George Pyle: What are Americans willing to give up for someone else’s freedom?

Instead of putting all the burden on combat troops, we all may have to accept a little economic pain.

(Emilio Morenatti | AP) Natali Sevriukova reacts next to her house following a rocket attack the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

The whole of the Utah congressional delegation has issued the proper statements of horror and resolve in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. So has just about everyone else with a Twitter account.

It was easy, of course, for Sen. Mitt Romney, who is entitled to a few moments of a Superior Dance for having warned us all about the threat Russia poses way back in 2012.

It might have been a little more difficult for the half of the delegation — Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens. They have never turned their back on Donald Trump and thus might have been expected to follow The Former Guy’s adulation of Putin’s exercise of raw power.

Putin and Trump appeal to the same strain of politics. White Christian Nationalism. Hatred and fear of gay people, Muslims, liberals, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic societies. We can only wait and see whether many of those who now call for a serious response to Putin will stick with it when it turns out that it might involve some pain for rich Americans as well.

The last time the United States helped to fight off fascists rolling across Europe, we were all in. It wasn’t just soldiers in combat. The whole nation was turned into a war machine. The Arsenal of Democracy, we called ourselves.

People of all ages who never held a rifle or drove a tank participated in the war effort by accepting food and fuel rationing, buying war bonds, growing our own food and doing without new cars or tires because all the raw materials and our giant industrial capacity were devoted to the victory effort.

It worked.

This time, our leaders are telling us they won’t be sending American troops to fight in this European conflict. Assuming Joe Biden keeps the promise that both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt broke, we might have a chance to prove that we are at least as willing as our great-grandparents were, sitting safely across the ocean, to sacrifice a little personal economy for the survival of someone else’s freedoms.

It will be shameful indeed if we aren’t.

There is reason to hope that the sanctions aimed at Putin may have some effect on that nation’s willingness and ability to continue this war or spread it to any other nations. Though Biden may find that he has gone much too soft.

A real economic crackdown on Russia, to be effective, will probably have to be more like a total blockade. No food. No medical supplies. No financial transactions or microchips or iron ore or rubber or silicon or fertilizer or tobacco or DVDs or mobile phones. No academic conferences or exchanges. No Olympics or football matches. Seize Putin’s personal bank accounts and yachts and impound anything spelled with a backwards “R.”

That means there will be economic pain on both ends. Mostly in Russia, but some in America, as well.

Yes, some enterprising blockade runners in Russia will get rich and it may take awhile for such efforts to be effective. But if we can’t use the fact that America has more money than Zeus, most of it in the hands of a very few people, to our advantage, then what’s it all for?

Since 1945, the wars America has been involved in have directly affected only a small percentage of the population. After the U.S. ended the draft, the burden of wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq was carried by a few volunteer members of our armed services, a lot of them from poor minority communities where the Army was seen as the best way out of poverty.

None of the rest of us was expected to do much. That’s why those wars dragged on so long.

Now, instead of expecting young men to do the fighting and dying while the rest of us build up our 401(k)s or make profits selling night-vision goggles and fighter jets to the Pentagon, we will be asking otherwise rich and comfortable people to give up a small part of their riches and comfort for the benefit of a faraway people who have none of that.

That’s a war that rich nations like the U.S. and U.K. and Germany should easily be able to win. If we can stick with it.

But if we forget the purpose of those sanctions. If the working class resents gas going up and Wall Street moans about stocks going down. If we think that the good citizens of Kyiv should have to take shelter in their subway stations so that residents of Provo can sell spyware to the GRU. If Utah politicians successfully blame Democrats for the economic woes that may result from this effort.

Then we will be as weak and decadent as Vladimir Putin says we are.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, thinks Americans who see vaccination mandates as attacks on their freedom should volunteer for the Ukrainian Army.


Twitter, @debatestate