I grew up during the height of the Cold War. The level of distrust between the then Soviet Union and the United States during the 1970s and 1980s was persistent, pervasive, and deep. During that time period, both countries had over 10,000 nuclear bombs in their nuclear arsenals — certainly more than enough nuclear fire power to destroy civilization as we know it many times over. 

But paradoxically, things seemed to be more stable during that time period. The Soviet Union was still reeling in the wake of the Stalin years the staggering losses from World War II. Nearly twenty million Soviet people lost their lives during that war — nearly 40 times the number of Americans who died in that war. The Soviets were tired of war and had just as much incentive to avoid a nuclear conflict as the United States — perhaps even more so. 

The geopolitical world was much simpler then. The United States versus the big bad Soviets — two giant nuclear powers with the capability of destroying each other and the rest of the world at any time. As much as we Americans opposed the communist ideology of our Soviet adversary at that time, the world seemed much less labile. NATO countries stood by their allies, and Warsaw Pact countries stood by theirs. Geopolitical lines were clearly drawn and both sides minded their own spheres of influence. People often forget that Soviet leaders from the mid sixties through the mid eighties were largely undemonstrative, staid, and largely forgettable. Western intelligence agencies did not seem overly worried about the mental stability of Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko.

Not so with Vladimir Putin. I am not a mental health professional, but from a distance Putin doesn’t strike me as the type of person that would take losing graciously. I am fearful that he is incapable of backing down on anything, under any circumstances. Like a cornered, wounded animal, I fear that Putin would take any action in order to assert his power for just a few extra moments of life., including starting a nuclear war.

I do not have the answers for our current situation. Like many people, I hope that Vladimir Putin is somehow miraculously deposed and made to live on a secluded island like Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. I want the situation to simply go away.

Bad things, even inconceivable things, can and do happen. In the summer of 2016, I thought it inconceivable that Donald Trump could ever be elected president. I, like many others, was proven wrong. The world cannot afford to be wrong about Putin and what he is capable of doing.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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