By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
The war in Ukraine is grinding on. Russia wants to take a bite out of that country’s eastern flank and it is hammering those provinces to pieces first. The president of France has suggested that Ukraine allow its enemy a graceful exit, with the unstated assumption that this includes Ukraine’s losing at least one fifth of its remaining land mass. Ukraine has suggested that France go to hell.
Strategic considerations aside, France’s attempt at realpolitik exudes a certain Gallic charm. What is it to the Ukrainians, goes this argument, if their natural flow of corruption gets emptied into a Russian pocket instead of a Ukrainian one. There is an unspoken assumption that both countries are equally rotten, so it’s irrational to care.
And before we condemn this argument’s blatant amorality, let’s first admire its political sophistication. Europe is like America in this regard, after all. We in the west are corrupt in nice clean ways and we like to look down on those whose graft is grubbier.
Our politicians follow certain rules. They make their money first, then gain office (often using their money to do so), then leave office, and use their new connections (gained in office) to make yet more money. They also allow their children to benefit, both before, during, and after their own service (that’s the Hunter Biden story in a nutshell). But they themselves are scrupulous about not making that extra buck while they are actually serving (except for Donald Trump, who was not so scrupulous).
Whereas in Russia, and in Ukraine, government officials make their money from actually being in office: our Slavic friends prefer their corruption transparent, as it were (again, like Donald Trump).
So one of several things is happening now in Ukraine. Either Ukrainians really do care about who their businessmen have to bribe, or Ukrainians aspire to our Western style of corruption, or maybe they even think they can avoid corruption to begin with. Whatever it is, they care about it enough to die for it.
Compare that to what Americans have been dying for recently: whether people should wear masks and get Covid shots, and whether teenagers should have the right to buy military-style assault weapons with which they can slaughter their fellow children. We sure are spoiled, having our state-of-the-art political corruption up and running: fully formed, efficient, and envied by all.
Father’s Day is coming soon, anyway, and anyone who either is a father or had a father knows all about it: it’s a day for dads to get ignored, or at best to be made fun of in a tolerant and hokey way. Moms get the best press and they deserve it. The historian Paul Fussell did research on this and found that soldiers die in battle calling out for their mothers. Nobody cries and asks for their dad.
This starts when you’re little and you get your first vaccination (the kind people don’t really care about, for measles, or rubella, or whatever used to kill us when people still liked science). Your mother kisses you and makes it better. Your dad tells you “that doesn’t hurt too much.”
Then as you get older, your dad continues to be the source of not just the little white lie, but also the medium-sized white lie, and finally the big white lie: all those sentiments that are simultaneously blindingly obvious, impossible to believe when you first hear them, and only truly appreciated with age.
Your dad is the one who tells you that playing the game is more important than winning it. Your dad is the one who tells you that the prettiest girl in class really only cares about a sense of humor and kindness, and if she turns out to not want those things, then you’re better off without her. Your dad is the one who tells you that a day’s hard work is the best cure for sadness. And finally your dad is the one who gives up on teaching you anything, because you are basically a block of stone, and he ends up as an object lesson: working hard, walking the dog, and not crying when he gets a shot.
There are a lot of dads in Ukraine who are both dying now and sending their sons to die, and they are doing so for another white lie: that no matter what France says, people should care about who governs them, because truth and freedom walk hand in hand. I hope that we American dads can both remember and teach our children that, too. Because I am tired of Americans dying for so much less.
He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project, The Book of Order, and his most recent one, The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.