviet Union looked like a shitshow and its' dictator seemed full of shit like many other dictators, a lot of us got complacent about how serious he was.
Ask the resident of Kyiv how serious.
If I was a Latvian or and Estonian right now I'd be hugging everyone who insisted that the Baltics scurry into NATO as soon as the Сове́тский флаг came down.
Now the NATO countries - including the U.S. - need to accept that those former Soviet republics are all on Putin's list. That means taking Article 5 seriously. Is Riga worth Manhattan? We might find out sooner than we like, because...
3. The Russian military is proving what a bad fucking idea personal autocracy is.
We in the Western militaries listened to and, often, believed the tales the Russian media and government told about the modernization and professionalization they'd done with the successor to the old Soviet Red Army.
I'm not sure if they were fooling us, or themselves, or both, but boy fucking howdy were they full of shit.
Turns out that the Russian conventional forces are bad. Reeeeally bad. "Iraqi Army" bad.
It's hard to imagine that Putin kicked off this war knowing that Saddam's Republican Guard made his regulars look like an anime goon squad. So I suspect he's been fed the diet of bullshit and flattery that people who can kill you whenever they please tend to get. His military advisors told him what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear.
"Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy." ~ Jorge Luis Borges
the bottom line is that modern warfare is goddamned hard to do, and the
Russians are no better at it than you'd think given the open
kleptocracy and brutal autocracy that permeates Russia the country.
That's...actually kind of a Bad Thing for us as well as for them.
Because if the Russian armed forces would get waxed in the first 48 hours of combat with a Western military?
All Putin has to swing is his nukes.
And that should worry all of us at least a little bit.
Update 3/21: Someone named "Kamil Galeev" has an interesting thread discussing one of the main reasons that the Russian ground force is so damn bad; it's designed that way. It's a feature, not a bug. Long read but worth a look to think about why a putative Great Power would want to handicap its military in the way we've seen in Ukraine.
4. Smedley Butler is still right, too; war was a racket and still is.
No matter the outcome in Ukraine, everyone involved is likely to be the worse for it. Obviously the dead, but those wounded, or homeless, the refugees, the prisoners, those impoverished by war or sanctions or economic collapse. Those who have lost family, friends. The citizens of Russia's "near abroad", who must now fear that success in Ukraine will make them next in line for death and mayhem.
Of course, the Russian leadership is likely to be insulated from all that. War "leaders" -unless they make the mistake of losing war and being captured by the victors - are seldom punished, no more than the "leaders" here that committed the identical war crime of waging aggressive war in 2003 were punished.
It's always the "ordinary" people who suffer when the Great and the Good amongst us choose to use force to get - or try and get - what they want.
So, like most rackets, it's the bosses that profit and the footsoldiers - military and civilian - that die.
I wish I had a happier conclusion.But, just like Ukraine today, there is no lightness; only ruin and hatred, the strong doing what they can and the weak, well, suffering.