Deep cul­ture of fa­tal­ism gives Rus­sians edge in car­nage of Syria

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TODD WOOD

Sev­eral years ago, an air­liner crashed in Rus­sia be­cause of pi­lot er­ror, killing scores of peo­ple on board. At the crash site, a West­ern aid worker asked one of the govern­ment of­fi­cials at the scene how some­thing like this could hap­pen. The re­sponse: “This is Rus­sia.”

Hu­man life in Rus­sia is an un­cer­tain propo­si­tion, which ev­ery­one knows could end early and un­ex­pect­edly. There is a per­va­sive fa­tal­ism, a be­lief that the end is com­ing and it won’t be good, so en­joy things while you can. This has per­me­ated Rus­sian cul­ture for cen­turies. From Ivan the Ter­ri­ble killing his own son to the ex­e­cu­tions of the Ro­manovs and the aris­toc­racy by the Bol­she­viks, Rus­sians have be­lieved a sin­gle hu­man life is worth much less than the suc­cess of the state.

A friend in Moscow re­cently told me that Rus­sians look down on the com­mer­cial movies of the West where the su­per­hero saves the day. I asked what is a good Rus­sian movie. “In the end, the worst thing hap­pens and ev­ery­body dies. This is life,” I was told.

You could see this fa­tal­ism even on a trip to Moscow or St. Peters­burg in the go-go 2000s. Rus­sians were spend­ing their new­found oil wealth as fast as they could: trav­el­ing, eat­ing ex­pen­sive meals and buy­ing lux­ury cars. It was as if they knew the good times would not last and they had to spend their rubles be­fore they were taken away.

Dur­ing “The Great Pa­tri­otic War,” as the Rus­sians call it, if the Nazi lines stood firm and Rus­sian troops re­treated, they fre­quently would be shot as they re­turned to friendly lines. This tended to sharpen the courage to take on the en­emy, no mat­ter the odds. Rus­sian ar­tillery units bombed their own vil­lages as the en­emy ad­vanced so the Nazis would not en­joy the spoils of their vic­tory. Stalin fa­mously starved 20 mil­lion Ukraini­ans, who sat in the bread­bas­ket of Europe, so he could feed the Soviet work­ers in the cities.

Flash for­ward to 2016, and ask Mus­covites how they feel about Rus­sian sol­diers dy­ing in Syria. The typ­i­cal re­sponse goes some­thing like this: “They took the job to earn more money than we can here in Moscow, so they can die. I have no sym­pa­thy for them.”

Hu­man life is not sacro­sanct in Rus­sia. The cul­ture does not wail and gnash its teeth over civil­ian deaths, if those deaths ad­vance the needs of Mother Rus­sia.

Rus­sia has adopted the same at­ti­tude in Syria. Civil­ian deaths do not mat­ter and may in fact aid the cause by has­ten­ing the ul­ti­mate Rus­sian and Syr­ian vic­tory. West­ern elites have for­got­ten what vic­tory means. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry fa­mously chas­tised Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin when he an­nexed Crimea by say­ing mod­ern na­tions shouldn’t act as if it were the 19th cen­tury. Mr. Kerry was also fa­mously wrong.

Rus­sians don’t value some neb­u­lous, high-minded glob­al­ist agenda. They value vic­tory, what­ever the cost. Civil­ian deaths do not mat­ter, es­pe­cially if they are on the ad­ver­sary’s side. No amount of hand-wring­ing and preach­ing from the White House press room will change that.

I’ve of­ten won­dered where this at­ti­tude comes from and how it was in­te­grated so thor­oughly into Rus­sian cul­ture. I think a lot has to do with cen­turies of liv­ing un­der the con­trol of the Mon­go­lian hordes from the East, al­ways pay­ing tribute to the lo­cal war­lord. It comes from cen­turies of con­quest and sur­vival, an at­ti­tude you can still see in east­ern Ukraine.

Rus­sia never ex­pe­ri­enced the En­light­en­ment. The so­ci­ety de­vel­oped away from the in­tel­lec­tual cur­rents that came to dom­i­nate the cap­i­tals of Europe, fol­lowed its own track, and was shel­tered from the ideas and val­ues that helped cre­ate the Euro­pean Union.

But as the EU im­plodes in a spasm of na­tion­al­ist fury, it raises the ques­tion of who ac­tu­ally has the more suc­cess­ful model for the long-term sur­vival of a na­tion.

In any event, don’t look for the Rus­sians to hold back in Syria. They will bomb hos­pi­tals, schools and civil­ian en­claves if they need to. Com­bined with Pres­i­dent Obama’s in­com­pe­tent machi­na­tions in the Mid­dle East, that ap­proach has proved to be the road to vic­tory in Aleppo and else­where in the re­gion.

● L. Todd Wood is a for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions heli­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Busi­ness, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Re­view, the New York Post and many other pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached through his web­site, LTod­dWood.com.

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