It’s been more than a century since the great Ambrose Bierce wrote that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
That sure turned out to be true.
But when it comes to the current dust-up in Ukraine it’s a vocabulary lesson that most Americans need.
The words I’m thinking of are “irredentism” and “revanchism.”
Irredentism is defined as “a policy of advocating the restoration to a country of any territory formerly belonging to it.”
Revanchism is “a policy of seeking to retaliate, especially to recover lost territory.”
You don’t hear those terms so much on this side of the pond. But on the other side, they explain most of the warfare in Europe in the 20th century. They also explain the ongoing kerfuffel involving Russia and Ukraine.
Here are a couple of places Americans might learn about if this conflict comes to a head: Donetsk and Luhansk.
Those are a couple of self-declared autonomous republics packed with ethnic Russians that declared independence from Ukraine eight years ago. Russia has never formally recognized them as independent, but it accepts their travel documents and sends “volunteers” over the border to aid them in fighting off the Kiev government.
The U.S. says that Donetsk and Luhansk rightfully belong to Ukraine. The Russians do not agree. From their perspective, the U.S. deemed it fine for ethnic Ukrainians to exercise their self-determination when they broke off from Russia after the Cold War. So how can we object if ethnic Russians want to exercise their self-determination and break from Ukraine?
And then there was the 1974 invasion of Cyprus in which our NATO ally Turkey attacked our NATO ally Greece.
Such turf fights can never be settled to the satisfaction of both sides.
So what makes us want to try and straighten this mess out?
We don’t want to, at least not according to the polls. A recent Rasmussen poll asked likely voters if they thought U.S. troops should be sent to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian attack. Only 31 percent said yes. Meanwhile a YouGov poll in December showed a mere 27 percent in favor of going to war.
The only place where the prospect of American intervention is popular is in the minds of our politicians. On the Republican side we have Fox News. When a Fox talking head interviewed a Republican congresswoman from upstate New York named Claudia Tenney, the host prefaced his question on Ukraine by stating that “It appears an invasion is imminent.”
Tenney said any such invasion would occur “because of the weakness President Biden has projected.”
Meanwhile the liberals over at MSNBC seem obsessed with Ukraine as well. They’ve got a logo that announces “the Ukraine Crisis” that seems to come on every 10 minutes.
One of the sole voices warning against involvement is Tucker Carlson of Fox News. In an interview with another hawkish Republican congressman, Mike Turner of Ohio, mouthed the usual mantra “the threat to the United States and the threat to the United States’ allies” posed by Russia.
After saying that many military families watch his show, Carlson told Turner, “I wonder if you could explain to them why it is in America’s interest that their kids risk their lives in Ukraine.”
Turner couldn’t. That’s because it’s not in America’s interest, said one military man I like to consult on these issues.
That’s Pat Lang. He’s a retired Army intelligence officer who was credited with being the first to determine that Saddam Hussein was preparing to attack Kuwait.
The current situation is not similar, he said.
“The whole thing is farcical. It’s the great Ukrainian bluff, and I think he’s already won,” said Lang of Vladimir Putin.
Putin has two goals, said Lang. One is to keep the Ukrainians from marching into Luhansk and Donetsk. Key to that is keeping Ukraine from joining NATO.
Putin has made it clear to the West that the Russians won’t let NATO absorb Ukraine without a fight, Lang said.
“And once the Russians start to fight, they really fight,” said Lang, who saw his share of fighting in Vietnam.
So why get them started? I’ve yet to hear a good reason – and my wife keeps MSNBC on all day.
Meanwhile the right-wingers of talk radio are even more bellicose. I listen to them as I drive around.
They’d like nothing more than to goad Biden into a confrontation with Russia – at which point they could blame him for the inevitable rise in gas prices. Even though Biden is not threatening war, he is threatening severe sanctions against Russia that could drive energy costs much higher.
When asked in that YouGov Poll whether the U.S should prioritize domestic issues over foreign policy, 73 percent of those polled chose domestic issues.
The politicians might have hopes of ridding the European continent of revanchism and irredentism.
But I suspect most Americans would prefer to skip this geography lesson.