Tag Archives: Paul Ewing

The Crimea is as Russian as the Troika by Paul Ewing

Putin seizes Crimea? Get over it. Putin models the centuries-old authoritarian style of Russian leadership. He is the logical continuation of Ivan IV, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas I, Alexander III, Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev. The atypical Russian leader was the non-authoritarian Gorbachev, a man who stuck out like a sore thumb in Russian history. Those who are angered by Putin’s action need to place it in the context of Russian and Soviet history. We ignore this history at our own peril. We can not project our values onto Russia although we have been doing so ever since the 19th century. Western Europe should also take heed of this tendency.

To compare Russia to Serbia in Kosovo or to compare Putin to Hitler is absurd in the extreme.   Both analogies ignore crucial historical realities and self-destruct in the face of facts.  Hitler’s armies occupied the Crimean Peninsula in World War II. The Red Army, including its Ukrainian forces, drove the Nazis out.  And previously, immediately after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow’s Red Army defeated the White counterrevolutionaries in the Crimea during the 1918-1920 Civil War.*  In both conflicts Sevastopol proved crucial to Soviet victory.

The Ukraine and Crimea have always been of key geopolitical interest to Russia. At one time Kiev was the capital of Kievan Rus. And Russians are not likely to forget that France and Britain invaded Crimea in 1854 during the war that bears that peninsula’s name.  For most of the Soviet era the Crimea was part of  Russia. It wasn’t until 1954 that  Crimea became part of the Ukraine when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev  unilaterally gave it away.  What the Premier gives away yesterday the President can take back today. Remember Russia and the Soviet Union (and Russia again) have had very little experience with representative democracy.

Should the U.S. get involved? We’re bankrupt already from Iraq and Afghanistan and our “sanctions” are idle threats, paper tigers. Furthermore economic sanctions will hurt our economy more than Russia’s. Putin’s country sits on a gold mine of oil and natural gas.We might need some of it one day.

The best we can hope for is that there is no civil war in the Ukraine or Crimea.

*By the way the U.S. was one of the countries that intervened in the 1918-1920 Russian Civil War trying to “strangle Bolshevism at its birth” as Churchill had recommended.


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Human Nature is not Human Nature and our Self is a Deception

Human Nature is not Human Nature and our Self is a Deception

by Paul Ewing


The term human nature may be a misnomer. It might be more accurate to call it “person nature.” A human being can be a member of the set of homo sapiens but not part of the set that includes “persons.”  A person exhibits consciousness or self-awareness, emotional response, the ability to communicate, etc.. Some human beings–say a flat-lined homo sapien on life support –have none of these qualities. They are human beings but not persons.  So the actual issue at hand is “person nature” not “human nature,” however awkward the new moniker may seem. By the way, the issue of personhood lynch-pins the debate over abortion. Right-to-lifers see the fetus as a person; pro-choice folks see the fetus as a potential person but not a person.

The fact that we experience so many different mental states following in rapid succession one upon the other proves we don’t have a self!   David Hume suggests that the concept of “self” is an essence. Essence implies a sense of consistency, endurance, and permanence.  A real “self” would not contradict itself by being capricious, changeable, plastic. An essence must not lack essence!  But when we look at our “self” or try to find our “self,” Hume suggests all we discover is an ever-changing stream of consciousness. Just like our cells replenish themselves every ten years or so, we are continually changing, continually new, never the same.  We can’t step into the Self Same River twice! Since there is nothing we can point to in our experience that is fixed, static, permanent, there is nothing we could call a consistent “self.”  The concept is meaningless and irrelevant to human experience.*

Similarly, if human nature was concrete, then we’d be able to expose it to the light of day, weigh it on a laboratory scale, begin to sketch its shape  on our drawing pads. Philosophers have gone around and around on this. Some say human nature exists; others say it’s a figment of our imagination. Both positions have their representatives. Plato would argue that human nature exists and  St. Augustine would agree but in the context of a monotheistic, Christian God.  It’s human nature to be rational, to choose  good over evil, and and to be eternal.  On the other hand, B.F. Skinner would say humans are plastic, can be shaped via reward and punishment into whatever the psychologist wants. Classical conditioning can create human monsters or angels.   Sartre argues that each of us is an individual project “hurtling itself toward the future.” Since none of our projects are the same, there is no human nature.  Or as he said, “existence precedes essence.”

*If you ditch your “self” you can avoid entirely the self-help section of bookstore. You can change the channel when the self-help gurus ask for your money. You can stop buying Self magazine. In other words, if you divest yourself of your self, you can save lots of money!

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True Love or Success: Should we Pursue One or the Other?

True Love or Success: Should we Pursue One or the Other?

by Paul Ewing


“True love”?  “Success”?  What are these things? Before deciding upon one or the other, or neither, we need to understand the concepts.  I hesitate to attempt definitions for either as they are in some ways indefinable. But let me take a stab at it. “True love” means romantic love, love of the sort first defined by knights and damsels in the Middle Ages. In that case, true love was unattainable, unrequited love—the woman on a pedestal (frequently married) worshipped afar by a man who demonstrated his love by jousting or combat in Crusades. This evolved into the kind of love portrayed in the movie Gone With the Wind with Scarlet O’Hara ‘loving’ Rhett Butler, not to mention Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. True love in all of the above seems impractical. So what about “success”?  According to American philosopher William James, “the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess success. That—with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.”  Success may be practical but we might lose our integrity in the pursuit of it.  Having said such negative things about both ‘true love’ and ‘success,’ I’d say that it might be better to avoid both.

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Gettysburg Was Not the Pivotal Battle of the Civil War

Gettysburg was not the pivotal battle of the American Civil War. Antietam was.  So says Professor Edward T. O’Donnell in his “Turning Points in American History” series of lectures.* Although the loss of 50,000 casualties by July 3, 1863 made Gettysburg the most costly battle of the Civil War, loss of life does not a turning point make.

The results of the Battle of Gettysburg were inconclusive. As in so many other Civil War battles, the Union did not pursue the enemy army to extinction. Lee escaped to fight again. O’Donnell goes so far as to suggest that  if Lee had won at Gettysburg, his options were not promising. Washington, D.C. was the most well fortified city in the world! Lee would have mucked about the Chesapeake countryside like Hannibal outside Rome .

So why was the September 16, 1862 Battle of Antietam the pivotal battle, even though it occurred a year before Gettysburg?

1) The battle could be conceived as a tactical victory for the Union because Lee had retreated.

2) Because it was a victory, Lincoln’s Republicans did better in the mid-term elections in November.

3)  England decided not to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy because it didn’t want to back a loser.**

4) Lincoln needed a victory in order make his Emancipation Proclamation official. If  he issued it before such a victory, his action would be perceived as desperate.  Antietam gave Lincoln what he needed.

5) Long before 1863, the United States had become the last bastion of chattel slavery in the world. Although the war had always been   about slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation made it official. No self-respecting European government*** would now come to the aid of the South. Lincoln’s Proclamation hammered the last nail into the  coffin of the Confederacy’s hope for European aid.

6) Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation legalized what had already been occurring, the self-emancipation of slaves. Whenever a Union army was in the neighborhood, slaves just up and left the plantations. Now after Antietam and the subsequent Emancipation Proclamation, their freedom became official.

Each slave that defected to the North deprived the South of a laborer who could feed and clothe   Confederate soldiers. Alternately, freed slaves now constituted a new labor force for the union—they first served in labor battalions and then in combat units.

Antietam signified the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

The words above are my own but they are based on what I learned from Professor O’Donnell and some subsequent reading.

*“1862 Terrible Reality—The Battle of Antietam,” Lecture #22 in “Turning Points in American History” by Professor Edward T. O’Donnell, College of the Holy Cross. The Teaching Company: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=8580

**The victory of the American colonists at Saratoga brought the French in on the side of the Revolutionaries.

***Not even Russia, which had abolished slavery by decree in 1861!

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