Teddy Roosevelt said ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ but America today is screaming about Russia and holding nothing but its dick in its hands. And it gets cold in Russia.
The Powerless Superpower
How long can an empire keep losing wars without losing power? As Andrei Martyanov asks “where are the tangible results in what throughout human history has served as the most important test of power: victories in wars?” This is a question America has been violently, rudely asking for decades, and the answer has long been ‘no’. Now it’s just becoming obvious.
Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, all draws or losses. America is capable of destroying things, but not achieving strategic objectives, or even having a strategy beyond destruction for profit. In Afghanistan, America deployed for 20 years, spent trillions of dollars, and still somehow lost to some of the poorest people on Earth. All the blood, all the treasure, it was all for nothing. It was all just human sacrifice on the altars of their war gods, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
In Ukraine, NATO trained a large Ukrainian force and flooded the place with billions of dollars in weapons. And it’s all getting ground up in Putin’s cauldron. America screamed propaganda about how dangerous Russia is to the world, but then did nothing about it besides profit from the suffering of Ukrainian people. Now they just look impotent.
An empire can’t take L after L like this and not one day be deemed a loser. America’s military actually sucks, and Andrei Martyanov called it in 2018, in his book Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning. In that book, he talked about the current conflict with Russia before most of us perceived it happening (though it was happening).
World War II
The last war America really ‘won’ was World War II, and they didn’t really win it. As Carl von Clausewitz said about actual victory:
“What do we mean by the defeat of the enemy? Simply the destruction of his forces, whether by death, injury, or any other means — either completely or enough to make him stop fighting…The complete or partial destruction of the enemy must be regarded as the sole object of all engagements… Direct annihilation of the enemy’s forces must always be the dominant consideration.”
By this measure, the USSR did 80% of the winning of World War II. The brutal, methodical grinding up of the Wehrmacht was accomplished on the Eastern Front, not the Western.
“For most of the war, 75–80 percent of the Wehrmacht had to be deployed in the East, a preponderance dictated by the sheer size of the front, and 80 percent of German war dead perished there: about four million of the five million German soldiers killed in World War II.” (WWII Museum)
This is the bloody point of war, not retreats like Dunkirk or finding random privates named Ryan. The point is killing your enemy in such numbers that they submit to your will. And the USSR did most of it.
Americans especially have no idea about that side of the war. As a schoolchild in America, however, I was not taught about the Soviet contribution at all. The Americans swooped in, kicked ass, Hitler was bad, the end. The Soviets somehow randomly ended up in Berlin, around the same time, walking in the back door.
As Martyanov said (quoting a 2015 survey) “an overwhelming majority of the American public, 55%, think the US contributed the most to the defeat of Germany with only 11% thinking it was Soviet Union, as one of many similar polls testify. If those astonishing numbers are not the result of propaganda, one is then forced to contemplate how, other than due to propaganda, such a complete obliviousness to the basic facts of WWII could have been achieved.”
And it is indeed propaganda. Americans have made countless movies about finding random privates, hidden art, and minor generals like Patton. The British made movies about their retreats, speeches, and code-breaking. These are all interesting stories, but none of them are the real story of war, which is encountering the enemy and killing them in numbers.
The Russians knew this quite viscerally and thus the stories they tell their schoolchildren are quite different. As Robert Skidelsky wrote in the intro to a book on Russian textbooks, “The Russians believe, quite rightly, that it was they who bore the brunt of the fighting and the horror. They also claim, in my view rightly, that it was they who defeated the Germans with rather minimal help from the Western Allies.”
This is undeniably true, but even when it is acknowledged in the west, it is portrayed as mindless human sacrifice, with no regard for human life. As wildly racist American war hero George C. Patton said:
“The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European but an Asiatic and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese and, from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other amiable characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all-out son of a bitch, a barbarian, and a chronic drunk.”
This of course sounds wildly racist, but western attitudes towards Russia haven’t changed. In 2016 the Boston Globe said “Putin’s Russia is a poor, drunk soccer hooligan.” You get Economist covers like this all the time: