Thursday, March 17, 2022

Confessions of a former Putin fan

Confession: I used to support Vladimir Putin. 

Not completely, not blindly. The man's anti-democratic instincts were always apparent. 

But in the days before the advent of Trump -- before we learned about Alexander Dugin and Steve Bannon, before we learned about Russia's embrace of the very fascism which had once threatened its existence, before we learned about Russian links to the worldwide Nazi revival -- I found ways to rationalize Putin's tyranny.

Why? Because roughly a decade ago, certain voices -- Mitt Romney's among them -- began to call for a new Cold War. And frankly, I wasn't fond of the first one. 

(For that matter, I wasn't very fond of Romney.) 

Before we proceed, consider this question: What is your earliest memory? Your earliest vivid memory, as opposed to fleeting flashes?

Mine goes back to an October afternoon when my father carried me to my room while Mom wept uncontrollably -- and I mean uncontrollably. She had never acted that way before. 

My father insisted that I stay in bed while they went back to the living room to talk. This situation struck me as both confounding and unfair. Bed? The sun was still out! Mom and Dad had broken the rules, and they wouldn't tell me why. 

After nightfall, I toddled cautiously into the living room. All was dark except for one table lamp with a shade that tinted the room amber. Mom (in capri pants) and Dad huddled together on that stupid mid-century "modern" sofa, while a newscast flickered on an old black-and-white TV set with rabbit ears and a nearly-circular screen. Mom still wept, though she was no longer in a state of near-hysteria. 

She kept asking my father: "They wouldn't really do it, would they?" 

Dad tried to sound professorial and reassuring, as you would expect from a young scientist in the early 1960s. My parents still wouldn't tell me what was wrong, but at least they weren't mad at me and they weren't fighting with each other.    

Realization came years later, after I had learned a little history. My mom had lost her shit on the worst day of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That memory -- especially, for some reason, the amber-tinged lighting -- remains permanently scorched into my cerebral cortex. I hope no other young mother feels what my mother felt on that day. 

My father was a patriot with no sympathies for communism -- he held a security clearance, and he had served with honor in Korea -- but he was also a liberal Democrat who hated war. He was a proud JFK supporter who later suspected that LBJ had a hand in the assassination. 

I grew up well-instructed in the evils of McCarthyism. I knew that Tailgunner Joe's chief hatchet man, Roy Cohn -- the man Trump and Stone considered a mentor -- used fake "eyewitness" testimony to smear innocent labor leaders. 

(If you don't recognize the name Harvey Matusow, look him up. He lived long enough to have a website.)

I despised the Vietnam war at a time when my childhood friends still played with their G.I. Joes. (Remember the original version of the dolls-we-dared-not-call-dolls?) The assassinations of the 1960s taught me cynicism. The civil rights protesters taught me defiance. The hippies taught me nonconformity. (They seemed colorful and fun, at least at first. Then I realized that these "nonconformists" all looked and sounded alike, and that they weren't as thoughtful as they pretended.)

In 1968, I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time in a theater in Canoga Park, in the San Fernando Valley. After the show, my friend and I explored the entrance to the bomb shelter located under the Topanga Plaza mall. This "shelter" didn't look very protective. My friend explained that we'd have to survive on crackers and canned beans. I asked him if he thought we would make it to 2001. 

No, I was not fond of the Cold War. 

Neither was I fond of Ronald Reagan. Remember all of that insane talk about how we would survive nuclear war with "enough shovels"? A couple of years later, Gore Vidal declared: "Whenever they tell you 'The Russians are coming,' hang onto your wallet. It's just another raid on the Treasury."

We must now turn to the Syrian Civil War, which followed hard upon Dubya's obscene Iraq misadventure -- indeed, one conflict seemed a continuance of the other. Dubya's vile excursion into Iraq filled me with the same fury -- and impotence -- now felt by the more thoughtful Russians. 

Opposition to the Iraq war inspired me to start a blog. Today, any Russian who feels a similar inspiration runs a risk I never had to face. That is an important difference between our two nations, a difference I did not appreciate until late in life.

Our needless, atrocious invasion emboldened the foes of democracy by proving our malign intent, by making the entire American system seem like a sham. In an orgasm of hubris, Karl Rove declared "We're an empire now." For those words alone -- words that would have made John Adams vomit -- we deserved to get our asses kicked.  

Before the bootprint on our hindquarters faded, the Syrian war convulsed the region and commandeered our attention. (Attention has shifted, though the war is still going on.) Throughout 2013 and beyond, America's neocons kept insisting that this country should do everything possible to help oust Bashar al-Assad. Insanity, I thought.

Whenever the topic of the Syrian Civil War comes up these days, the revisionists leave out the fact that Assad's downfall would have insured the victory of fundamentalist barbarism. Let's not kid ourselves: Absent Assad, ISIS would have taken over all of Syria as rapidly and as thoroughly as the Taliban took complete control in Afghanistan. 

Yes, there was a quasi-fictional entity called the Free Syrian Army, supposedly composed of small-d democrats who believed in Truth, Justice and the American Way. War hawks like John McCain tried to convince us that these flailing marionettes could conquer both Assad and ISIS. 


The Free Syrian Army (which became subsumed into an entity called the Syrian Democratic Forces) had few followers and no real muscle. NBC called them an "army in name only." ISIS, al Qaeda, Nusra -- they were the ones with muscle. If Assad fell, he would be replaced by eschatologically-obsessed psychopaths pursuing sick dreams of apocalypse.

Nobody wanted to admit that fact in 2013. Nobody wants to admit it now. A mere dozen years after 9/11, America had decided to back the jihadists.

Once one understood that the Free Syrian Army was a joke, the situation in Syria became brutally simple: Either Assad would win or ISIS would win. I was -- am -- convinced that Assad was the lesser of those two evils.

Putin backed Assad. Therefore, I applauded Putin.

I convinced myself that Putin, like Assad, was a magnificent bastard whose sins should be rationalized away, the same way Americans in WWII had rationalized away Stalin's crimes. 

As the Syrian war scaled the heights of insanity, neoconservatives began to murmur about the need to contain Putin. Whenever I heard this talk, a familiar scene would play on the great movie screen inside my cranium: An amber-lit POV shot of a weeping young mother asking if they would really be insane enough   

Did I want a remake of that movie? No. No to Cold War II.

I did not yet understand that Putin would soon emerge as a threat worse than ISIS. I did not yet understand the man's weltanschauung. I never thought he would be audacious enough to attack us.

In 2013, I covered my eyes with cast iron sunglasses. Worse, I thought those shades looked pretty damn hip. 

Those sunglasses finally hit the ground in 2016, when this humble blog became the first to speak -- cautiously, theoretically -- of Vladimir Adolphovitch Putin as the secret power behind Trump.   

And now, here I am: A lifelong peacenik and a confirmed anti-Cold Warrior who suddenly finds himself unable to repress a gritted-teeth grin every time he sees video of Russian corpses on Ukraine's soil. Bastards got what they deserved. I just wish Tony Stark were real. He'd make 'em ALL fry.

God help me, I'm even cheering for the See-freakin'-Aye-A. 

What you've just read is not my full mea culpa -- just Part One. My earlier writings on Ukraine deserve another full round of grovelling and wailing and self-laceration. Just thinking about those posts makes me want to bash my head against the wall hard enough to puncture the gypsum board. 

Part Two will come soon.


britgirls said...

Welcome back, Joe. Glad you're okay.

Anonymous said...


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Unknown said...

Thank god you are back