My Turn: Tyrannies don’t ‘negotiate’


Published: 03-19-2023 10:29 AM

A myth has surfaced over the past year about the war in Ukraine, embraced and expressed by certain members of local and national peace groups. According to them, Vladimir Putin is really a nice guy who was reluctantly coerced into invading his neighboring nation.

He did so with deep regret because the nefarious forces of NATO were encroaching on his borders with former Soviet bloc nations like Poland joining or planning to join the Western alliance. Furthermore, now with the war in progress, Vladimir, who loves puppies and children, is desperately trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement but is stymied by NATO and the United States.

One wonders if Russian soldiers were also reluctantly coerced into murdering, torturing and raping Ukrainian civilians as well as kidnapping their children, a cruel tactic they once employed in Afghanistan. A recent TIME magazine article reported a frightful survivor’s account of her small town of Yahidne where occupying Russian troops locked the entire population in the basement of a school for a month, causing many to die or be driven insane.

While it’s true that Russia’s doleful history is rife with disastrous invasions by Germans, French, Swedes, Mongols and others, Putin’s aim isn’t based on justifiable paranoia but by his desire to re-create the former Soviet Empire. This empire embraced and brutalized the Baltic nations, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and of course, the former Czechoslovakia.

Those of us who remember the 1968 invasion of that nation to suppress the liberalizing Prague Spring will never forget the images of the brave people of that city rising up and staring down Russian tanks. Nobody pretended the Soviets were reluctantly coerced into invading. It was a naked act of aggression. As is the current invasion of Ukraine.

One thing the peace community never seems to comprehend is that tyrants and tyrannies don’t negotiate. And if they do, it’s only to manipulate their adversaries into a position of impotence in order to get what they want.

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During the decades preceding the Civil War, the North compromised, dilly-dallied and negotiated with the South over the issue of slavery. The Southern states, however, had no intention of abandoning their “peculiar institution” and even sent mercenaries to the Caribbean and Central America in order to overthrow local governments to expand their “Empire of Slavery.”

Slavery was the engine of their agrarian economy and sanctioned in their churches and white supremacist culture. Northern negotiations were met with bullying and threats. After secession in 1860, newly elected president Abraham Lincoln bent over backward to entice the recalcitrant states back into the Union, even promising to leave slavery in place (he would soon evolve beyond that). The South’s answer was to fire on Fort Sumter.

In 1938, Adolf Hitler played British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for a sucker, promising “Peace in our time” in exchange for handing unfortunate Czechoslovakia over to the Nazis. World War II began a year later. In early December 1941, Japanese diplomats were negotiating with their American counterparts in Washington, D.C. at the same time Zero, Kate and Val attack aircraft were winging their way toward Pearl Harbor.

Dictators like Hitler and Putin, as well as would-be dictators like Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, see negotiation as a sign of weakness. For whatever reason, they are addicted to power and are willing and able to use brute force and violence to achieve their aims, as we have seen in the past few years.

These men (and it always seems to be men) might be beyond therapy for whatever mental and moral damage has corrupted their souls. Their “wounded inner child” is currently holding a knife. Faced with predators such as these, the only choice is to either fight back or knuckle under.

Gandhi’s tactics of nonviolent resistance to liberate India from the British Empire worked because he had an innate understanding that, despite their oppressive colonial behavior, the British people could be morally swayed to do the right thing. Hitler’s Nazis would have killed him where he stood. Trump would have had him tear-gassed.

No one in their right mind cheer-leads a war. There are no easy solutions, but let’s not pretend that demagogues are anything other than ruthless and dangerous.

Historically, most wars have been caused by some power-monger grabbing something that belonged to others, whether it was Helen of Troy, Ukraine, or the vast oil reserves in the Persian Gulf. Until the dark side of human nature is tamed, we have a long, hard evolutionary slog toward peace.

Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County for 44 years and is a frequent contributor to the Recorder. He lives in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico with his wife, Lisa and dog, Cody.