Can Ukraine harness the power of the little ones to survive the Russian attack?
Ticks wouldn’t fare well in direct combat with people. Thus, the small insects hide under the hairs or in the small corners of the larger mammal. They attack their prey discreetly and often without being noticed. Disease-carrying ticks carry even smaller threats, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and more than a dozen other pathogens.
Another out-of-sight agent of destruction is COVID-19. Even though we like to crush these insects or microbes, they can bypass our defenses or attack undetected. Their dangers hang over mankind not in spite of their size, but because of their small size.
In modern times when the big seem all-powerful – billionaires, megastars, and even corporations considered too big to fail – these tiny agents of destruction are a reminder of the power of the small.
A dark fate seems to await Ukraine in the face of the invasion of the Russian superpower, unless it can use the powers of the little ones. This is what George Washington and Ho Chi Minh have in common. They both used their advantages, including flexible adaptability and elusive maneuvers, to avoid direct confrontation with much more powerful enemies.
The fledgling United States and Vietnamese Communists used the tactic of small wars without a clear front. Hiding allowed you to wait for opportune moments to attack before falling back out of sight. These tactics resemble those of terrorists who would have no chance of directly confronting a larger force. Such enemies engage in “methods of combat not sanctioned by the rules of war”, as the United States Marine Corps wrote in its Small Wars Manual (1940), a description that would serve its round of vindication for the Corps’ own often ruthless attacks. practices. Total war is the terrorism of the well-armed powers capable of destruction on a large scale, while terrorism is the total war of the less powerful, if they can avoid direct engagements, attack the big guns at their most vulnerable points and wait each opportunity to use their strengths.
The little ones have surprising powers, but it’s not a safe bet.
Native Americans generally fought with small-scale warfare approaches, winning some defensive victories, but overall succumbed to defeat against the much larger forces of the United States. The Seminoles are the exception that proves the rule with their elusive attacks and steadily retreat further south on the Floirida Peninsula. They never won in three wars and countless minor raids from the 1810s to the 1850s against their neighboring superpower, but they are the only undefeated Native American nation.
The Palestinians present the example of a people in constant decline even before the formation of the State of Israel. After subordination to the Ottomans and then to the British, they lost territory to Jewish immigrants through fighting, land sales and diplomacy, culminating in Israel’s independence in 1948. Their battle defeats, leading to refugee camps, military occupation and exile, encouraged many Palestinians, particularly within the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, to adopt terrorist tactics. This tempting tool of the weak has led to morally outrageous attacks on Israeli civilians and widespread criticism. Palestinian civil society condemns these pleas for righteous anger, and the turns to terrorism have in fact undermined Palestinian hopes. While both sides suffer, the Palestinians share another challenge with the Ukrainians. Just as many supporters of Israel’s expansion with settlements in the West Bank deny Palestine’s separate identity among Arab countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not recognize Ukraine’s separate identity, as he impetuously asserted last July.
Similarly, the Ukrainians have little hope of a direct confrontation with their most powerful neighbor, but the methods of small wars give their endurance a chance in the face of overwhelming odds. The Ukrainians were able to effectively enlist these forces in the first weeks of the war. As Russian munitions and tens of thousands of troops stretched towards the capital, kyiv, Ukrainians from their hometowns attacked the heavy and extended supply lines, surprising the invaders. The big Russian guns sowed their version of terror, but they couldn’t resist the small-warfare tactics of the versatile defenders. Phase I of the war in the center-north of the country benefits Ukraine.
The Russians are now engaging in a strategy similar to that carried out by the British Empire against the rebellious Americans. When they could not quell the forces of sedition in the northern colonies, they effectively gave up trying to conquer those territories in favor of trying to secure the rest of Britain’s colonies in North America, although the British attempts to isolate the rebellious north ended with their defeat at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Similarly, Russia abandoned, at least for now, efforts to conquer the capital in an attempt to seize the Donbass region in the east. The Russians use their force of arms to implement the advantage of Russia, without any qualms about mass destruction: the bombardment of Mariupol left more than 90% of the buildings of this city razed, with high losses and growing. After the fall of this city, the Russians now have Sievierodonetsk, the last Ukrainian city to the east, in their sights.
These indiscriminate attacks indicate another frequent, if sinister, advantage for the little ones. Sympathy for Ukrainians, already high after falling victim to an unprovoked invasion, has skyrocketed around the world in the face of such brutal destruction. The Ukrainians seek military aid to counter their invaders’ ammunition advantage. These rockets and anti-aircraft guns will only be the tip of the spear of the nation’s forces. The Russians hoped their show of force would result in a quick victory, but their very abilities to viciously hammer their opponents will sow dragon teeth that could backfire as their victims’ morale increases and outside support grows. And Ukraine’s military force will continue its petty warfare tactics of searching for weak spots in Russian supply lines and “firing…from all angles,” as the retired Lt. Gen. put it. Douglas Lute. Ukrainian strength in the “legs” of flexibility will have a chance to fight against the weapons of Russian power.
The big question is whether Ukrainian moral and tactical advantages can endure and prevail. Will their moral authority shine like the American Patriots fighting for what historian Gordon Wood has called the democratic “destruction of aristocracy” with an unleashing of “people and their energies” or will they be viewed less favorably like terrorists? And will the tactics of small wars prove as effective as the people’s war of the Vietnamese communists against ammo-rich Americans or as ineffective as the Native Americans against this same kind of American firepower in its pre-20th century versions? ?
These are the forces in this unpredictable war, as civilians suffer, with more than a tenth of Ukraine’s population already fleeing the country and millions more displaced in their own homeland. Russia has amplified its military forces with the power of the unpredictable. Putin is keeping politicians and pundits around the world guessing and fearing that any more direct involvement by other nations will cause an escalation beyond Ukraine, possibly including the use of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Ironically, the traditional doctrine of deterrence, with the frightening threat of mutually assured destruction, actually encouraged Russian aggression. If this distortion of deterrence continues, the war will go on for a long time with heavy arms shipments to Ukraine and Russia preventing other nations from going directly to war due to its nuclear threats. Meanwhile, Russian attempts at conquest through total destruction will in turn strengthen sympathy for Ukrainians.
Defenders will be short-term casualties while in the long term they will possess what psychologist William James calls the force of “invisible molecular moral forces…squeezing through the recesses of…greatness and greatness…like so many limp rootlets or like the capillary water seeps’ against the force of the great powers. However, he warns that the strengths of the little ones usually only emerge “if you give them time”. Short-term arms deliveries will allow long-term forces to become effective.
Or Putin may find himself trapped by his expectation of a quick victory and even by his own language. Russia’s large arms supply leads to more brutal attacks, while Putin won’t even call it a war but a “special military operation”. This public relations disaster could combine with the economic and diplomatic challenge of Putin’s policies to encourage the Russian leader to adopt a brazen assertion never before used by the United States in Vietnam: declare victory and stand down. Pressuring Putin to make that choice might be the clearest path to ending the bloodshed, and a path with more potential for lasting peace than Henry Kissinger’s proposal for the Ukraine cedes territory to Russia.
While Ukraine’s fate hangs in the balance, its greatest strengths, like those of lowly insects and microscopic pathogens, lie in its willingness to use the strengths of the little ones.