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Life as Performance Art

   Growing up, my favorite television cartoon program was Rocky and Bullwinkle. There were several different segments such as Fractured Fairy Tales, Dudley Doright, Mr. Know It All, and of course, the cartoon of Rocky the flying squirrel and his non-candidate for membership in Mensa friend Bullwinkle the Moose.  Often, they had to deal with the dastardly Russian spies, Boris and Natasha, sent by their boss, Fearless Leader, to steal vital American secrets, and conquer the world.   “Squirrel and Moose,” as Natasha called them, won every time.
    The cartoon, with all its atrocious puns, was part of our way of coping with the Cold War and the constant fear that someone was going to drop an atomic bomb that would vaporize us. Besides, Boris and Natasha, the hapless pair of no-goodnics, were far more interesting than the obese Mr. Khrushchev whose shoes were so tight, one day he took them off at a UN meeting and started pounding the table. And far safer than his successors who all looked like they suffered from hemorrhoids and gout from all that vodka a caviar we knew they were tossing back.
    The series came to an end, and in due course I had to go from enjoying Saturday morning cartoons to reading Billy Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  One short scene and a couple of lines from Julius Caesar came to mind a week or so ago when Vladimir Putin decided to take over Ukraine.  It appears that he wants to either be the next Caesar to rule the world, or the new Stalin.
    The line was: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”
    Putin comes from a long line of despots and tyrants who, regardless of their weight and girth, had that lean and hungry look, and probably thought far too much about maintaining their power and acquiring more.  One of the worst of them was the first Czar, Ivan the Terrible, from the late 1500s.  Ivan was truly a terrible person from his early years, from animal abuse when he was a child to the wholesale slaughter of people as an adult.  One of his favorite activities was to order the drowning of a thousand beggars each day. He pummeled his heavily pregnant daughter until she had a miscarriage, simply because he didn’t like a dress she wore. And when the people of Novgorod objected to his high taxes, he ordered the slaughter of some 30,000 of them.
     Most of us successors were psychopaths or weak-minded from too much in-breeding.  Peter the Great brought Russia into the modern age, but those who disagreed with him paid a heavy penalty. Catherine the Great ordered the murder of some close relatives to secure her throne and kept on liquidating people after that. The last Czar sent hundreds of thousands of his soldiers to their deaths, untrained and ill-equipped to fight the Germans. On the home front he let factory workers starve and forced them to sleep next to their lathes and tools. Nicholas II was the was the last of the blood-thirsty Romanovs, but Lenin and Stalin carried on the worst of the tradition.  Stalin famously said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is merely a statistic.”
    With that sort of track record, even if Putin does crack and either gets a one way train ticket to Siberia or a rival plugs him, there is no guarantee things are going to get much better, at least in the near term. Someone will take over from Putin, and the world will be grateful if he is amenable to term limits, rather than demanding he gets to hold on to the presidency for life.
     Meanwhile, there are many admirable things about the way the Ukrainians are holding out against the Russians.  It recalls the French Partisans (also known as the Resistance) who fought against the Nazis during the occupation of their homeland.  I came across the You Tube video clip, “Le Chant des Partisans” from August 1944, just as Paris was reclaimed from the Germans.  Civilian soldiers, men and women alike, mismatched uniforms and weapons, all risking their lives for the sake of freedom.  A great number of them were killed in the fighting, and the locations and names are recorded on with white marble on the street corners.
    The Ukrainians are fighting back, with everything from old rifles and shotguns to the latest high-tech stinger missiles. They are also using a finely hones sense of humor, sending e-messages to Russians, consoling them and sympathizing with them because of the trauma of discovering their favorite Starbucks is closed, or the ATM machine is not working.  “It must be so terrible for you,” they taunt the Russians.
    And, they are fighting back with anger and rage. Putin isn’t the only enemy. Now, they have turned with anger on others. It’s the  Ivans and Igors,  (junior officers lieutenants and captains) who command a field gun crew, or the senior officers who give the command for the guns top open up on a town or hospital.  They are turning their anger and rage into useful projects, from preparing bandages and rendering humanitarian aid to their fellow countrymen, to make Molotov Cocktails to use on the invaders.
    Putin has gotten himself into a war he will not win. Every building he blows apart is rubble behind which the freedom fighters can pepper away at their enemy.  Every innocent civilian, especially the children, are martyrs for whom the battle for freedom and independence will be waged.  Perhaps this time tyrants and despots will finally realize that patriots will never give in.
    Meanwhile, they need our help, and they need it big time. We are watching the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War Two. Some two million Ukrainians have had to make a run for the border,  leaving almost everything behind.  Perhaps you have noticed that there are a number of aid and relief organizations beginning to advertise on social media. Some of them are as wicked and deceptive of Putin,  only wanting to separate you and your money. 
    Fortunately, there are so well-established and very legitimate organizations that are helping the Ukrainians to the best of their ability. Among them,  Doctors  Without Borders, UNICEF, the Red Cross,  and the aid programs in many churches and denominations.  All of them will gratefully receive your financial support.
    Right now, one of the least useful things you and I can do is try sending supplies.  It’s a generous and kind gesture, but the humanitarian aid organizations need our financial support to buy the supplies that are already in Europe.

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