Crisis in the Urkraine — Part 2

Depending upon who you ask, the Crimea is either still a part of the Ukraine or a part of Russia.  Fortunately the events which brought about this situation all happened in the past 6 months meaning they should all be fresh in everyone’s mind.  It started with the Ukrainian people toppling their pro-Russian President and replacing him with a popular official.  This unrest within the Ukraine gave President Putin all the ammunition he needed to stir up a little trouble in Crimea, and that he did.  And just to put a sharp point on his intensions, he sent thousands of Russian troops to the area.  He was obviously provoking the government of the Ukraine into doing something aggressive.  But he was also offering solace to the large population of Russians who live in Crimea.  The message being, “Feel safe.  We are here for  you.”  It did not matter to him that any incursi0n on the sovereign soil of the Ukraine was an act of war, regardless of the vote the Crimean parliament took.  Crimea was, and is, the lawful territory of the Ukrainian people.  Putin has snubbed his nose at a country’s right to sovereignty by placing his troops on the Ukrainian military compounds while running out the Ukrainian troops.  He is daring the Ukrainian government, and anyone else, to do something about it.

The U.S. response to all this was to first put sanctions of many Russian businessmen who do business in the U.S.  Then they made a number of Russian diplomats persona non grata who were ordered to leave the U.S.  And finally, we are sending troops to Lithuania and the Ukraine.  It would not surprise me that troops will be placed in Poland as well.  The Ukraine is not a part of NATO however it borders countries which are to include Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Turkey, all of whom have a vested interest in maintaining peace in their sphere of influence.  And all, except Turkey, have no desire to once again fall under the rule of Moscow after they worked so hard to escape it.

One fear I have heard is that this could be the beginning of a whole new “cold war.”  I hope not but having armed camps along the Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean borders certainly makes things look that way.  Is this Russia testing the waters to possibly re-occupying a country like Belarus?  Estonia? Latvia?  Putin has absolutely no good excuse for sending his troops into a foreign country regardless of what the residents of that area voted.  No only is it an act of aggression, but an unmistakable act of war.

But we in the U.S. have declared ourselves to be the ally of the Ukrainian people.  And to that end we must give them all the support, within reason, that they need.  This is a case, however, where war materials, along with adequate training are about as far as we should go.  This is not our war but the Ukrainians are our friends, and we must respect all their requests.

The only acceptable result is a total Russian withdrawal from Crimea.


Crisis in the Ukraine

When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, countries that had no been independent for over 100 years came into being.  Regardless, all were looking for truly democratic governments as a replacement for the totalitarian government they had existed under.  Old republics like Kazakhstan which was brought under Russian rule in 1867, had no residents who could remember their independence.  Regardless of the circumstances, such republics necessarily undergo growing pains as they feel their way through independence. Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783.  Prior to that they had been a part of the Ottoman Empire.  The predominant ethnic group in Crimea had been the Tatars.  The Tatars were a Turkish speaking group who could trace their routes to Genghis Khan and the Mongols.  By contrast, the largest percentage of Ukrainians are what used to be called the “Ruthenians,” predecessors to the Russians.  And prior to its inclusion in the USSR, it had been rules by the Lithuanians, Poles, and Crimeans.  It is difficult to understand the conditions that exist today without the historic background being included.

The Ukraine has been an autonomous and independent republic since 1991.  Its borders, like that of many of its neighbors, were arbitrarily decided by 20th century definitions circa 1920.  If all this sounds rather confusing then I have made my point.  Border disputes right here in the United States have gone unresolved for hundreds of years.  For example, New Jersey claims it is the rightful owner of the island upon which the Statue of Liberty stands.  Similarly, a small island between New Hampshire and Maine, where significant portions of the Portsmouth Naval Yard exist, is in dispute between the two states.  When you are at a distance from any of these locations, it can be very difficult to understand what all the fuss is about.  This could  not be more true about Crimea.

What is presently occurring in the Ukraine with Crimea is entirely an internal civil dispute.  Unfortunately, President Putin has inserted himself into the dispute throwing it into even more turmoil.  And his insertion of Russian troops into Crimea is clearly a violation of another country’s sovereignty.  If, for example, Poland decided it had ancient rights to Kaliningrad, the old Polish city of Królewiec, President Putin would be beside himself in anger.

The U.S. options in this unfortunate dispute are actually rather limited.  We can, and should, impose economic sanctions on Russia if it continues to keep troops inside Ukrainian borders.  U.S. military options are, or should be, non-existent.  The U.S. and other countries should flex their political and economic might in support of the Ukraine as much as possible.  After that, the affairs with the Ukraine’s borders must be played out by its own people.

Legislating Morality

From the very beginnings of the United States, people have tried to legislate morality.  One of the earliest examples is that of alcohol.  In the early 19th century the women’s temperance movement started.  For a short while, Susan B. Anthony and her suffrage movement allied itself with temperance women.  But it did not take long for Anthony and others to realize that the temperance movement’s chief ally were the American churches who almost universally looked with disdain upon women’s suffrage.  It was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) who were chiefly responsible for the passage of the 19th Amendment which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol.  As we know this turned out to be a colossal failure.  Not only did it feed into government corruption, but helped give rise to the crime mobs.  While everyone seemed to agree that the nation had to deal with alcoholism, it was quickly apparent that outlawing the consumption of alcohol was not the answer.

The Volstead Act, which came into law at that same time was something of an offshoot of the temperance movement, having many of the proponents of the one proponents of the other.  That law outlawed gambling and prostitution.  Also in that same year, 1919, women’s suffrage succeeding in getting women the right to vote.  Today most states allow some form of gambling ranging from the lottery ticket to casinos.

Finally we have the sex laws.  In a 2003 decision, the US Supreme Court declared all laws against sodomy to be unconstitutional.  Even so, 14 states still have laws prohibiting such acts.  An argument for why those states have not changed those laws is that they do not any longer prosecute them.  But in 2008 in North Carolina two men were arrested for engaging in consensual sex.  And that brings into focus the conservative push to keep gay marriage from becoming legal in various states.  Clearly churches have the absolute right to declare certain acts to be immoral and the law cannot challenge such things, meaning if they want to deny a gay couple from marrying in their church, that is their 1st Amendment right.  But the state does not have the right to constitution laws with respect to religious beliefs, also a 1st Amendment prohibition.

In 1973 the US Supreme Court struck down laws which prohibited abortion with certain limitations.  This was also decided as a First Amendment issue where a person has the right to make medical decisions with regard to the own body.  I find myself in the strange position of believing in the right of each individual to make that choice, however, I found abortion to be reprehensible in all cases, to include pregnancies because of rape, incest and even where the mother’s life is in danger.  But this is my own personal moral belief which I have absolutely no right to impose on any other individual.  And for the record, I am not a member of any organized religion so that is not in play where my decision is concerned.

Now we come to the issue of prostitution.  I find the very thought of men and women paying for sex disgusting.  But here again I see this as a purely moral issue.  I also believe that if a man or a woman wants to sell their body for sex, we should have no bars to that.  I find it curious that prostitutes and their johns on the street are regularly arrested while “escorts” use that as a euphemism to sell sex.  Nevada states that prostitution is legal in only one county in their state, but on cable tv there is a show called “Gigolos” which documents the work of four men who sell their bodies for sex to their female clients.  It is an open practice that while technically illegal, it seems Nevada, or at least Las Vegas, does not chose to prosecute these people even while they are arresting the street prostitute doing the very same thing.

Of chief concern to the general public with regard to prostitution should be three things: public health, violence against women, and the attendant crime that follows street prostitutes.  I think the first thing which needs to be done nationally is the total decriminalization of prostitution across the nation together with incentives to remove it from the streets.  The Swedes came up with a great idea for removing prostitution from their streets which while imperfect, has greatly reduced it.  When a john is busted for solicitation his name is printed prominently in the local newspaper.  I would do the same in this country coupled with far stricter laws with regard to pimps, mandatory sentences with long jail terms.

Most women who prostitute have been victimized in one way or another.  What makes it worse, they were victims at an age well under 18 when they could make adult choices.  They are conscripted into the sex trade by force, by intimidation, or by circumstance at 13, 14, and 15 years of age. Our society, unfortunately, does little to help these victims when they are discovered.

The men who control these prostitutes are frequent engaged in the sale and distribution of drugs, engage in violence against the women they have power over, and against their johns.  It is rare any of these crimes is punished.  Our police departments simply do not have the manpower to even reduce prostitution and its attendant crime, let alone reduce it at all.

If governments move prostitution off the streets and into controlled facilities, the incidence of crime, disease and the sale of drugs should go down.  This experiment is currently, since 2003, being tried in New Zealand.  There are claims the incidence of street prostitution there has not gone down, however such problems can be overcome once you admit you have a problem and your old ways of attempting to deal with have met with absolute failure.  Eradicating prostitution is impossible but controlling it is entirely possible, if we are willing to try.


Sharing Your History

Most people look at the making of history in a short of detached mode.  That is, they see historic events, like the 9/11 bombings but do not consider themselves as a part of it.  We all saw the towers collapsing, the people jumping to their deaths, the fire and police responders in the middle of everything.  Those people, of course, we central to that history as it was made.  But they we actually only a small part of a much larger scenario.  That historic event in fact went on for days, months, years.  We were all witness to it in one way or another and we all made observations about it.  It effected our lives, our movements, our perceived safety, and many other parts of our lives.  For me personally, I had to attend my daughter’s wedding 10 days after the attack and had to fly through Newark airport to get to San Antonio.  My flight from Boston to Newark involved our flying very near to where the twin towers once existed.  I saw the smoke rising from that spot and that image is indelibly imprinted on my memory.  For a historian, which I have a masters degree in, primary source material is of the first priority in understand historical events completely.  My recounting of the 9/11 events, not just my seeing ground zero from my airplane window, but how I, as a Federal Government employee at the time, is exactly what a historian covets in properly capturing historical events.

But what else is there?  First of all, history is something that in on-going.  It does not start and stop with particular memorable events, but is a continuous series of small events.  Most people believe their lives are uneventful and of no particular interest to historians.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The fabric of history is intertwined with the lives of every living people.

For example, back in 1989 I decided to take the train cross-country, Boston to San Francisco via Chicago.  The Boston to Chicago leg on the Lake Shore Limited started in the late afternoon of one day and finished in Chicago in the early afternoon of the following day.  On the morning of that second day, I travel from my compartment to the dining car to have breakfast.  I was seated across from an elderly lady and we of course struck up a conversation.  I asked her where she came from and what she had done when she was working.  I remember her commenting how her life was unremarkable, or so she thought.  She told me that she had taught school in a one room school house in southern Ohio.  I told her that her experience was special and worthy of being remembered on paper.  I told her that the one room school house was a thing of the past and that only those who experienced such things could properly relate to coming generations who would have no concept, no perspective of such a thing.  I was sad that I had no way to capture her memory but told her that her memories were valuable and worthy of being written down.  I have carried that belief with me since.

My own family has a rich history but most of it is limited to brief snippets which do not do justice to their experiences.  To that end, I decided to interview my Aunt Charlotte.  Aunt Charlotte was my father’s sister.  My father died in 1970 and I was too young prior to that to have asked him much about his prior life.  That meant when he died so did every single memory of his.  I have at least 1000 questions of him which of course can never been answered.  But I decided that I could gain insight by interviewing my aunt who was extremely close to her brother, my father.  I had the good sense to take a mini-recorder with me when I interviewed her so I could capture her every word.  I then found someone who could transcribe the recording.  I have a complete written transcript of that interview which was invaluable for my gaining insight into my paternal family.   During that interview an interesting thing happen.  She used the word “pung” which has slipped from the modern lexicon.  That is because a pung is a sled which was used when she was a child, 1910s and 1920 to transport milk cans from the dairy farms to the creamery.  Although it was a part of her memory it of course was not a part of mine, or anyone else of my generation and succeeding generations because paved roads put an end to their use.

My own personal history includes my having worked in a shoe factory, a true sweat shop, when I was 16.  I was experience in the end of a particular type of manufacturing in Lawrence Massachusetts.  The pictures in my head need to be on paper so when someone wants to learn about the experience of factory workers back then they will have my first person account of it.  That experience is called by historians “primary source.”  A primary source is a first hand account of any event.  But when historians go about reconstructing an event in history rely heavily upon these primary sources.  Unfortunately, too my of history is either lacking or absence of primary source material.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus back in 1954 her story was well documented.  But there were other people on that bus.  Their view of history as it happened at that moment is equally important in drawing up a complete picture.  It is unlikely many, if any, of their accounts were documented and that is a loss.

My suggestion to everyone is to document the histories of the elder members of their family first.  Have them tell you their experience of what it was like when they were young, from their earliest memory forward.  If nothing else, you are guaranteed to hear very interesting facts of their early life.  These oral histories, as they are referred to, are invaluable.

An excellent way of preserving your family’s history is through genealogy.  There are many sites on the internet today dedicated to genealogical study and research.  More and more people share their family’s history on-line which could possibly intersect with your own family.