Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
The end of the world as we know it
Russia has invaded Ukraine, Ukrainians are driving the same cars we drive to hopeful safety; if Putin can't resist going farther, then what? And what would my dad think of all this?
Like Roger Clemens on steroids, I misremembered.
I thought the phone call I received from my father years and years ago was to ring in the end of the Cold War.
In my head, I was sports editor at the The Woodward News, making $16,500 a year and 25 cents a mile, trying to drive everywhere I could for the extra dough, which isn’t difficult when the the biggest school you cover plays basketball away at Liberal, Garden City and Dodge City, Kansas, not to mention Enid, Clinton, Elk City and Altus, when my dad called to acknowledge history before our eyes.
I know he called me, I know I was in Woodward, I know history was before our eyes … just not the history I remembered.
He must have called the day or day after Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa — the time lines up — which speaks well of him, because how many fathers called their sons, in Oklahoma, for that?
The end of the Cold War would have been a fine reason to call, too, but I was home for that, between journalism jobs, serving papers, delivering pizzas and running records for my uncle, Gordon Bulla, a real-life private investigator, which made me one, too.
Had a license and everything.
Anyway, I know we talked about the Cold War’s ending, too, because it’s just the kind of thing we’d talk about — sports, politics, history, the world, what we were reading; interesting things but not the existential stuff, or maybe the existential stuff but not the emotional existential stuff … fathers and sons — I just don’t have a time and place memory of it.
Probably because the end of the Cold War was kind of like Sooner football’s 2000 national championship, a rolling event, happening in stages: promising start, Red October, Torrance Marshall at A&M, surviving Bedlam, slipping past K-State at Arrowhead, a defensive masterpiece in Miami … only, instead, it was Perestroika and Glasnost, Poland’s and Hungary’s break from the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall coming down, Germany’s reunification and in December of ’91, the breakup of the Soviet Union.
So, yeah, pretty much the same thing.
Faulty memory aside, I was thinking about the call I thought I received in ’94, only to realize I was actually thinking about ’89-’91, and by extension, where we are now, Russia invading Ukraine, hearkening the end of the world as we know it, a collection of words far better as an REM tune than geopolitical reality.
Like, climate change is killing us, baseball’s back to players and owners fighting to be fighting rather than trying to save a great game, our country’s at odds with itself like it hasn’t been since Vietnam, making so many issues so intractable because about half the electorate is willing to follow a criminal, even one who thinks Vladimir Putin’s doing a heck of a job.
My daughter’s called, aghast something like this could happen, an actual war in Europe, ground troops and everything, like how could that be a thing in 2022, and much of me feels the same.
Born in ’68, I remember the Watergate hearings live on the networks and the last chopper out of Saigon on the nightly news and the only American wars, really, since, being Gulf Wars I and II and maybe the Balkans. In two of those, we gave nations back their sovereignty, in one we stopped genocide and in one we invaded the wrong country based upon faulty intelligence and wound up spending enough money to rebuild our own country once or twice.
Two out of three ain’t bad?
But what each had in common is the feeling of containment, skirmishes limited if not by time — Iraq, Afghanistan, hello — at least by geography
This one should be, too.
But it’s scary.
Why did we not bring Ukraine into NATO when it went democratic, when it escaped Russia’s grasp and looked toward the West? Why didn’t we do it, because watching what’s happening now is so heartbreaking and difficult and hard and you wish the world could just stand up, right now, to the former KGB agent and bully George W. Bush mistook for having a soul.
Then, as a guilty aside to that, isn’t it amazing how quickly, fully and entirely we empathize with a population that, should individuals seek political asylum in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia or Poland, they may reach those countries driving Toyotas, Kias, Volkswagens or Hondas. They look just like we’d look fleeing to safety.
Perhaps we should understand this phenomenon, thereby remembering to also empathize with populations that look nothing like us, do not drive the cars we drive, or any cars, who know suffering in ways so profound we couldn’t possibly relate.
First world privilege.
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NATO probably didn’t invite Ukraine into the fold precisely because it shares a border with Russia and precisely because it feared exactly what’s happening now, because if we’re bound by treaty obligations to defend Ukraine as though it’s ourself, you might wind up with the world’s two greatest nuclear powers on opposite ends of a ground war; which just makes it suck Ukraine’s trapped by it’s geography, stuck between a madman to the east and the fear of required engagement, well beyond sanctions, to the west.
There’s no way Ukraine prevails now, whether that means occupation, a puppet government or some state of affairs that leaves Russia in control even as it fights off a constant insurgency that that might well prevail eventually, but only on the back end of sanctions that took months or years to take their toll, or Putin’s neutralization via natural or unnatural causes and only after tens of thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands have died.
If we’re waiting for Putin’s neutralization, natural or otherwise, it could be 20 years or more, and if he’s really unhinged, really trying to make it 1975 all over again, before Miracle on Ice put the U.S. back on its feet, and willing to go down with the ship, how do we escape this new cold war without it becoming white hot? Because on the other side of Ukraine is NATO, and that’s us, even on another continent.
What happens if Putin’s willing to go kamikaze?
I’m curious what my dad would think.
He might think, and I might think, too, that, in the end — hopefully not THE END — it remains a competition of ideas, like the original Cold War.
Once it was communism and Western democracy. Now it’s authoritarianism and Western democracy, only this time the latter of the two is being challenged even from within, by cable’s most watched news network and some lesser ones, too, by a former president and by so many in that former former president’s party, unwilling to get on the other side of that former president, even though they know he’s full of shit.
Jesus, these times.
Tomorrow, I’ll get back to sports.