Of Hostile Invasions and Their Burdens

Photo by Nadiia Ganzhyi on Unsplash

It is hard to see what Russians gain from their government’s invasion of its neighbors.  Certainly neither Russian nor Ukrainian soldiers benefit.  That, however, is also true of the people of both nations, now and in the days to come.  How are the leaders of Russia, by recourse to bloody war, serving the people whom they govern?

Vladimir Putin apparently forgot why a prior Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, took Russia out of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Yeltsin knew, as even Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev knew, that the rest of the USSR was a burden and economic drain on Russia.  Supporting and controlling the other Socialist Republics cost more than they returned.  So Yeltsin did what had been until then unthinkable (or unspeakable)—until he did it.  As President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Yeltsin considered what was best for the people of Russia and exercised the nation’s right under the Soviet Constitution to withdraw from the USSR.  It did not take Gorbachev long to recognize that he could do little about it.  Friendless and no longer fed by Russia, the USSR peacefully dissolved.

Today’s Russian economy is noticeably better than the heavy Soviet socialism.  Yet it continues to strain under weighty government control, corruption, and crony favoritism.  Ask the people in far eastern Ukraine—the part dominated by Russia for the last several years—how well Russian economic policies and promises are working for them?  They will not tell you, because they are not allowed to say.  Ask their neighboring Russians how much they have benefited from Russian control of those eastern provinces.  Take your answer from the looks on their faces.

Are those eastern Ukrainian provinces, with their boarded up windows, idle workplaces, unrepaired buildings and streets, and shortages of much of everything, a model for what Putin intends for the rest of Ukraine?  Ukraine has its economic troubles and corruption and cronyism, too, but the Ukrainians who have voted with their feet show why they have been leaving the Russian “liberated zones” and moving west.

Whatever the Russian government may declare to be success by its invasion, I cannot but think that it will be for naught.  Any bloody ground they seize, any unwilling people they capture, will be a constant drain on Russia, indeed the more the worse.  That is the hostile invaders’ burden and curse. 

After so many are killed and so much is destroyed, how long will Russians think that their government’s adventure was worth it?  What weights will Putin’s escapade be laying upon his people to carry? The longer it goes on, the worse it gets for all concerned.  From the perspective of the people of Russia and Ukraine, I do not see how this ends well.

Of Good Leaders and Society’s Safety

Photo by Megan Thomas on Unsplash

The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a society in ancient America that was under constant threat and frequent attack from another people who were fierce and far more numerous.  They were also related, which made hostility acute and seemingly ineradicable—save one should eradicate the other.

Like everyone in the western hemisphere their roots were planted by immigration.  These immigrants from the Old World were largely from two interrelated families.  They barely got along while the founding patriarch, Lehi, lived.  When he died, leadership succession threatened bloodshed.  Rather than fight it out, one group, led by a younger son, Nephi, left.  The other group, which over time became larger, was led by the eldest son, Laman.

The two societies could hardly be more different, because their leaders, though brothers, could hardly be more different.  Laman was opposed to emigrating from the Old World.  Lehi was given a prophetic charge to leave.  God told Lehi (who like his contemporary, Jeremiah, was a prophet of Christ) that his city, Jerusalem, was doomed, descending into social disorder and vulnerable to predictable conquest.  Laman doubted the prophecy.  Nephi, supporting his father, was given divine confirmation of the Lord’s warning.

In Lehi’s day the differences were occasionally resolved, but only superficially.  Laman, and those who listened to him, having little faith in his father’s prophecies, only with reluctance cooperated.  Nephi believed.  With that faith, confirmed by his own communion with the Lord, Nephi was instrumental in facilitating the pilgrimage to what the Lord vouchsafed Lehi and his family would be a promised land.

For centuries following Lehi’s death, both sides tried, in their characteristic idioms, to bridge the schism.  The people of Nephi, according to the record, devised “many means to reclaim and restore” the people of Laman “to the knowledge of the truth”.  Their record reports, on the other hand, that the people of Laman “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.” (Jacob 7:24)

Which would prevail?  In terms of reunification, neither succeeded for more than four hundred years.  Measured by prosperity, the people of Nephi flourished.  While the chronicle is brief, it describes a society as advanced as any global contemporary of the fourth century B.C.:

And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war. . . and all preparations for war. (Jarom 1:8)

Compare that with the description of the people of Laman, who fell into degradation:

. . . they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat . . . (Enos 1:20)

By one gauge, the people of Laman exceeded the people of Nephi, “they were exceedingly more numerous”.

The moral of the story is this.  The people of Nephi prospered, not only materially and socially, but they also succeeded in holding their enemies at bay, enemies whose hostility was implacable, constant, and fierce, and who were “exceedingly more numerous”.  How so?  The crowning message inscribed in the ancient records of the people of Nephi was that their kings and leaders “were mighty men in the faith of the Lord”.  Thereby the people were led in safety.  That is a vital message for our society, or any society.

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