If there ever was a time to be concerned about global politics and economics, that time is now – likely more than at any time since 1939. But back then, we had Winston Churchill, FDR and yes, Joseph Stalin who made sure his troops knew that anyone retreating would be shot. That is a genuine incentive to push forward. But leaders they were – contrary to what we have today.

I’ve been reading Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexeivich about Russia’s adventures in Afghanistan that preceded ours by a decade. Often referred to as Russia’s VietNam, I’d call that incorrect. When America left ‘Nam, a few years later we impeached a president and started to watch Saturday Night Live. When Russia left Afghanistan and experienced the explosion at Chernobyl, the empire melted down, just like the reactor. The wall between East and West Berlin came down, and shortly thereafter, the emboldened countries in eastern Europe declared their independence. Russia was too broke to send troops to fend off these moves to democracy.

Soldiers returning home in zinc coffins was the origin of the term Zinky Boys. Svetlana captured commentary from soldiers, nurses, mothers, officers and enlisted men to describe the experience of fighting an unseen enemy who was determined to oust Russian soldiers from its country. Of course, we’re still there after 18 years, but in small numbers with very limited casualties. But here’s what I’ve gleaned from reading this book, as well as her Voices From Chernobyl, from which Craig Mazzin wrote the screenplay for the HBO series. After these two major shocks to the Russian system, it showed ordinary people that the state – contrary to what they’d been told – was not infallible and – more importantly – was unable to care for them, individually or collectively. The curtain was pulled back and the guy pulling the levers was revealed to be a fraud. Only in this case, it was the system that was the fraud. Broke is broke, and we see that today in countries like Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

What’s that got to do with my first paragraph? The paucity of leadership has created a world today running on fear, anger and hatred – very much like Germany, Italy and Japan in 1939. We are on the cusp of something ugly, generated by this craven and spineless set of politicians currently running things. There doesn’t appear to be anything better anywhere on the horizon. So be prepared to experience a conflagration on a much bigger scale than the war in Afghanistan or a nuclear meltdown. The only interesting question now is what will be the spark that sets off whatever is coming. But if history is any guide, I see militarization in all our futures.

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