Ukraine: The first casualty of war can also be realism

by Bob Schwartz

It is often said, correctly, that the first casualty of war is truth.

A corollary, understandably, is that the first casualty can also be realism.

Understandably, because war is also a spiritual exercise, fueled by a mix of faith, ideology, desire, courage and hope. Those are not unrelated to realism. But depending on people and circumstances, they operate on a different plane.

Hearing often that Putin’s Ukraine invasion has not so far met his expectations, a realistic question is, in the event, what will he do? So a hopeful and uplifting answer is that the now renowned valor of Ukraine will slow him so much that he stops, and then withdraws. A realistic answer may be that if he is willing to have his people and his country bear the pain, in a head-to-head with Ukraine, even with Western resources added, Russia has an overwhelming advantage.

Hearing that the Russian people will rise up and depose Putin, the heart cautiously swells with that possibility (cautiously, because one never knows when one devil may replace another). Realistically, a tyrant who has spent decades honing his skills as a vicious top dog autocrat, and building an enforcement machine, will not be toppled so quickly.

Hearing that Putin is a war criminal, based on what we have already seen and are likely to yet see, is precise. And realistically beside the point. The label will have no current effect, and if Putin is the desperate and irrational animal some say, it may even make things worse, but in any case no better. The West continues to confuse, sometimes deliberately, rhetoric with action.

Is realism the opposite of hope? Can they coexist? They can and should coexist in appropriate measure. Too much realism can be dispiriting. Too little realism can prevent needed action. For the sake of Ukraine, let’s hope the leaders and talking heads know and respect the difference.

© 2022 Bob Schwartz