Ukraine, War and News
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 13, 2022
The continuing war in Ukraine is offering some true military surprises and a load of lessons both on the nature of current struggle and on the need to recognize our public issues as complicated.
For several days now, we have been watching an underdog Ukrainian resurgence against the believed dominant Russian military, taking back seized territory in the country’s east with surprising ease as the Russians fall back. According to Ukraine’s army, a dramatic weekend offensive resulted in recapture of hundreds of square miles of territory and retaking more than 20 towns and villages.
The Washington Post reported that Russian soldiers fled any way they could — using stolen bicycles or disguised as local residents. The news outlet quoted one disoriented Ukrainian villager commenting on the sudden ouster of Russian occupying troops who “just dropped rifles on the ground.”
At the same time, from afar, Russian missiles were striking power plants and forcing the shutdown of the main Ukrainian nuclear power plant for fear that an errant weapon will set off a global catastrophe.
The Russians publicly have owned up to the demonstrable reports that they have been forced to withdraw from some of those early invasion advances, if only, as they say, to regroup and start in anew.
Battlefield reports aside, misery lies ahead with cutoffs of electricity, fuel, food and missile attacks even on civilian areas a constant threat — with effects in Ukraine but also in Russia and in Europe’s energy-deprived countries. Those mainstays of life are weapons in this war, as much as ammo depots and enemy tanks.
Any attempt to define what this new phase of warfare means is elusive, of course, The reality is too complicated, too dependent on factors far beyond where individuals reporting on what they can personally see can assess. It is a reminder that news often is about perspective and overly depending on the last 24 hours rather than the reliable measurable trend.
Futile Attempts at Finality
Still, we see continuing attempts, however futile or even ill-served, among the cable networks to put a definitive stamp on Where Things Stand. We need our winners and losers, and so speculation runs rampant amid incomplete information.
In this case, it should be sufficient to note that brave Ukrainian soldiers, bolstered and made possible by billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry and humanitarian support from the United States and NATO allies, are proving much more difficult to defeat than whatever it was that Russia had in mind last February. It should be enough to say that clever and strong military tactics have allowed a Ukrainian offensive rather than a crouching guerilla effort to stop further advance.
It is enough change to prompt questions about the Russian insistence of continuing the invasion at the risk of higher and irretrievable losses.
We can wait to find out whether this effort can be sustained, just as we can wait to learn whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin is losing support among his most vocal supporters. Why we always insist on a one-day answer to resolve any complicated public question remains a human mystery.
It is the same, of course, with our domestic ills, often being assigned to the outcomes of a poll or a legal development. One vote in Congress, one Supreme Court decision, one presidential speech, one televised election debate — even one national election — cannot not settle all that ails us. Indeed, almost half the country apparently doesn’t think that we can resolve who won the last election.
Instead of bringing the comfort of finality, the media mania for resolution drives us to turn off the television altogether, with many of us walking away muttering about the futility of it all.
Relying on News
“News” should be reliable, incoming information about what happened in this last cycle. It should be the stuff that prompts us to then think through what the implications might be. “News” should not be pre-packaged conclusions about situations that are fluid.
That is opinion, and it is good in its own way for understanding points of view, but not to substitute for information.
What elevates the news into a greater understanding is time and directed reporting effort toward a more rigorous look at results and the effects on actual people.
Just look at how much more we understand today about the complexities of a Supreme Court decision overturning legalized abortion on a national basis than we did upon reading the leaked version of the pending opinion last Spring. What has become clear, for example, is that even among legislators who had favored barring legal abortion that creating law over moral and imprecise practical issues is far more difficult than slogans could allow.
Wars prove that today’s reality can turn fairly quickly: Even two weeks ago, few would have suggested that Ukrainian forces would be driving up to 70 miles beyond what had been Russian lines.
What was true about our own election speculation before the last couple months of reaction to ending legal abortion and passage of a few administration bills should remind us that this is a longer, more unpredictable slog through U.S. political divides.