Ukraine, Zelensky, Putin, and Armageddon: On the Limits of Sympathy - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ukraine, Zelensky, Putin, and Armageddon: On the Limits of Sympathy

The Putin-Ukraine thing is a mess. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky certainly seems a well-meaning guy, but Putin realistically is not a madman nor a Hitler.

Putin is complex. He is a murderer, for sure. His opponents get stabbed in West Europe with umbrellas that discharge fatal toxins. His enemies fall out of windows even when the windows are closed. But he still is no Hitler. Problems cannot be solved if not addressed fairly.

Western Europe and American mainstream media declare him “Hitler” and “insane,” but that does not make him so. Putin, having not received NATO membership, logically does not want NATO in his backyard, with European and American anti-aircraft weapons, backed potentially by whole NATO forces, stationed in Ukraine on his western border to shoot down his aircraft.

One also contemplates our Civil War. Slavery is despicable — obviously. Even so, if another country in the world employs slavery, should America go to war against them? If so, when will we be invading Saudi Arabia, other Arab Muslim countries, parts of Africa that still engage slavery, and such? The people of Dixie did not threaten the northern states, just wanted to break off and have their own states’ rights and slavery. Yet we went to war to stop them from seceding and to end slavery.

Putin saw his glorious Russian Empire collapse. Nothing about Mother Russia or its empire excites me. I spent much of my college years protesting against their persecution of Jews and demanding they let my people go. They gave the world the Gulag. And Stalin. And Lenin. And Trotsky. And Lavrenti Beria. And Genrikh Yagoda. And Khrushchev. And the Tsars. So I don’t miss that empire.

However, one fairly can grasp where Putin is coming from. He cannot fairly be called a “madman,” per se. Idi Amin was nuts. Muammar Khaddaffi was daffy. But Putin wants history to record that he was not the wuss on whose watch Russia crumbled. He wants a legacy like those of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Others the Great who restored what Russia was. No one can hope to negotiate a mediated peace without understanding the other guy. Understanding him does not make him right but makes him comprehensible. That was Trump’s greatness with Putin: once you understand the guy, you know better how to handle him: “Okay, Putey-Wutey, I get it. But I can’t have you destroying buildings and invading countries without provocation. I can work with you a bit. We can reach an understanding. But I can’t have you conquering countries.”

Amid all this, we see the Holocaust’s lesson confirmed: Public sympathy, tears, public opinion gets you almost nowhere — unless you simply like to be pitied before being murdered. It is a lesson well conveyed in Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 theatrical masterpiece, Enemy of the People. You can have the “whole world” instagramming you and instacarting you and instawhatevering you — and end up dead if you are not armed to the teeth and ready to fight for your own for survival. That is the sad lesson Israel understands better than all others. Countries who watched six million Jews get rounded up, locked into ghettoes, cattle-carted to death camps, shot, butchered, gassed, cremated — all those countries now send representatives annually to lay wreaths for the six million and shed tears on signal. Even Germany lays an annual wreath. A very nice one.

Having had so many of their citizens assisting Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen in the 1940s, Ukraine would have gained for today by taking notice of Israel’s posture since its 1948 founding. Israel was born from an awareness that nothing better delays Armageddon than by preparing for it. Therefore, Israel’s Defense Forces are among the world’s best trained and armed. Their defense industries manufacture incredible weaponry. Thanks to both Russian and Ukrainian anti-Semitism — even after World War II — more than one million Jews have emigrated from the former USSR with acquired high-tech knowledge and skills to help Israel emerge as the “Start-Up Nation” and a national laboratory for innovation, both in civilian goods that make life more enjoyable and in military materiel that protects such life.

Amid all this, we see the Holocaust’s lesson confirmed: Public sympathy, tears, public opinion gets you almost nowhere — unless you simply like to be pitied before being murdered.

For example, Israel buys American weapons and then improves them, sharing their upgrades and technological advances with the U.S. Every so often, they capture Soviet (or post-1991) Russian arms in battle, and they reverse-engineer them, thereafter sharing that high-value knowledge with America’s Defense Department and industries. In the face of threatened annihilation, they destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor and killed his nuclear program. That act unexpectedly played a critical role years later in saving countless American forces during “Desert Storm” when we forced Saddam out of Kuwait. Israel has created defensive weapons like the Iron Dome that protect against unguided murderous rockets, and they now are finalizing development of “David’s Sling” and “Arrow 3,” both of which will protect against more advanced and precise aerial threats.

Ukraine had nuclear weapons when they emerged independent upon the fall of communism. Russian armaments happened to be stored on Ukrainian soil during the Warsaw Pact years. Ukraine gave up those weapons in return for “iron-clad guarantees” that others would converge to protect them if Russia ever struck. Iron-clad guarantees.

Well, there are no iron-clad guarantees in this arena. Governments change. A Nixon leaves, and a Carter arrives. A Reagan and Bush leave, and an Obama and Kerry arrive. A Trump-Pence leave, and a Biden-Kamala arrive. Weak American and European heads of government will not honor prior iron-clad guarantees when their populations, who lack any historical perspective or any book knowledge of deals and promises made, refuse to go to war. Nor does the neo-con approach work for America. It is folly to undertake “regime change” elsewhere. When George W. Bush spoke ridiculously of a supposed passion for peace and democracy that beats in every Arab Muslim’s heart, it was clear then and there that America was about to get into a whole heap of troubles in a Mideastern theater where even Iraqis and Iranians do not survive long. A beautiful Iran-Iraq War was in place, and they would have remained locked in internecine combat forever if just left alone. Bush did not know.

Public sympathy and wreaths from onlookers are a poor substitute for heavy weapons and trained armed forces ready to sacrifice all. The world sat by in the 1940s as Jews were mass-murdered. Franklin Roosevelt had authority from Congress to allow specific numbers of refugees from Hitler into our borders each year — immigration quotas. Yet the quotas never once were filled, not in any year of FDR’s reign. He even kept out Otto Frank and family, including their daughter, Anne. When the S.S. St. Louis set sail in 1939 for Havana from Hamburg, Germany, the international tragedy that ensued was extraordinary. Cuba would not honor entry visas it had authorized those 937 Jews, so Hitler’s thousand Jewish refugees suddenly had nowhere to debark safely. Though they were anchored only 90 miles from Florida, FDR sent the Coast Guard to turn them away from American waters. In the end, that “voyage of the damned” had to go back to Europe, and two-thirds of them died during the Shoah.

In similar terms, Britain then ruled over and occupied the land that later became Israel, and they would not allow ships of Jewish refugees from Hitler to enter Haifa harbor. The world knew and saw, sympathized and shed tears. In the end, it took a Jewish Underground — the Irgun, the Lechi, and the Haganah — to drive out the British. Twelve Irgun and Lechi fighters were captured and hanged by the Brits. They all knew the risks, but they also knew the limits of public sympathy and wreaths.

If President Joe Biden and the Europeans resurrect the dead Obama Iran deal from which former President Donald Trump wisely withdrew, Israel will not wait for sympathy and wreaths. Neither would we if, for example, Russia stationed deadly offensive weapons pointing at us from Havana. Israel knows what they must do and how they must act, if even alone. Ukraine’s situation — as beneficiary of public opinion and sympathy but mightily overpowered — points the way. The UN may declare a Wreath Boycott of Israel, but Israel will obliterate Iran if they have to. The Holy City of Qom will be nothing but holes. And the people of New York and Los Angeles had better realize that, when anti-American madmen like the Ayatollahs and Kim Jong-un decide to deliver their nuclear payloads, they just may target America’s biggest cities on the coasts before they risk attacking Israel. Because a country led by a Biden-Blinken-Kamala trio makes a tempting target of weak people who do not have the will or know how to fight, but Israel will go “Full Samson” and take the house down if ever so attacked.

Public sympathy and opinion does not cut it. Wreaths wither quickly. Now Ukraine learns, hopefully not too late.

Read Dov Fischer every Monday and Thursday in The American Spectator and follow him on Twitter at @DovFischerRabbi

To attend any or all of Rav Fischer’s weekly 90-minute live Zoom classes on the Weekly Torah Portion, the Biblical Prophets, the Mishnah, Rambam Mishneh Torah, or Advanced Judaic Texts, send an email

Dov Fischer
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Rabbi Dov Fischer, Esq., is Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values (comprising over 2,000 Orthodox rabbis), was adjunct professor of law at two prominent Southern California law schools for nearly 20 years, and is Rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California. He was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review and clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit before practicing complex civil litigation for a decade at three of America’s most prominent law firms: Jones Day, Akin Gump, and Baker & Hostetler. He likewise has held leadership roles in several national Jewish organizations, including Zionist Organization of America, Rabbinical Council of America, and regional boards of the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. His writings have appeared in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Federalist, National Review, the Jerusalem Post, and Israel Hayom. A winner of an American Jurisprudence Award in Professional Legal Ethics, Rabbi Fischer also is the author of two books, including General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine, which covered the Israeli General’s 1980s landmark libel suit. Other writings are collected at
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