Just Who are the Good Guys? | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Just Who are the Good Guys? 

Taking a Gander: In the absence of truth, nobody knows

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Putin's unprovoked assault on Ukraine began almost a month ago, and great numbers of Ukrainians are fleeing, suffering and dying.

It is not clear just how many civilians have perished, nor is there reliable information on the numbers of invading militants and Ukrainian soldiers who have become casualties. With the ongoing havoc of war, it will likely be some time before we have accurate information on the toll, and the numbers are likely to be staggering.

But this we do know: Russia's troops have wreaked devastation on a relatively stable, peaceful and productive nation, and the carnage must end. Sadly, the U.S. has, so far, failed to be the angel of mercy so desperately needed—and for good reason. The presence of Putin's nuclear resources demands restraint, and a new world war is not an acceptable option. All it would take is the madman and the button.

Ukraine's citizens, in multiple towns and cities under siege, are running out of food, water, power, medical care and adequate housing. And the entire nation is enduring the horrors of a war it didn't choose. But the Russian invaders and Ukraine's brave defenders are not the only casualties of war. There's another thing that virtually always suffers and dies before or during armed conflicts; it's called "truth."

While Putin cracks down on the media and hastens to muzzle social platforms and the internet, America and its allies are quick to vilify him for the lies he tells his people. His campaign is, apparently, so effective that most of the Russian people have no idea what's going on in Ukraine.

In his speeches to his countrymen, Putin characterizes the military campaign as an attempt to save the Ukrainian people from neo-Nazi genocide and radical-right extremists—a worthy cause, indeed. But Putin knows the truth—that his popularity would take a precipitous slide if his people had the facts.

Likewise, the Russian army has been blinded—first, by the lie that it was deployed strictly for training exercises and then, that the people they're killing are somehow far-right terrorists and bad guys. Their president understands that as long as those falsities persist, it may be possible for the Russian troops to salvage their esprit de corps. As in any war, maintaining morale is vital to winning, and the truth would have a devastating effect on Putin's army. It requires the lie.

While Americans and allies decry the Russian leader as an international terrorist and a war criminal, we should all be wincing at the understanding that our country has done more than its share of terrorism and killing, and that almost all recent and not-so-recent U.S. "wars" have utilized lies as justification for mayhem and murder.

We don't have to look back very far, or even turn our eyes toward the continuing debacles of war-torn countries, to understand that lies have always been employed to generate enthusiasm and a sense of patriotism among the American public. Whether it's "Remember the Maine," the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Saddam Hussein's harboring of Al-Qaeda and his much-publicized supply of "weapons of mass destruction," the U.S. won't be wearing any halos for its honesty—or humanity.

When we talk about Putin's murder of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, it's hard not to consider, just for a moment, that the George W. Bush administration created a colossal public-relations lie, blaming the innocent Iraqis for 9/11 and destroying a prosperous country's infrastructure and economy. Bush's lies were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.03 million non-combatants. Sure, Saddam was no good guy, but our invasion and mass murders in Iraq were based on a well-developed intelligence report, fabricated at the highest levels of our government.

Despite its claims of Christianity and decency, America is culpable in the ongoing suffering of Palestinians, Syrians, Somalis, and Yemenis—to name a few. We should cringe, like men who live in glass houses and love to throw rocks, at our myopic view.

Putin is clearly a bad guy—a narcissist and a sociopath. He will continue to kill without conscience, and he must be stopped. But it is sheer naivete—or idiocy—to think that our world is really about the good guys and the bad ones. Remember, there are millions of grieving families, across the globe, who know that America's leaders have not been saints.

We can shout about how Putin is killing civilians. But are our memories really too short to remember that a phony report of U.S. warships being attacked by North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin led to a gruesome, protracted war in Southeast Asia—a war in which B52 bombers indiscriminately wasted whole villages of innocent people, destroyed millions of acres of beautiful countryside and employed napalm, carpet-bombing, white phosphorus and other devices denounced by the international community?

The toll, in the end, was great. We're all aware of how many U.S. soldiers died, and the Gulf of Tonkin pretext was responsible for an estimated 2 million Vietnamese deaths. All it took was one whopping lie.

While we cheer Biden for publicly calling out Putin as a war criminal and we scream for retribution for the civilian deaths in Ukraine, we must not forget that today's International Criminal Court would also indict Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and other leaders for America's crimes against humanity. We've recently been reminded that Russia has veto power against any U.N. Security Council resolution it doesn't like. Sadly, the U.S. has the same ability to dodge responsibility, and has even passed laws against giving up Americans to the war crimes authorities. When the greatest nations of the world can't be held responsible, how can there be any hope for eliminating the scourge of war?

My point is not to beat up my country, but to create an understanding—that there's no solid demarcation between the bad guys and the good. As long as our country declines to be subject to international law, it will remain—just like Russia—an impediment to world peace.

The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He lives in Riverton, Utah with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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