Tag Archives: Russia

Cody Boutilier: How Russia is to blame for the First World War

The summer of ’14 is upon us. As the cliché goes, victors write the histories, and this could hardly be more apt in the case of the Great War. I will quote at length from a lecture of UC Berkeley’s Dave Wetzel, one of my instructors and a brilliant historian.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonof adopted the idea of general mobilization of the Russian army, with the enthusiasm of a convert. He tells the tsar that the Austrians have begun shelling Belgrade, which is not true, and that he has received a stiff note from foreign minister Bethmann-Hollweg in Berlin. Bethmann-Hollweg says that further Russian mobilization will compel Germany to mobilize. Nicholas II sees these arguments very clearly, and he orders the general mobilization of the Russian army. He then receives a telegram from Wilhelm II assuring him that Germany means Russia no harm, and orders the cancellation of the general mobilization. Sazonof, outraged, goes to Nicholas with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in tow and says that Wilhelm is a liar, telling Nicholas, “if the order for general mobilization is not reinstated you’re going to bring down the wrath of the pan-Slavs in the Duma.” The patriarch says, “Your Majesty, it is a question of faith, of defending Holy Russia against the Teutonic hordes.” Nicholas responds, “it is not a question of Holy Russia, it is a question of sending to their deaths millions and millions of men!” Ultimately, Nicholas picks up his pen and signs the order for the general mobilization of the Russian army, on the evening of 30 July 1914.

The Russian mobilization left Germany with no choice but to honor its blank check with Austria, just as Germany’s implentation of the Schlieffen Plan left Britain with no choice but to honor its guarantee of Belgian neutrality.

And so, a hundred years ago, Russia ended generations of peace and stability on the continent with the aim of “protecting” its Slavic co-confessionalists from the rapacious West.

As they say in French, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The Hustings

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Cody Boutilier: The Second Second Front

Amidst the celebrations of the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, it behooves Western commentators to note that Operation Overlord was not the first “second front” opened to overthrow Europe’s Nazi yoke. The Second Battle of El Alamein, the famous Egyptian showdown between the armies of Generals Rommel and Montgomery, ended in Axis retreat and occurred a year and a half before D-Day. The invasion of fascist Italy by way of Sicily followed.

In her highly controversial book American Betrayal, Diana West concludes that the Western powers abandoned the ongoing fight for Italy, where the Germans had hastily set up a puppet government, under Soviet pressure. The book provides compelling evidence that Western leadership, Roosevelt’s in particular, was hopelessly riddled with Soviet agents hiding in plain sight. Why did the Politburo insist on thwarting invasion of Germany by way of its soft alpine underbelly? There was a far higher concentration of German troops along the Reich’s Western frontier, and Stalin hoped to bog down the Allies long enough to allow the Red Army to reach Berlin. This is debatable, but worth debating.

Far too often Russians have asked me why the West ignores Russia’s predominant role in defeating Hitler, as if it’s somehow unnatural that the legacy of D-Day should resonate with Americans, British, and Canadians more than that of Stalingrad. Considering that contemporary Americans are in general historically illiterate, it’s hardly exceptional that most Americans know next to nothing of the USSR’s role in the Second World War.

In Berlin there stands a GDR-era monument to the Red Army, which greeted European civilianry with fire and rapine. It is a monstrosity that should be torn down and spirited to an open-air museum like Moscow’s old statues of Stalin and Dzherzhinsky. (And they can rename Karl-Marx-Allee while they’re at it.)

The Hustings

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Cody Boutilier: My debt to Russia

I’m witnessing the gradual close of a brief but crucial chapter in my young life, namely those several years when all things Russia loomed large in my thoughts. Exiled by economic necessity to Utah for the past year, I’ve interacted with Russians mostly through the Internet. It’s hard to imagine that little more than a year ago I was an officer in a UC Berkeley Russian cultural organization, and spoke Russian almost daily. It’s even harder to imagine that nearly a year ago I spent three weeks in Snowden’s new homeland.

For those three weeks, Russia was a sensual, tangible place of train schedules and hotel registrations, desperate attempts to nab proper verb prefixes, bowls of borsht and bottles of Baltika beer, countless trips to the bank to replenish my rainbow of rubles, and tens of thousands of breathing, 3D men and women. My Russian experiences are no less stark and prominent in my memory, but Putin’s mischief in Ukraine has come to dominate the Russia of my psyche. This is an unfortunate development, and for once I don’t blame Vladimir.

Three and a half years ago, when I returned from a semester in Moscow, I intended to go into academia. A few months later I decided to become a lawyer, but my obsession with Russia continued unabated. I returned to Russia twice, and became well-acquainted with the Bay Area Russian community. Since the beginning of my interim year in Utah, my cultural communion with Russia has attenuated. Texas, my soon-to-be home, is the new mystical land to capture my imagination, and the study of the law, a far more intensive endeavor than study of history, will soon consume my waking thoughts. I’d be foolish to expect Russia to keep its privileged role.

I’ll continue to chat regularly in Russian with friends on VK, and I expect that most of the books I read will still be about Russia. With luck, I’ll finish work on my Russian-themed novel, and will try never to lose my internal map of the Moscow Metro.

Watching the Olympics’ opening ceremony, I was overcome with nostalgia for the days when I was reading Tolstoy, hardly knew Russian, and couldn’t wait to journey there. The rediscovered sense of wonderment was invigorating, with Russia as with all things. I’m proud of the cultural enrichment I’ve secured myself for years to come.

The Hustings

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Cody Boutilier: The Muslims of Russia

I’ve met dozens of Muslims, of several ethnicities, on my Russian travels. My encounters with them have left me better informed about Islamic culture. When I studied in Moscow, I regularly went to a corner liquor store for groceries, and met a female Azerbaijani cashier there. She didn’t wear a headscarf, but told me this did not shield her from ethnic slurs by dipsomaniac regulars. Towards the end of my stay I met a Kyrgyz cabbie. The only anti-American Muslim I’ve met in Russia, he called Obama’s Cairo speech a farce. I took a few trips to the famous People’s Friendship University of Russia – a surviving relic of Soviet internationalism. There I met a young, headscarf-clad Daghestani woman who was studying linguistics. She lived with her family on Moscow’s outskirts, and went home by the commuter train (elektrichka) each night. I asked her if she was ever afraid, and she replied that her strong belief in God helped her cope with her fear. This was the most moving, powerful expression of faith I’ve ever heard.

In 2012 I journeyed to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. I visited the famous Qol Sharif Mosque, a gorgeous, Saudi-funded edifice in the city kremlin. When I told a Tatar convenience store cashier that I was American, she asked if I was from Texas, where she was moving in two weeks. Traveling to Kislovodsk in the Caucasus, I met a Chechen woman who was visiting family in Grozny. She said she’d have to wear a headscarf upon disembarking, as the Putin-backed Kadyrov had implemented sharia law. Returning to Moscow, I met a thuggish Chechen, who expressed his umbrage with a fellow passenger’s criticism of Kadyrov. I had a long conversation with a Tajik shawarma chef in St. Petersburg – migrant workers from Central Asia have been among the warmest, kindest people I met in Russia.

On my last journey to Russia, I met an Iraqi Kurd who was studying civil engineering in Chelyabinsk. He was grateful for the American intervention, and said he prayed for peace for all sects of Iraq. On the banks of a Chelyabinsk reservoir I met an Uzbek woman who sold shashlik. She was disappointed that her young son, who was obsessed with America, wasn’t there to meet me.

I’ve had countless delightful encounters with ethnic Russians as well, but meeting people from ethnic minorities was particularly enriching.

The Hustings

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Cody Boutilier: The unholy alliance of paleocons and Putinism

Andrew Stuttaford wrote in National Review in January about paleocons’ and (some) social conservatives’ misplaced admiration for Vladimir Putin, whom they see as a guardian of traditional Western values. His piece, while excellent, didn’t explore every possible dimension of this issue.

Clearly, as Stuttaford emphasized, Putin’s American social conservative fans are foolish for thinking that the privileged, venal, and morally compromised Russian Orthodox Church is any more well-disposed towards the American tradition of pluralism than the secular Western Left. I know several socially conservative Pentecostal Russian apostates who would find that notion scandalous.

What Stuttaford leaves out is the potent force of the au courant Western religion of political correctness, which both pushes Western conservatives to the dark fold of Russian reaction and, more significantly, distorts the concept of Western liberty and pluralism to Russians. I consider the destigmatization of homosexuality to be one of the greatest triumphs of civilization (although it’s hardly peculiar to our age), and the Left’s campaign of intimidation and vilification of Americans with a traditional understanding of marriage to be a tragic betrayal of the spirit of tolerance. The Putin propaganda machine is no doubt gleefully keeping tabs on every instance of illiberalism in the name of tolerance in the West, from the purging of Brandon Eich to the arrest of the Englishman who made a joke about the late Nelson Mandela (has anyone been arrested for joking about Putin?) Russians might also have recently noticed that for all our talk of valuing the private sphere, that value evaporates when the targeted is a social miscreant (e.g. Donald Sterling).

Lastly: Pussy Riot. They’re no Solzhenitsyn. They’re egregiously-persecuted free speech martyrs, but they represent the worst excesses of Western social Leftism and culture debasement. And they were indeed guilty of disturbing the peace. Putin’s apologists have called them stooges of the CIA, but if I were given to conspiracy theories I’d say they were Lubyanka typists hired to discredit Western liberalism.

For now, I prefer the stifling political correctness of the West to the reactionary tribalism of Russia. But the two extremes just go to show that society is incapable of moderation.

The Hustings

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