Sting’s 1985 masterpiece proves tragically appropriate in 2022.
One of the most moving, powerful songs I’ve ever heard – yes, for those who know me, powerful even in comparison with Springsteen’s stuff – is Sting’s 1985 composition, “Russians.” Released as part of his first solo album, near the height of the Cold War, it’s a plea for peace at a time of intense international tension.
Here’s the original version, with lyrics:
As we enter a new/old era, a Great Leap Backward in geopolitical relations, “Russians” haunts me yet again. Not all of the tune’s lyrics resonate quite the same way these days. It was, after all, a pacifist appeal, whereas today we applaud Ukrainians’ heroic fight against Putin’s horrific onslaught.
But the underlying, overwhelming message remains the same. As Sting puts it in his introduction to a beautiful, stripped-down version in his March 5 video, “I’ve only rarely sung this song in the many years since it was written, because I never thought it would be relevant again. But in the light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbor, the song is once again a plea for our common humanity.”
His introductory words in the video are as eloquent as the song itself:
These are indeed worrisome times, to put it mildly. Whatever the flaws of the Soviet Union’s Cold War leaders, they displayed a degree of rationality in their cold calculations. Until recently, Putin too had a reputation as an icily rational ruler. Now, his “woefully misguided decision to invade” couples with other actions and words to make a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, a former U.S. director of national intelligence and many other analysts worry about his becoming unhinged – though some speculate that this is just a negotiating ploy on Putin’s part.
But there’s good news as well, amidst this horror. One foreign policy analyst may be speaking for many of us when he proclaims, “I’m not a praying man, but if I were, I would be on my hands and knees thanking the Almighty that during the worst crisis in Europe since 1945, the United States is led by Joe Biden, not Donald Trump,” adding that he has been “masterful in his handling of the Ukraine war.”
Indeed, in leading NATO, mobilizing massive military aid for Ukraine, uniting with our allies on stringent economic sanctions against Russia, refraining from trading inflammatory nuclear rhetoric with Putin, and dozens of other ways, Biden is handling this incredibly complex crisis astutely. The contrast between his invasion response and that of his predecessor, Putin’s poodle, is like day and night.
Many factors may sway how this catastrophe plays out. Ukraine’s resilience and resistance. Our allies’ determination. Whether Putin’s generals and oligarchs keep backing him. How his country’s populace reacts to the sanctions’ bite. Whether the brave anti-war demonstrators among them can spur more opposition to Putin’s folly. Whether Americans weather the storms of sanctions-induced inflation and other harms that vastly pale in comparison with what the Ukrainians face, but that will test us nonetheless.
But one key consideration may be, as Sting’s song says, “if the Russians love their children too.”
We know they do. Let’s hope their love makes a difference.
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.