Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. It’s a line from my favorite Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, and we’re seeing it play out in real time in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president, was considered a political lightweight and out of touch with real issues. An actor and comedian, he came to national attention in that country on a television show, Servant of the People, which was a satirical look at their politics. His character was a history teacher who became Ukrainian president after his rants against public corruption went viral. Life imitated art when the actor became interested in politics for real and ran for and won the presidency after the TV show ended.
Now, with the eyes of the world fixated on Ukraine with the Russian invasion moving forward, Zelenskyy has shown that it wasn’t an act. That he has what it takes to be a true leader in a crisis and that he is quite capable of rallying his population behind him. His refusal to slink off to exile and asylum and to remain at his post as significantly bolstered the resolve of Ukrainian defenses and his quote ‘I need ammunition, not a ride’ when offered an escape is likely to go down with ‘I have not yet begun to fight’ and ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ as a wartime catch phrase for posterity. Putin must be having a fit. I’m sure his plans were calculated on minimal resistance, a weak president that would turn tail and run, and superior fire power. The Russians seem woefully unprepared for active military and guerrilla engagements. It may be because they’re relying on a conscript army and the majority of the fighting men, being under the age of 35, have no memory of the USSR and Ukraine being part of Russian territory and can’t understand Putin’s wish to be lauded as Tsar of all the Russias. Ukraine is also proving very adept at the propaganda side of things. with a very good IT department hacking into Russian TV networks to play Ukrainian music and videos. I have no idea where the Russian tanks rolling across the steppes of Central Europe is going to end up and we’re only a few days into this, but it’s not likely to be Budapest 1956 or Prague 1968.
I wonder what role Covid is going to end up playing in all of this. Pandemic disease among military forces has altered the tides of history many times in the past. Crowding of men together in battle conditions is a surefire way to spread viral illness quickly. There is some evidence that World War I was ended when it was due to the spread of the flu pandemic causing significant issues in keeping healthy men at the front lines and that quick ending was one of the things that led into the treaty of Versailles which set the stage for World War II a generation later. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th century kept the advancing Byzantine armies from retaking Italy and Western Europe from the Gothic kingdoms. Wouldn’t the world be different today if the Eastern Empire had dominated Europe throughout the Middle Ages rather than the Roman Catholic Church. Russian Covid numbers are not necessarily the most accurate, but what can be found on line suggests that Omega has spread rapidly and their vaccination programs have not been the best. Russia is not what it was. It’s current economy is roughly the same as Italy’s or Texas’s and the economic sanctions being put in place in response to unprovoked attack are likely to hurt it badly.
One of my main beefs with the federal response to Covid from the beginning is the lack of coherent messaging and clear instructions to the population in terms of public health measures. I am well aware that early in the pandemic, there were significant unknowns that required forceful reaction and that the previous administration was spending most of its energy pretending the pandemic didn’t actually exist. However, the current administration has had over a year now to fix some of these issues and is only just now beginning to get its messaging together. The CDC has put together a new website allowing the public to check the current level of Covid circulation in their community (https://www.cdc.gov/…/your-health/covid-by-county.html), If your county’s level is low, there is no need for indoor masking by the general public. If your county’s level is medium, you should mask if you are at risk due to age/vaccination/immune status (or if you are polite and care about people at risk). If your county’s level is high, everyone should continue to mask indoors in public. It’s pretty clear, based on science, and there’s been almost no PR about it at all. Jefferson County, Alabama, where I live remains high but you’d never know based on public behavior and knowledge.
We all remain a little gun shy worrying about the next variant. Where is it going to come from? What’s it going to do? I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it arose from war conditions in the Ukraine. The BA.2 variant of Omicron that’s been making the news recently is still Omicron. It appears to be somewhat more transmissible that the original Omicron (in communities where both are circulating, it spreads faster and more efficiently) but it does not appear to have significant effects on hospitalization rates or mortality rates so it remains Omicron. If you’ve had your two shots and a booster, Omicron remains relatively risk free in healthy people. At times it’s a bit tough to tease out, but data from countries that have lifted all restrictions due to Covid and who are careful in collecting data, like Denmark, are showing that we are starting to see fewer and fewer deaths in vaccinated populations from Covid. Instead, we’re seeing deaths with Covid. The death is really due to other underlying comorbidities of chronic disease and age and Covid may be incidental, or it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We need a lot more data to be able to really figure this out.
The thing to keep in mind in all of this is that the vaccines remain our best weapon in our war against the pandemic. Get yours today. They’re free. There’s no recommendation yet on second boosters unless you have a significant immune compromise but we should have some further data on that shortly. The antivaccination crowd has, in recent days, gone all in for Putin and the Russians in the current war situation. There seems to be a psychological need to be on the wrong side of history all the way down the line. If the Russian economy falters and the oligarchs decide they don’t like losing money and push for regime change in Moscow, things may get very interesting indeed both there and on the American far right, which seems to have met the American far left recently going around the circle…
Plant sunflowers. And wash your hands.