Some Thoughts on War and Peace as I Vacation in Eastern Europe

As I write this on Monday evening, Rita and I are midway through our cruise of the Danube River from the Black Sea to Vienna. On Saturday we had a home visit at a village in Croatia. Our host family’s home was largely destroyed during the Serbo-Croatian war of the early 1990s, but they rebuilt it with help from the government. During that conflict they had to evacuate to another country. I remember those years well and can’t imagine what our life would have been like if it had included such fear, dislocation and destruction.

We already feel blessed to live in the Denver area, spared from the tornados, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, earthquakes (and more) afflicting fellow Americans, but being bombed and having to rebuild entire cities — that’s another matter entirely. Our guide told us that 91% of the buildings in the city where our ship docked were destroyed during World War II. Many buildings still show damage from that war.

And we can’t forget that a few hundred miles to the east of where we are, whole cities, including homes, hospitals and schools continue to be destroyed by Russian artillery.

Yes, we lucked out being born in America and choosing to relocate to Colorado. But we can’t forget the suffering of those — in America and elsewhere — who have suffered and continue to suffer.

As baby boomers, Rita and I are only a few years shy of being old enough to have lived through World War II. We didn’t witness it in real time, and we were raised to believe that such killing and devastation  was only something that occurred before our time. But we have seen too much conventional warfare elsewhere and should realize that America is indeed exceptional for having been spared the experience of warfare at home since our Civil War.

Last week we spent a day in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and the former capital of Yugoslavia. Located strategically at the confluence of two rivers, it has been fought over through the centuries so often that it has been destroyed and rebuilt 40 times, according to guide books. Al-though it holds the prize in that regard, other European cities were destroyed by war multiple times. Can you imagine your city and your life including such a history?

If you, like me, had thought that the cycle of wartime destruction and rebuilding had been broken, you and I need only look at what Vladimir Putin is doing right now in Ukraine, leveling multiple cities and towns, committing verifiable war crimes by targeting apartment buildings, hospitals, churches and schools.

But shouldn’t war itself be considered a war crime?  We’d like to believe that Putin is the last world leader to justify in his own mind the bombing and destruction of another nation’s cities.

The creation of the European Union and the expansion of NATO gives us hope that European countries, at least, will not go to war with each other ever again.

Meanwhile, with the increased political division in our own country and the use of “civil war” language on the far right, should we worry that those millions of assault weapons in Americans’ personal arsenals might someday be used against fellow citizens perceived as enemies? Even posing that question would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but now it’s a valid and recurring topic of serious discussion. 

I wish more Americans would come to Eastern Europe, or at least Western Europe, to meet people who have in their lifetime experienced warfare at home. We have seen similar devastation from tornados in America, but imagine if those same scenes of devastation had been created by us Americans in a prolonged war against each other?

Please, let that not be our future!

Why Wouldn’t the Russians Want Trump Re-Elected? Look at His Accomplishments.


This article represents the author’s personal analysis and opinion. It has not been shared with or endorsed by any of our broker associates.

No world leader has done more to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin and Russia than President Trump. I write this as a former student of the Russian language (in which I am still semi-fluent) and thus as a student of the Soviet Union and now Russia. I traveled to Moscow and Leningrad in 1978 as part of an MIT alumni trip, and again in 1986, 1987 and 1988 on “citizen diplomacy” trips under the auspices of the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in Bellingham, Washington. My last trip was to Vladivostok, the Pacific port and terminus of the Trans-Siberian railroad, in 1995, on a tour of China, Korea, Russia and Japan.

First, let’s consider Putin’s interests. As a former KGB officer for the Soviet Union, Putin watched helplessly as the Soviet empire disintegrated under Gorbachev. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russian President and appointed Putin acting president on December 31, 1999, Putin made it his goal (after pardoning Yeltsin) to return his country to its former glory as a super-power and to bring as many of the former Soviet republics as possible, including Ukraine, back into Moscow’s orbit.

Key to strengthening Russia was the weakening of NATO and the European Union, and annexing strategically important Crimea. Although that annexation occurred before Trump took office, he helped Putin succeed in weakening NATO and the EU. As a candidate, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and, as president, he hesitated to endorse Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was in connection with the Sept. 11th attack on the United States. Trump’s reluctance to support it must have made Putin very happy. He was made even happier when Trump enthusiastically supported the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union, and encouraged other European countries to follow Britain’s example.

Withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from the Paris Accord on climate change, combined with other international actions, have contributed to a reduction in America’s standing on the global stage, allowing for a bigger role by Russia.

Trump’s criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its ongoing aggression against Ukraine can be described as half-hearted at best. The entire theory of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, as recounted under oath by Fiona Hill, was a Russian narrative adopted hook, line and sinker by President Trump. It is fair to say that Trump has been duped by the Kremlin in this and other ways. Why wouldn’t Putin want to keep him in the White House for another term?

Forget about collusion — it wasn’t necessary for Trump to collude in 2016, and it’s not necessary for him to collude now. Putin saw in Trump the perfect man to become President when he was the Republican nominee, and is happy to join the chant, “Four More Years!”

What, you might ask, about Russia helping the Sanders’ campaign?  I suspect that is also in support of Trump, since Sanders would be easier for Trump to defeat as a “socialist.”

The lingering question is why Trump wants to advance Putin’s interests. 

This article is also posted on my personal blog at, where you can like, share or comment on it.