In the late 40s and early 50s of the last century, Isaac Asimov put together a series of short stories into the classic Foundation Trilogy — a story about a small outpost of scientists and engineers on the fringes of the galaxy trying to stay alive in a hostile geo (galacito?)-political environment.
In the early years of the Foundation one of its leaders, Hober Mallow, won a war based on trade and economics. As he tried to explain to one of his political opponents:
“Korell is now at war with us. Consequently, our trade has stopped. But …. in the past three years she has based her economy more and more upon the atomic techniques which we have introduced and which only we can continue to supply. Now what do you suppose will happen once (those gadgets) begin failing? … The small household appliances go first…
And he goes on to describe a failing home infrastructure. His opponent is not convinced, noting that people will endure a great deal during a war, to which Mallow responds:
“Very true. They do. They’ll send their sons out in unlimited numbers to die horribly on broken spaceships. They’ll bear up under enemy bombardment, (even) if it means that they have to live on stale bread and foul water in caves half a mile deep. But it’s very hard to bear up under little things when the patriotic uplift of imminent danger is not present. It’s going to be a stalemate. There will be no (home front) casualties, no bombardments, no battles. There will just be a knife that won’t cut, and a stove that won’t cook, and a house that freezes in the winter. It will be annoying and people will grumble.”
He goes on to say:
“I expect … a general background of grumbling and dissatisfaction which will be seized on by more important figures later on. … The manufacturers, the factory owners, the industrialists of Korell. … the machines in the factories will one by one fail. Those industries that we changed from first to last with our new atomic gadgets will find themselves very suddenly ruined. … at a stroke the owners of nothing but scrap machinery that won’t work. … With the industrialist and the financier and the average man all against him, how long will the Commdor hold out?”
Later, in the same discussion, he goes on to note:
A king, or a Commdor, will take the ships and even make war. Arbitrary rulers throughout history have bartered their subjects’ welfare for what they consider honor, and glory, and conquest. But it’s still the little things in life that count, and Asper Argo (the “Commdor” of Korell) won’t stand up against the economic depression that will sweep all Korell in two or three years.”
The chapter concludes with this quote from The Encyclopedia Galactica (116th Edition, published in 1020 F.E. by the Encyclopedia Galactica Publishing Co., Terminus, with permission of the publishers):
“And so after three years of a war which was certainly the most unfought war on record, the Republic of Korell surrendered, unconditionally, and Hober Mallow took his place next to Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin in the hearts of the people of The Foundation.”
While the time and venue (far in the future vs. now, and the galaxy vs. eastern Europe) are different, much else is the same. Russia, once it let the Iron Curtain rust away and fall, and subsequently joined the global economy, also became dependent on that same economic engine. And now, cut off from the financial markets, overseas assets frozen, and western capitalist companies from Apple to McDonalds pulling out, the Russian people are (re)discovering what the old, pre-western economy of Russia (aka rump USSR) was like. And the oligarchs and managers that run factories and businesses (not to mention the generals trying to prosecute the invasion) are discovering that their supply chains require western material and western financing.
And while Asimov’s Mallow envisioned a two to three year war, Russia seems to be experiencing the same scenario over a period of weeks to months.
One other thing — other than obituaries and dead sons, the Russian people will not experience attacks on their homeland. As Asimov/Malllow said, a people will endure a great deal when their homeland is bombed and threatened. But that is what the Ukrainian people are facing, and thus it is THEIR morale and THEIR patriotism that is being uplifted and maintained in the face of the horrors of war, while the average Russian suffers discomfort and economic loss but no other evidence that their homeland is under attack. Not to mention the morale and motivational differences between the Ukrainian soldier and his/her Russian counterpart.
So, we might see fiction become fact, with the smaller but nimbler and more united Ukraine, much like the smaller and nimbler Foundation, prevailing against a larger enemy. Let us hope that Asimov’s science fiction becomes twenty-first century fact.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.