Seated at a coffee shop sidewalk table at Five Points in Franklin, the sight of Columbia Turnpike prompted reflection on the doomed Civil War infantry charge up the turnpike, and how that bears upon Ukraine’s zealous pugnacity today.
Daylight ebbing the last day of November 1864, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood ordered his Army of Tennessee to march up the turnpike and through adjacent fields to attack Union troops guarding Franklin. The attack’s failure was sealed after hours of desperate fighting. Suffering over 6,000 casualties, Hood’s troops fell back to the heights beyond town.
Despite resounding defeats at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville, the Confederate government continued what had become a futile struggle. With similar bullheadedness, Ukraine insists on taking everything back from Russia, meaning not only all four Russian-annexed eastern oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, but even the Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. Washington and NATO allies, egging on Ukraine, spout Manichean platitudes of good vs. evil that ignore the contextual strata of regional history. Let us cite a few fundamental omissions.
One is that civil war has raged between Ukraine and predominantly Russian-speaking breakaway oblasts Luhansk and Donetsk since 2014. Another is that Russia annexed Crimea in 1783, establishing Sevastopol as the naval base for its Black Sea Fleet over 100 years before American sugar planters, led by Sanford Dole, were to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, who had opposed the establishment of a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor.
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Not surprisingly, President Joe Biden flouted historical context in his scarily bellicose speech from Kiev. Our commanders in chief package the past into tidy boxes, denying complexities that would puncture the propaganda balloon of their own particular “righteous” war. Speaking at West Point in 2009 of his troop escalation in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama declared, “This is no Vietnam.” But Afghanistan War veterans – the best of our youth – who passed through my modern world history classes these past 20 years did see parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan, discussing them in class and in papers. But unabashed by Afghanistan, Washington and NATO pivoted quickly to fuel war in Europe, squashing peace initiatives.
Back before Russia invaded Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the White House and NATO allies, by insisting Ukraine retain the right to apply for future membership in NATO, precluded a diplomatic solution that could have forestalled the Russian invasion. In late March 2022, a month after the war’s outbreak, Ukrainian diplomats were meeting with Russian counterparts in Istanbul at peace talks hosted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, with Ukraine considering acceptance of neutral status. But on April 9, 2022, reports Ukrainian news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda, then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kiev, urging President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to stop negotiating, with Johnson saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had to be defeated.
George Orwell wrote in his novel "1984" that “The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil.” Now the enemy of the moment, unlike the Taliban, has a nuclear arsenal, as do we. The blare of civil defense sirens Saturdays at noon is no longer just vestigial background noise from a long-ago Cold War.
The vital Russian relationship lays fractured in pieces. May Washington, NATO allies, Kiev and Moscow pull back from the brink so children playing in parks beneath the wail of the sirens have the years they need to grow up to carry out the hard work of putting those pieces back together.
Fred Jordan teaches world history, American history and also has taught Spanish at Nashville State Community College, where he was Faculty Senate chair for 2017-18. Holding the International M.B.A. degree from the Fogelman College of Business and Economics at the University of Memphis, he earned master’s degrees in history and Spanish from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Opinion: Ukraine making same mistakes as Confederacy in US Civil War