Tag Archives: Mutual Assured Destruction


The Great Regurgitation: MAD and the 21st Century’s “Cuban Missile Crisis”

History is regurgitating the Cuban missile crisis, except this time Russia is playing the role of the United States, and the nation of Ukraine has found itself cast as “Cuba.” Just as the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s believed that communist satellite states were endangering the heartland of capitalism, Russia has felt the encroachment of European political power ever since it lost the buffer zone of the subjugated nations of Eastern Europe thirty years ago. In declaring war on the legitimately elected government of Ukraine, Russia probably hopes to drive a wedge into Europe in the same way that its backing of Syria’s dictatorship has given it leverage in the Middle East.

The driving force in all of Russia’s paranoia is the same one that has been at work in all global confrontations since World War II: MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). Putin obviously believes that the “mutual” part of nuclear warfare is no longer a matter of a zero sum game. That he is already willing to hint at the nuclear option he has at his disposal indicates how desperate he is to reestablish Russia as a belligerent superpower on par with any other country’s imperial dominance.

My students at CSULB have no memories whatsoever of the Hungarian Revolution or the “socialist spring” of Czechoslovakia in 1968 or of the attempt in China of students to bring democracy to that nation, but I have memories of these repressions, and I do not expect Putin to show any mercy whatsoever. He is a war criminal, but can not the same be said of George W, Bush and his facilitators (Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc.), not to mention the newspapers who collaborated with Bush’s disinformation campaign and thereby reinforced the votes needed in Congress to launch an invasion of Iraq? Who are we to accuse Putin of war crimes after the horror we unleashed in Iraq? I know the readers of this blog opposed that war, even as they oppose the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I confess that it feels hopeless.

I turn, therefore, to my only enduring solace all these years: poetry.

In this instance, the poetry of William Pillin, who was born in the Ukraine in 1910 and who died in Los Angeles in 1985. His birthplace had a different name back then, but the city is now known as Zaporozhe. (You can find the entry for the city in Wikipedia, which will give you an idea of just how ferociously this part of the world was fought over during World War II. The entry is worth reading to give one a sense of historical perspective to the current war.) Now you might think I am about to honor Pillin as a poet from the Ukraine that is now being invaded by Russia, but that’s not where I’m headed, in large part because Pillin’s family was Russian; but it was also Jewish, and the persecution of Jewish people by Russia grew so intense that Pillin’s family uprooted itself in 1917, and eventually ended up in the United States.

Pillin learned English and began to write poems that were published in many magazines, including Poetry. His books of poems were published by some of the leading independent poetry publishers in the nation, including Swallow Books (which also published Thomas McGrath) and kayak books, the legendary press operated by George Hitchcock in Santa Cruz, California. Papa Bach Bookstore published TO THE END OF TIME: New and Selected Poems in 1984. On page 65, there is a poem entitled “The Survivors.” It ends with an affirmation of a remnant of resistance.

Late at night they sit drinking coffee.
The city is asleep. The streets are empty.
They laugh. They whisper. The drummer
multiples intricate sums in the air.
The nimble guitarist
gleans a harvest of blue events
from his golden meadow of metal.

Such a gathering is impossible to imagine in the Ukraine right now, but the impingements that forestall such gatherings in Los Angeles right now are more linked to the ideologies that launched the invasion of the Ukraine than one might suspect. Neither side wants to give up MAD, and we who are old can only mourn the futility of our protests.



Ilya Kaminsky on Ukrainian, Russian, and the Language of War

Ilya Kaminsky on Ukrainian, Russian, and the Language of War