“Go Along to Get Along”
I read an article in The Guardian about the shock of Ukrainians seeing children of former neighbors in Mariupol being trotted out to praise Putin’s war and military for “saving” them. Upon seeing them on Putin self-aggrandizing made-for-TV parade (does this sound like #45’s rallies?,) former Ukrainian neighbors were appalled and disgusted. Many remembered these kids and their parents as nice people with whom they had taken shelter and shared food during the early days of the Russian invasion.
So, what changed to cause them suddenly to make their kids available for use in Russian propaganda? None of the interviewed former neighbors had a clear answer but the answer that resonated with me was a former neighbor, Daria Shrycheva who said, “I think they’re ‘adapters’ … These are people who don’t care what flag to live under. They are looking for benefits for themselves from either side. Maybe then it was convenient for them to support Ukraine, and now it is convenient for them to support Russia.”
At Da Nang, Vietnam in 1969, I had one of the few insightful conversations with a Vietnamese about his feelings on the war. Nguyễn (the most common surname in Vietnam) my counterpart, and I, were talking about the war and how it had uprooted his family’s life in the north, forcing them to flee to the south where he was promptly drafted. Nguyễn finagled a transfer to the South Vietnamese Air Force to avoid being cannon fodder and was assigned to us as a radio tech/interpreter.
This was the first time I had visited Nguyễn at his shack of a home. Earlier, he had asked me if I could get him some drinking glasses for his family. Assuming plastic tumblers would be more durable, I asked if those were what he wanted. No, he wanted glass cups because glass was easier to clean and keep clean. He explained that they had no running hot water or, even, running water at all. All hot water had to first be heated over an open fire before cleaning things like plastic. I was shocked!
As we talked, it became obvious that Nguyễn wasn’t enamored of the war. I asked if democracy wasn’t worth fighting for and he got to the point. Democracy or communism didn’t mean anything to him. He just wanted to be left alone. He was a farmer in North Vietnam until the Communists confiscated everything and forced him to flee south. If they had just left him alone to work his rice paddies and vegetable fields, he would have been perfectly happy. I reminded him of the “taxes” Communists extracted from him and he pointed out the South Vietnam government took taxes out of his paycheck.
I can’t say I disagreed with him. People at subsistence level poverty simply don’t care about democracy or communism or dictatorships, they’re too busy staying alive. Some people in Ukraine who are terrified of losing their lives don’t care about Russia or Ukraine, they just want to be left alone to live their lives. If that means bowing to Russian propaganda, so be it. It’s also possible they were threatened to co-operate, or else.
Bottom line, if “push came to shove” in the US, it’s very possible a large segment of the population will do whatever it takes to go with the the “winners.” If Russia or China invaded, many Americans will suddenly decide they’d rather be alive and comfortable on the enemy side than risk pain and discomfort in a war.