Every crisis is an opportunity to re-write history. Right now, the Coronavirus is an epic of sorrow. The entire planet is essentially closed, under quarantine. Tens of thousands have died. As an American patriot, Thomas Paine said in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” It is, however, in trying times though that some of the greatest advances in American history were made. The liberation of slaves, Social Security, robust clean air and water mandates — were all birthed by a disaster.
While the reaction to coronavirus has forced people inside to endlessly look at their phones, computers, and TVs, it also has forced us to hold that black mirror up to ourselves as a country and a community. The easy posture to take is one of xenophobic retreat. To close borders and walls and succumb to the illusions of nationalism. This crisis has proved though that the problems of the 21st century are too complex and too interconnected to build walls. If anything, the modern threats of pandemics, information warfare, economic warfare require strong leaders and even stronger allies. It is at this moment, that the threat from a Coronavirus, emanating from China, has crystallized the most significant threat to US hegemony and power- a rising China. Whether through economic influence, climate evisceration, biological leakage, or military muscle— China is the great power threat of the 21st century. Simultaneously, it has brought into focus the need for trusted global allies. The time has come for an old foe to turn friend.
I recently turned 50, reflecting on fifty years of riding the waves of life, including three decades of unwavering service to my country. I participated in a multitude of missions, with friends made and lost, forever etched in my heart. Born in the Appalachian Mountain state of West Virginia in the early 1970s. A small, very depressed, “backward” state at that time, I was raised on a dirt road, in a place affectionately called “Golf Mountain Road” and this is where my journey begins. My father, an ultimate taskmaster, and jack of many trades, rough around the edges and vocally pro USA, raised me to be globally aware and cognizant of the world outside our protected little enclave in West Virginia. He spoke of his disdain of communists, the conspiracy’s around their deep-rooted machinations and the global ambitions of the USSR. The true evil empire of the world, the only true counter to an all-powerful American global governance and combatting or contending with us at every corner of the earth. My earliest memories as a child were of an impending clash of the two greats superpowers, good vs evil, the United States versus the Soviet Union, in a zero-sum-game of nuclear war.
The 1950s brought forth a saber-rattling contest and eventual Cold War complete with proxy wars, espionage, a major weapons and space race, development of extensive biological warfare capabilities between the two great superpowers, Russia and the United States. As nuclear Armageddon loomed on the horizon, the US took on a “duck and cover” mentality. I was raised in the Cold War era. As I matured, our teachers and parents told us about our country’s global nemesis the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or Russia as we know them today. With a diametrically opposed, atheist government bent on expansion and war was the vision most painted in that era. They shared the global fear for another World War when in 1956 global news broadcast around the world images of Russian tanks rolling into the streets of the capitals of Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Word soon followed that many of the resistance leaders and freedom fighters were jailed and assassinated. Fear and uncertainty once again gripped the world. Shortly thereafter, in 1960, for 13 days the world held its collective breath as we were on the brink of nuclear holocaust. This fear continued and grew with the truly bizarre visage of Nikita Khrushchev, banging his shoe on the podium while addressing the United Nations. The fear of the “Bear” grew when in 1979, Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan and the saber-rattling between the two nations rose to epic proportions. I recall as a youth, my fascination with war was played out playing “Army” and within my passion for military miniatures. I would build and paint elaborate models and regularly set up battle scenes and dioramas of all eras. My favorite was the Guns of Navarone, where I could play as the Germans and battle, of course, the Russians, the universal enemy.
I enlisted into the military in 1988, the U.S.’s main enemy was still the Soviet Union. The news regularly reported the fact that we could be at nuclear war with Russia at any second and the papers and think tanks routinely played out war games of what and how it would all play out. No scenario was favorable. This lifelong of anti-Russian rhetoric fueled me to be the best soldier and warrior possible. My lifelong love for America was instilled in my youth and fostered in my life in the military. The Russians have long been respected for their military and special operations capabilities. As a warrior, I respected my enemy. Their strengths made me only want to be better; this fire led me to study my enemy more extensively, learning the language, studying their history, their struggles, the victories, and their defeats. I subscribed to Sun Tzu’s ancient text and began to develop some very deep-set feelings towards their people, their heart, their grit and their ability to persevere great hardships. I could speak, write and understand some Russian. I began to read Russian literature: Gogol, Turgenev, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and others. I studied theater and fixated upon Boleslavski, Stanislavski, great Russian artists. As a young soldier, I was fascinated with explosive techniques & terminology, i.e.” bomb-making which later in life morphed into Bio-Chemistry only to later discover that another Russian had discovered the Elemental Table – Dmitri Mendeleev. I have had so many deep looks into their culture and society that at this point in my life I am intimately familiar with it.
Fifty years old, I feel after great reflection, the tide is turning, there is a metamorphosis within. My hostility toward Russia has ebbed. Yes, this sounds hypocritical and at first glance, absurd. However, the reasoning behind this change has been a long time coming. I’m a student of history, my home library is filled with volumes, primarily of world history. As a voracious reader, I delved deep into what not only created the differences between Russia and the West but what makes us unique and similar. I now can respect and try to understand the Russian virtues and values for country. Put yourself into their people’s collective shoes. Though their history is one of systemic sufferings from invaders, fanatical, despotic rulers, the people have persevered and fought through every hardship. They, as a people, are beautifully perfected and destined for potential greatness. A beautiful, spiritually cerebral path my life has taken engaging with the Russian people paradoxically contradicting from the mindset, tactical thinking and operational effort versus the USSR / Russia to the softer, more personal side of interwoven human-to-human feelings and compassion, life and that realization, respect and understanding of a culture not so dissimilar to our own with hugely similar dreams.
Their population has shown the same sacrifice for home and country that I have shown through my years of service. Russian’s are inherently nationalistic and can find a rallying point to passionately fight the enemy. Thus, in this aspect, we are the same as peoples. I firmly believe, now is the time to move from the mindset of Russia as an enemy to a friend an ally. It is truly a time to analyze a partnership between the United States and Russia. Our hopes for collective well-being, far outweigh the differences generated in the past.
HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE: RUSSIA & EUROPE
Is it a fair assumption to bash Russia’s “Russia First” mentality? There are historic markers that help us gain a better understanding of this. Russia has a long and deep-rooted mistrust of European countries and Asian neighbors. She has endured invasion attempts beginning with the Mongol Horde in 1200, up through Hitler’s ill-fated attempt with Operation Barbarossa in 1941. In fact, over the past 500 years, the West has invaded Russia nearly every 50 years including, Sweden’s Karl XII, the Madman of the North, Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler. This “defend your borders” mindset is something we in America have little understanding of. The World Wars never physically came to the lower 48 states. Russia’s losses, military and civilian, in just the two World Wars are staggering. Can you blame them for their reluctance in opening their arms to the West? Until 9/11, the continental United States had never been attacked. We haven’t the slightest knowledge of what it’s like having enemies at our gates for centuries upon centuries.
During the 1940s, at the height of Hitler’s tyrannical despotism, the world united in a common goal: defeat evil! Following the cessation of hostilities, Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, believed Europe an un-trustable ally, his belief of being stabbed in the back by Hitler cemented this feeling for years to come. Russia remained alone. However, as America was forming after the American Revolution, Russia and America were allies and had favorable relations which benefited both sides.
HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE: RUSSIA & USA as ALLIES
The 19th Century was the pinnacle of joint American and Russian diplomacy. It began with Thomas Jefferson and Emperor Alexander’s mutual admiration for each other and their countries, which led to the establishment of full diplomatic relations by 1809. Prior to the War of 1812, The US trade embargo with England was hurting the US economy, when the embargo was lifted, Russia began actively pursuing and sustaining significant trade with the US. This cooperation continued and included: the 1824 St. Petersburg trade accord, in 1832 the first full-fledged business agreement, an 1854 agreement pertaining to mutual sea neutrality and in 1867, a very pro-United States agreement concerning assignment of Russian North American Colonies. The two nations flourished as trade partners with both sides reaping economic benefits.
During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, though neutral, America continued to show its support for Russia and the good sentiment was expressed by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Gorchakov who stated the support between the two countries at this crucial time “never weakened.” Soon after, during the American Civil War, Russia sent naval support to San Francisco and New York City to help prevent foreign powers from getting supplies to the Confederate States. With no major industry in the south, foreign intervention, supplying arms and munitions, could have greatly helped the south militarily. It was beneficial for both France and England to help the Confederate States win and get the cotton mills going again in Europe.
One of the greatest examples of Russian and American cooperation is the sale of Alaska, (Russian America) to the United States in 1867. “Seward’s Folly” as it was called in America at the time gave Alaska to the US for a mere 7.5 million dollars. Anger and resentment were popular with citizens from both countries. The pro-American stance of Russia was strongly imparted on the Russian envoy to America by Tsar Alexander II when he said, “Your instructions are very concise and specific. You must constantly remember that our best friend is the American people.” Now is the time when the world yearns for true global leadership. A leadership that could be realized I believe with a return to the historic roots and brotherly trust the two countries once shared beginning in the 1700’s.
The good news is that we have proof positive of this shared cooperation already. Just a few days ago my colleague from the SEAL Teams, CAPT Chris Cassidy sat atop a Russian Soyuz rocket. Next to him were two comrades from the Russian Space program Roscosmos. In 9 seconds, Cassidy was launched from 0-1100 miles per hour. In another 90 seconds, the two cosmonauts and the American Astronaut would be approaching 24000 miles per hour. Their lives were in each other’s hands as they headed to the International Space Station. They will spend the next 6 months living together in the harshest environment known to man. Relying on each other for not just survival but friendship. The ISS has been continually manned by the US and Russia for over twenty years. It is one of the greatest stories of international cooperation 254 miles above the earth. Our terrestrial cooperation should follow this high-altitude example.
THE ROAD AHEAD
I, as a battle-tested warrior, see a world fast losing the high ground, the straight and narrow moral compass from which to base all judgments pertaining to man. Order is transitioning to chaos, light to dark and certainty to uncertainty. It is clear the world is becoming a much more dangerous place to live. The age of consciousness rapidly descending upon us and the lack of truth from whence our daily lives are founded are more-and-more revealed. I want to leave the world a better place and challenge those who work for and with me to be remembered “as mighty men” whose deeds were heavenly evident upon the fruits of their lives. From that spirit, as I contemplate how to manage a planet in turmoil. Within this planet on the edge, there are unknown weapons being developed of incomprehensible magnitude, culture clashes of millennium sentiment, to brutal genocides across Africa and the Middle East.
An overarching objective of this tome is to share lifelong respect, love, favoritism for God, country, and the citizens within. My beliefs were forged in years of high stakes, on-the-job training which frequently put me and my brothers directly in harm’s way. What began in the genesis of fear of the “Russian Bear” to an ever so calculated interaction of life and death led to a deeper introspective of the true character of the Russian people. Even early on as a child, I wondered why these “Russkies” wanted to destroy us and were we to blame? The time now is the time to look ahead, move forward in unity. Let’s combine this educated favoritism with an overall forward-thinking model of: “what’s best for our country, our kid’s future, our grandkids’ future, ergo, the World! We need a practical, real, thought-based” assessment of the opportunities available and the methods to achieve the goal.
The great rivalry between Russia and the United States has diametrically changed as the face and shape of the world has as well. The competitiveness may have just fashioned and forged an eternal partner of great magnitude, of great capability. In 1945 as Victory in Europe, VE Day was an inevitable conclusion, the great nations met on the banks of the River Elbe. Peace was attained, evil was defeated. The long process of healing began. Now is the time for a historic return to the Elbe for the United States and Russia. Let’s call it a metaphor for when two world powers met as allies against a greater evil. I ask the Russian people; I ask the American people: does it make better sense to focus on what we have in common than what are our differences? What is good for the American & Russian people and what is not? What, in a perfect world could these two world powers truly achieve in world prosperity and order? Is there really too much distrust? Is our viewpoint tainted by that of the Europeans? Can we remember the richness of our previous historical dealings with Russia?
In my opinion, Russia should not be considered our great enemy. The Cold War is a thing of the past, the policies of the past are long dormant. The ideological differences between the USSR and the United States on a political level don’t constitute a difference on a personal, human level. Governments have a plethora of influences internal, external, and assuredly via the perverted global banking system which created enemies out of would-be allies.
CURRENT WORLD VIEWPOINT
Russia’s re-emerged on the world scene within the last four to five years, they visibly put their stamp in the Middle East. Russia firmly backed Assad in Syria and called out western leaders for potentially aiding, abetting and enabling ISIS to grow and flourish. Putin parleyed his position as a power broker for regional matters in the Middle East, and in some cases in direct defiance to U.S. and western objectives. Russia railed against the nepotistic International Monetary Fund and its “secret society” cronies. Vladimir Putin has been able to rebuild Russia to world prominence through the worst of times and has returned their nation into a respectable, “global player.” This resurgence is due largely because of its people’s amazing resiliency and grit, this country has endured great hardships of which few can compare.
There has been uncertainty and turmoil in the Middle East going back centuries. Many western nations have tried and failed to bring in democratic change. Countries have long attempted to bring together the Arab, Semitic people into a positive coalition. Most attempts were short-lived and ancient tribal feuds once again came to the fore. It’s time to realize there is no solid path forward here and that most probably and sadly, we will never be able to fully engineer peace in the Middle East. There are many reasons for this ultimate conclusion, the most simplistic and obvious being the people’s inability to accept other beliefs and to live harmoniously with them minus agenda. Others are the depth of the conflicting religions hatred, the globally cancerous extremists, and the failure of Muslim peers and governments to eradicate or to enact any meaningful laws or legislation that truly makes being a terrorist disadvantageous for the soul and his/her family in the region. The glorification of the suicide bomber, taking innocents is looked on as an honorable path to heaven, when in fact, it is abominable. The region’s egregious human rights abuses as a whole on their own people, and the pervading “unsettled” militant culture towards all things “religious,” equates to a recipe for continued uncertainty.
I feel we must consider the rising dragon in the east, China, as the nation we should most be worried about. They are not so subtle in realizing their potential on a global level. They are expanding out with everything from human capital, to major social and civil services projects in dozens of countries worldwide including opening their first forward-deployed base in Djibouti, expanding their Navy to 300 plus ships, advances in space, hypersonic, artificial intelligence, cyber race, biological warfare, and competition. In addition to China’s questionable global ambitions and their repressive regime with poor human rights record, they are hugely responsible for the uptick in global warming and pollution. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the single most ozone-destroying, water-polluting, space cluttering, earth consuming people’s reckless government-driven of all time.
Even when offering an international helping hand by providing Most Favored Nation status, NAFTA rules when Sino-Soviet stipulations disavowed the ability to permitting egregious year-after-year trade deficits, the spying, the industrial espionage and ongoing copyright infringement this single country is continually guilty. The sad realization is your own leaders, when poised with containing a rising China have sold morality out for volume and revenue. The current Chinese model is to consume anything and everything, with wanton disregard for the world, an industrial powerhouse of ill repute open for business 24/7. On top of all this is the bold, globally disrespectful program of “re-writing: The Bible and Koran, a telltale sign of China’s ambition and complete lack of respect for the world’s belief system. How dare they go against the people of those faith’s and what empowers them to authoritatively act in such a manner? Several epidemics, now the COVID19 pandemic began in China, and their hostile government lied to the world and rejected medical intervention from the world’s top medical professionals. Why? The bottom line is, China is not our friend and the sooner we realize this fact the better off our country and the world will be.
I am even more sure within my heart of hearts just how important this “return to the meeting on the Elbe” is for my country and humanity as a whole so that the United States and Russia can return to that watershed moment of truth that momentarily transpired on the Elbe River in Germany April 1945. That period gave birth to an overwhelming feeling of peace and global solidarity. The entire world was yearning for a stop to the war, a stop to all the carnage and destruction. The world had just come together to defeat true evil as the two most powerful militaries in the world stood face to face, embraced in joy, powerful solidarity and dreamt of world peace.
My goal is to revive that watershed moment when the world came together to defeat true evil. To recreate the exhilaration, camaraderie, and friendship these two armies felt when they last faced each other on the Elbe River in Germany, April 25, 1945. Now, 75 five years after the great victory, at that moment, there was a brief instance of what a world united could be. A time of peace and prosperity enjoyed by all.
In the final analysis, the United States and Russia share much more in common than they do or are different. Both countries are ethnic melting pots, a cultural amalgamation of various types but unified as a nation under their flag. Spiritually strong— both nations share these attributes. Russians and Americans are pious people of Judeo-Christian dissent. This core informs the fundamental foundation of their societies. Both cultures are resourceful, technologically advanced, and street-smart and savvy. Both countries strive to be globally respected on a grand scale, feared yet embraced, relevant in all matters. Imagine the combined military prowess of a shared sea, air, and land driven combined United States/Russian contingency. That combination would surely make the world a far safer place. The co-development of the space domain is already a proven force multiplier. Globally Russian missile systems project US platforms and systems for years, the space station was a joint effort, and landing on other planets not in the realm of unthinkable upon Russian and United States collaboration. How great could we be …how great could we be.
My thoughts, after a lifetime of thinking diametrically opposed to what I am proposing, is the Russian people have more commonalities with the American people than differences, and much more to gain by being aligned than sacrificed by a stroke of the Holy Father above this penmanship from a country boy to warrior – destiny tragedy/hope; the might of these people unified spiritually, intellectually, and physically could change the course of history, fostering and stewarding a brave new world with Russo-American leadership.
AT EVERY CROSSROADS TO THE PATH THAT LEADS TO THE FUTURE, TRADITION HAS PLACED 10,000 MEN TO GUARD THE PAST.MAETERLINK
Lew Knopp the founder of Templar Titan, a global risk mitigation firm is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with over 30 years of experience in military & private sector operations. A subject matter expert in security architecture, crisis response, and contingency planning. Lew has conducted multiple Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Response (HA/DR) engagements, recovering personnel and assets, protecting high net worth individuals, Fortune 500 Companies, governments, entertainment professionals, and foreign dignitaries.