PRENOTE: The film Mission: Joy still on through May 19. Details.

This weekend is the annual Garage Sale in Woodbury.  A good neighbor and friend, Jim, is having such a sale and passed along an idea he and his wife are pursuing as their contribution to the Ukraine Crisis.  This is just a single idea from a single person.  If you’re wondering how to engage as an individual, take a look at this single idea from two citizens.  You can read the e-mail here: World Central Kitchen


The May 12, St. Paul Pioneer Press front-page headline asked: “Is Ukraine an unwinnable war?”

Of course the war is unwinnable.  There has never been a winnable war.  However small, a war once declared in the long term is lost.  That fact certainly won’t end war: today somebody will kill somebody else somewhere, and feel totally justified: “he (or she) deserved to die”.  But murder tends to have consequences in the short or the long term in the social structure that is called humanity..

This reality won’t stop the latest or the next mis-adventure.  But the rest of us can open our eyes.

Back on February 25, right before the invasion of Ukraine began, I remembered my first ‘contact’ with Vladimir Putin in June, 2003.  You can read what I said then, here.   More detail is at the end of this post.  Summary: completely inadvertently I had a ‘close call’ with Putin and George W. Bush on Putin’s home turf, St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 3, 2003.


Years ago I participated in an excellent workshop called the Landmark Forum.  One of the learnings from the workshop was about “winning formulas”, something we all have, with an endless variety of specifics.  Winning formulas are things that work for us: think babies crying; think bullying behavior; on and on.

We can come to rely on them – getting drunk dimmed the pain once, and it works again and again…until it doesn’t.

Despots – we’ve had and will have our own, here at home – have come on the scene over all of human history.  They all seem to have the same trajectory; the same general winning formula.  Their megalomaniac tendencies quickly outrun their common sense.  Up, up and away, they hypnotize  their victims, they take control, then comes the fall, taking their admirers and others along with them for the great fall.

Jimmy Jones, while no politician in the usual sense, was one of these, sufficiently successful that his very name became a descriptor for a particular kind of evil.  His followers “drank the koolaid”, and they died.


In our own U.S. of A. we continue our now generations long war against Fidel Castro, even though he is dead, and we have had a lot to do with the impoverished lot of present day citizens of Cuba, just off our shores.   It’s an interesting variation on the despot theme.

Castro upset the status quo applecart in Cuba in 1959, overthrowing a corrupt despot and American puppet, Fulgencio Batista.  Many years later a relative of mine, prominent in banking and politics, told me he had made a $5 bet with a friend back then “that Castro wouldn’t last six months”.  He lost the bet.  He told me about this 35 years later.

At the North Dakota farm I found an old college history book, “A History of Latin America” by Hubert Herring, c 1963.  In the chapter on Cuba, at page 422, Herring wrote a concluding paragraph, as follows: “Reflecting upon the sorry state of Cuba in 1960, the onlooker could say that two things are reasonably clear: Cuba was indeed overdue for revolution and revolutions are never mild and gentlemanly.”   Doubtless, Herring is long gone,  but I wonder what he would have to say today.


Putin probably knows he’s on course for failure, but he will never admit it, and in the process do his best to destroy the very country he is trying to dominate.  All of us will be impacted by his fantasy.   No one knows what or when the last chapter reveals:  what “mission accomplished” will mean.

For some reason, I think Putin got some early ideas from his  contemporary leader, George W. Bush, in 2003; and got more reinforcement from his American counterpart 2017-21.  Now he’s stuck in an unwinnable war.  We will all lose,


More about 2003 in St. Petersburg Russia: No, the visit to the hotel elevator wasn’t a celebrity contact.  We were on a Baltic Cruise with my cousin and her husband. Pauline and J.P. were celebrating their 40th anniversary.   In early June, 2003, our ship docked in St. Petersburg, and we signed on for two days of sightseeing in the city and area.

The June 3  itinerary included a brief stop at the hotel where the Bush’s had stayed when George Bush came to visit Vladimir Putin, native of St. Petersburg, who was then in his first term as Russian President (inaugurated May 7, 2000).  There was time to go into the hotel and see the actual elevator the Bush’s ascended to their room.  I had my camera, but didn’t take a picture (I’ve regretted that misstep ever since.). We could see, but don’t touch!  The elevator?  Average and ordinary.

Of course, we happened to be there at a significant time in American history.

The “Shock and Awe” campaign against Iraq began March 22, 2003.  On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on an Aircraft Carrier off San Diego, and gave the speech dubbed Mission Accomplished, name based on the banner behind him as he spoke.  Then came his visit with President Putin in St. Petersburg Russia June 1, 2003, two days or so before us.

That was our little league brush with history.

We all know the outcome of Iraq, and varied interpretations of what Iraq meant..

We can’t be the change we wish to see by sitting on the sidelines and complaining about what ‘they’ aren’t or should be doing.


POSTNOTE: Related though not specifically on topic, I had the opportunity to watch an excellent on-line program related to political activism for progressives.  The YouTube presentation is here; a written summary of the hour and a half is here: Thoughts for Activists April 2022.  It is worth your time.

I titled this post “Unwinnable”.  I was going to add a question mark, but chose not to, since some of the issues raised are very much winnable IF activists and people in general are willing to make the commitment.  Putin’s war is doomed for himself, and his country, and perhaps for all of us.  But we can and should work to make a difference.

Earlier Post, May 9: Larry

COMMENTS: (more at end of post)

from Brian: Great, fascinating stuff!  Thanks for sharing.

from EO: I was intrigued by your mentioning Putin and Bush in the same blog.  As the war in Ukraine goes on, I keep thinking of the price paid by Iraq and Iran as results of the actions of the two Bush Presidents.   We paint Putin with a far different brush than our views of the Bushes, yet the hundreds of thousands of people that lost their lives because of the actions of the Bushes far outweigh the lives lost by Putin’s actions. If there is such a thing as heaven and hell, Putin will reunite with the Bushes in hell some day.

from Debbie: Thanks, Dick. That was interesting.  My thoughts go to Ukraine, though.  Many of my peacenik friends won’t touch on the choices that they have made to fight back.  The friends just consistently blame the U.S. and NATO.  I hate to see the needless suffering Putin has put on them.  I remember being a child of 5 and my Mom showed me photos of the concentration camps and I thought “why didn’t somebody try to save them”?  I still feel like that with the Ukrainians, the Rwandans, the Syrians, etc.

Response from Dick: Thanks for comment. Just to be clear, given the circumstances I personally can see no alternative for Ukraine other than to fight back, and indeed for the west to respond unequivocally.  At the beginning, I didn’t think that Putin would actually become the aggressor.  I was wrong.

Some weeks ago in an unrelated conversation about anti-war I recalled a conversation at a Nobel Peace Prize Festival at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.  Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg. well known in the twin cities peace and justice community, and I, were in booths adjacent to that of the official representative of the Gandhi organization in Minnesota.  The conversation got around to the topic of non-violence and anti-war.   The representative posed a question to both of us: what should our response be if we were protecting our property and an invader was about to assault us?  This question was from an advocate of non-violence.  Long and short, as I interpreted it, there are times when non-violence is not the appropriate response.  In my opinion, Ukraine is one of those times.

POSTNOTE May 16: Last night Fareed Zakaria had an excellent program on CNN about Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.  Check to see if/when/how to watch the program.  I especially noted the story of the lesson taught Putin by the common rat who changed the conversation about attacker and attacked, and apparently influenced Putin’s later life, not in a good way.  You’ll have to watch the film for details.

2 replies
  1. John Bernard
    John Bernard says:

    Excellent post, as usual.

    A couple of thoughts: yes. All war is unwinnable. Anytime a conflict of ideas raises to the level of physical interaction – of any type – both sides are going to suffer. At that point the only desired outcome is (as the probably inaccurately quoted Patton says) is to make the other party pay more than you.

    Interesting anecdote about your chance meeting with the Putin/Bush elevator… Had a similar experience when President Nixon visited Fargo in 1970. I was working as a photographer for the Forum at the time. Although I didn’t cover the conference directly – I was supposed to follow Pat Nixon around all day long get a usable photograph – my assignment (believe it or not) the next day – was to find and photograph the probable chair that Nixon sad and during the conference…

  2. Anna T Himel
    Anna T Himel says:

    This was indeed a great and very interesting post. You have covered all the faux pas that humans do in spite of their intellegence. My opinion lately is of our educated idiots at the top of the ladder. Where are we going wrong? Why can’t we progress in our world without everyone wanting their moment of fame. Please let us be one country, one people, one family in our country. Agree to disagree and go on with your life in peace


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