The success of Ukraine’s surprise northeastern offensive suggests a fundamental problem for the invaders: When it comes to seizing and holding land in Ukraine, the average Russian soldier’s heart just isn’t in it.
But why should it be? After all, unlike Patrick Swayze’s guerrilla in Red Dawn, the poor Russian doesn’t live there. …
I’ve been arguing for most of this century that the age of wars of conquest is drawing to a close. Why? In recent generations, the payoff from militarily subjugating foreign lands has been typically less than the cost.
Therefore, I had assumed that Vladimir Putin’s cold-blooded rationality would cause him to stop short of starting a major war. So, I felt pretty stupid back on Feb. 24, 2022. …
A millennium ago, though, if you were, say, William the Conqueror, the profit to you and your Norman allies from conquering England was considerable: You took the Anglo-Saxon lords’ land and serfs. Today, all these centuries later, your descendants, Englishmen with Norman surnames, are higher class on average than those with English surnames.
The medieval view tended to be that somebody had to be the lord of the serfs, so why not me? This led to frequent wars, but ones that were generally limited in size because they were more between aristocrats than peoples. For example, England’s 15th-century War of the Roses, the basis for the Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon television series, was quite lethal to nobility but less so to commoners.
Medieval European aristocracy stemmed from Dark Age “roving bandits”… But as feudalism succeeded, nomadic warlords turned into less destructive “stationary bandits,” settled aristocrats with a self-interest in leaving more prosperous estates to their heirs.
Slowly, though, the more Europe prospered, the more it could afford to arm and feed larger militaries. But, as useful as a bigger army would be, what would motivate them to fight?
Thus, nationalist and democratic ideas began to replace the feudal spirit that had emphasized dynasticism over territorialism.
For instance, during the 100 Years War, Joan of Arc was unimpressed by the English king’s genealogical claim to the French throne, insisting instead that the English invaders should go home to their own island and leave France to the French.
Times change. If everyone now lives in a district that votes for its leaders, what is the point of conquest? Self-determination is more widespread now, and is the expected norm, so what’s the point in conquest?
What would Russia have done with Ukraine if they taken it in a week, as planned? If they were free, the Ukrainians would just vote back their preferred leaders and policies. So presumably Russia either wasn’t going to let them be free to choose their leaders, or Russia thought it could persuade the Ukrainians with sweet-talk of brotherly love and cultural ties. But wrecking their country with artillery and killing tens of thousands of them would seem to rather spectacularly rule out that last option.
Very badly thought out, Mr Putin. You weren’t really going to let them be free to choose their leaders, were you? And how free is Russia, really?