Yesterday evening at dinner, I started reading a book loaned to me by a friend of mine, and very early on the book I was struck by something that could have been written by a contemporary Ukranian citizen, that was written as follows: “Our lives changed dramatically as the primitive Soviet soldiers stripped our shops and squares of anything of value. I can recall soldiers stuffing sausages into their boots to free their hands for further plundering. They were starved for any sort of material goods and would rabidly seize our many consumer treasures that were completely unavailable to them back home. Of course, to admit this apparent deficiency in the Soviet economic system was considered bourgeois treachery (Hasten 7-8).”
Such words could have been written by a contemporary Ukrainian citizen when faced with the looting and pillaging and plundering of the contemporary Russian army. Indeed, to add a further bit of irony to this historical account from a memoir of a Jewish survivor of World War II, the town in which the author lived was in 1939 a part of Poland but later became a part of Western Ukraine, and so it was written in an area not far from where the contemporary Russian army is engaged in the same sort of behavior with the same sort of hostility resulting between ordinary people caught in the grip of war and a Russian army that is made up of people who view their military behavior as an excuse for rape and plunder on a massive scale.
Why is this so? It would be all too easy to blame simple economics. Russia has always been a poor country, and its soldiers have always been poor people who have frequently fought in other, wealthier and more cultured areas of the world, like Western Europe or even Central Asia. When one combines people who suffer extreme material poverty as a result of chronic misrule with powerful military strength among people who are better off, that combined feeling of strength and weakness predictably results in bad behavior on the part of Russian soldiers, even when that bad behavior is contrary to their supposed goals of winning hearts and minds in territories that the Russians wish to dominate and do not have the strength to hold down by military force alone, but really need some sort of cooperation with in order to effectively rule and govern.
It should be obvious that an army of rapists and plunderers, such as the Russian army is and has been for decades at least, is not an army that is going to win very many hearts and minds. While there can be a tactical use of logistical warfare in order to strike terror into an enemy and to convince them that their efforts at resistance are futile–as the Union army did in the Confederacy, for example, during the American Civil War–the sort of destruction that the Russian army has engaged in has often harmed its larger goals of obtaining willingness in nations to be ruled over by them. This is a problem that one would think that the Russian government would want to support, if it recognizes that terrorizing potential subjects might be alienating when one could theoretically co-opt them with better treatment that would be in line with one’s rhetoric.
How would one even begin to institute that sort of massive cultural change? How would one create a culture where the lives, property, and dignity of one’s enemies is respected? This is by no means an easy task, as it appears that for many of us in other countries, such a respect is being diminished as a result of the continual mood of crisis within our societies, but at any rate, a recognition that one’s behavior may be hindering the achievement of one’s goals is something that should be encouraged, so that people may at least be aware of the repercussions of what they are about, and have been about for a long while.