Without conceding a millimeter of Ukraine’s besieged territory, we can yet make a bold bid for peace. I saw the Parade of Tall Ships in New York Harbor on July 4, 1976. That fleet included two Soviet ships—Tovarish and Kruzenshtern. On that Bicentennial Fourth, the world was at peace. We need peace again.
The United States should ask His Majesty King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to invite the major seafaring nations to send their Tall Ships to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. We should urge the Peace Parade to include Japan’s Kaiwo Maru and Germany’s Gorch Fock. The message from these former enemies of Russia and the Allies is that Peace is Possible. From there, they could seek Gospodin (Mr.) Putin’s permission to sail on to St. Petersburg. There, they could embark Russian climate scientists and return to Britain.
From London, the Russians could join an international team of climate scientists for the flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. There, the scientists could continue their voyage to Antarctica. To carry them, we could dispatch the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, and a Canadian icebreaker, hopefully to rendezvous with Russia’s 50 Years of Victory. The Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker is the world’s largest.
We can demonstrate that our objective is cooperation on the global environmental crisis. We can hope that this would be a bridgehead for efforts to negotiate on the Ukraine war. In the 1970s, the U.S. exchanged with China teams of table tennis players. It was then called “Ping Pong Diplomacy.” Our new effort could be called “Diplomatic Icebreakers.”
It is essential for us to show that we have no deep-seated hatred for the people of Russia. Far from it. This writer has recommended sending our hospital ships—USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy—to Odessa treat Ukrainian patients and even wounded Russian soldiers. As well, we proposed a peace conference at Torgau to resolve the issues in this unjust and tragic attack on Ukraine. Torgau, Germany, was the city where the Red Army and the U.S. Army clasped hands in January 1945. That brief but essential cooperation between Russians and Americans can yet serve as a precedent for agreement.
Obviously, the recent charges leveled against Gospodin Putin by the International Criminal Court will make any cooperation on any issue difficult. But it is not insuperable.
At the Yalta Summit Conference in February 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Why didn’t the democratic leaders denounce Stalin’s murder of 20,000 Polish prisoners of war, Catholic priests, and intellectuals in the Katýn Forest? Certainly, Churchill and FDR were fully apprised of this atrocity.
Their silence on this heinous episode was understandable. Stalin was calmly sacrificing more than 20,000 lives of his own soldiers every day in the war. Roosevelt and Churchill knew that without Stalin’s help, we would have had to face all those battle-hardened Germans. Eighty-five of every hundred German soldiers who died in World War II died fighting the Russians. Stalin didn’t have to worry about Russian mothers’ reactions to such appalling losses. American and British mothers were also voters.
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were fully apprised of Soviet horrors in their brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolt of 1956. Americans read with horror of Soviet conduct in James Michener’s shocking exposé, The Bridge at Andau. Eisenhower and Kennedy doubtless knew that one episode spoke to KGB savagery. The Soviet secret police had recruited a Hungarian woman who hated all men. Disfigured by teenage acne, heavy-set “Major Meatball” regularly inserted glass catheters in her victims. Then beat them until they shattered.
When the U.S. invited Nikita Khrushchev to visit the U.S., Eisenhower and Kennedy knew of KGB’s monstrous record. Churchill had once denounced Communists’ depravity for “capering like baboons on a mountain of skulls.” Nothing of Soviet conduct had changed since he wrote those words in the 1920s.
Our urgent need for peace with a nuclear superpower, however, overrode the calls for bringing Khrushchev to justice before any international war crimes tribunal. Because Roosevelt and Churchill, Eisenhower, and Kennedy acted with restraint, we avoided World War III.
Their cool analysis and restrained response to aggression is what is needed now to avoid a Third World War. Gospodin Putin will not be the collaborator that George W. Bush saw when he said: “I looked into [Gospodin Putn’s] eyes, into his soul, and saw a good man.” Dissident Russian writer Vladimir Bukovsky was asked in Washington about President Bush’s naïve comments. “I have looked into many a KGB’s eyes. I have not found that a particularly spiritual experience.” When Vice President Joe Biden visited the Kremlin in 2011, he told the Russian leader “I don’t think you have a soul!” In this, Mr. Biden erred on the other side.
Worse still, after Gospodin Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden asked for God to remove him from power. This is an echo of King Henry II’s cry for help: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Henry’s barons got the message. They cut down Thomas à Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, as he celebrated Mass.
Even more shocking was Hillary Clinton’s demand for “regime change” in Moscow. Gospodin Putin knows what she means. He shared with his cohorts videos of Hillary cackling at the lynching of Gaddafi in 2011. The Senate’s leading Republican on foreign policy, Lindsey Graham, has gone so far as to call for assassinating the Russian leader. That is a violation of international law and is a crime under U.S. statutes.
All of this threatens our ability to bring Gospodin Putin to the table to negotiate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. The costs to the world are incalculable. The U.S. is spending more than $100 billion a year defending Ukraine. This is our moral duty, but it is not painless. This war’s collateral damage makes the case for a Peace Overture all the more urgent.
President Kennedy preserved the peace by never personalizing his differences with the Soviet rulers. “Let us remember that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof.” Kennedy’s wisdom can be applied to our conflict with Russia. Then, let’s set sail for St. Petersburg!