Let me start this off with a few important confessions.
- Garrett does not know I am writing this. I don't think that he would care that I was writing this, but he doesn't know. He is in Hawaii on a vacation (without kids!) enjoying a well-deserved break from the chaos of life. The night before he left, Vladimir Putin and his Russian troops invaded Ukraine, hellbent on taking over the sovereign country. Garrett is close to many who currently live in Ukraine and their status has weighed heavily on his mind while he has been trying to enjoy the Hawaiian sun. So, without consulting him beforehand, I am writing this.
- I am not a geopolitics expert, or even a pretend geopolitics expert. I am so far from a geopolitics expert that I can't even pretend to be one on the internet. In 2022, the bar to be an expert on the internet is, apparently, exceedingly low. And I don't meet that bar. That's how un-expert I am.
- I am not overly political (at least not publicly, call me old fashioned in thinking that political beliefs don't always need to be shared to the world), but I am decidedly Anti-Putin. I'm not going to get too political here - GEHB is a BYU newsletter, after all - but we are going to take a break from the sports world and talk about something much, much more important.
Here we go....
Like many of you, I have been following the news updates in Ukraine as closely as I can. I'm learning names like Lukashenko (who is apparently the President of Belarus and is also apparently a Putin-obsessed dingbat willing to do his dirty work). I'm learning that former Ukranian comedians can, evidently, win a presidential election and morph into George MFing Washington in the face of conflict. I'm learning that for a world superpower, Russia's military is kind of a hot mess of disorganization and garbage.
I'm also learning that I have very, very little control over all of this. Like, no control at all.
And it's terrifying.
For the last week, we've heard all of the doomsday scenarios about this being the beginning of World War III because Putin is unstable and ready to restore the Soviet Union or burn the world down. We have learned that we're supposed to be keenly watching China and what they do or don't do with Taiwan because if they follow Russia's lead and invade Taiwan, then things go to an even higher level. We learned that nutjob Putin has heightened his country's nuclear awareness and, seemingly, is preparing himself in the event he feels like he should launch a nuke somewhere.
It feels a lot like how I imagine the world felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis or during the entire Cold War. And it's terrifying. Allow me to share a couple of stories that I've learned this week that really illustrate how terrifying things are.
First, the story of Vasily Arkhipov, a Russian Chief of Staff among the leadership of a Russian fleet of submarines in 1962.
In October of '62, a group U.S. Navy Destroyers found the fleet of Russian submarines and sent signalling depth charges into the water. Depth charges aren't meant to be an attack, but rather, a signal that a submarine should identify themselves to whomever it is that is sending the charges.
This flotilla of Russian submarines did not know whether an all-out war had broken out or not, so identifying themselves came with a great deal of risk to each of them. Furthermore, the diesel-powered subs were armed with nuclear torpedoes, meaning they could successfully defend themselves if they needed to.
The requirements of the B-59 (one of the subs in the flotilla and the sub that Arkhipov was on) required a unanimous decision from three officers before launching a nuclear weapon.
In the midst of the signal charges, the other two Russian officers agreed that they should launch a nuclear torpedo in response to the depth charges. Arkhipov did not agree.
Any other ship in the flotilla would have required one person - the captain - to sign off on launching a nuclear weapon.
Arkhipov said no. He was a well-respected leader due to his involvement in prior Russian missions and the rest of the leadership of the flotilla eventually followed his suggestion.
THAT'S how close we were to a nuclear war in 1962.
Able Archer 83
Fast forward 20 years from when Arkhipov saved the world and we were on the brink of another nuclear war with Russia.
Able Archer 83 was the annual training mission that NATO would bring all of the nuclear response team to DEFCON 1 so they were prepared in the event Russia (or anyone else) actually got serious about nuclear weapons. It involved radio silence, it involved special codes that were transmitted around, and it was done in a manner that Russians could see what NATO was doing.
In 1983, when NATO ran this training exercise, Russia became convinced that it was a ploy to launch their own attack. In what they believed was a response to NATO's aggression, Russia readied their weapons and prepared to launch their own nuclear attack.
THEY ACTUALLY HIT THE BUTTON! NATO WAS PREPARED DUE TO A TRAINING EXERCISE AND RUSSIA WAS PREPARED BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THE TRAINING EXERCISE WAS REAL!
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. NATO finished the exercise and Russia stood down. It took three days to get to that point, but it did, eventually, get to that point.
But that's how close things were to a full on nuclear war.
And We Have No Control...
I wasn't alive when Arkhipov saved the world and I wasn't around when the Able Archer training finally ended and the world was saved again. But I am alive now and after briefly learning of those two events, I can empathize with the people who were on earth at the time. Most of them didn't know how close they were to a potential nuclear war that would have, effectively, ended the world. They were just living their lives, and the decisions of a few people (in Arkhipov's case, just one person) ultimately decided their fate.
Today feels similar. I don't know if there is an impending nuclear attack that will come as a result of Putin's Ukrainian invasion, but it feels like there could be. And there isn't really anything I can do to stop it.
There also isn't anything I can do to get Russia out of Ukraine. Nothing. I am powerless in this situation.
Garrett has friends in that country who are seeking asylum today. They are leaving their homes, their lives, and their country, in order to try and live. And if Putin ends up going nuclear, they will have left all of those things for no reason.
We are so powerless. And it's as intimidating as it is daunting to think about it.
Over the course of the day today, I have tried to identify what power I do have in all of this. Admittedly, it's not much.
But I do have the power to love.
I have the power to help.
I have the power to lift what I can lift.
And while I can't change the fate of the world, I can help change the fate of someone's world.
So we are selling shirts. Specifically, we are selling THESE shirts.
We will be donating the proceeds from all of these shirt sales to Garrett's friends in Ukraine who are now refugees. It won't bring their homes back and it won't buy them a new country, but it might buy them some food, or rent for a home, or even some clothes for their family members. This money won't mean anything for Putin and it won't help stop a nuclear bomb, but it could mean the absolute world to those who receive it in the event that Putin doesn't end everything.
There are opportunities for all of us to help. If you are like me and have been trying to find a way to find some sort of power in a world that wants you to believe you are powerless, buy a shirt and know you're helping a refugee find their footing.
We don't hold all the power like a few people in the world do, but we aren't powerless either. And if we combine our collective powers together, we might just change the fate of the world - even if it's just someone's world.