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Putin's legacy

In 1999 I traveled to China as a member of a bipartisan group of state legislators belonging to an international educational program. One of my most memorable moments was a visit to a school for the children of migrant workers in Shanghai. Unlike in America at the time, the migrant workers in China came from the country to work in the electronics factories in the cities and the government had set up schools for their children. After watching these kids of age seven through 11 learn English in front of dated computer consoles in a no-frills school building, we were given the opportunity to mingle with them. I watched as a powerful assemblyman from New York City fell to his knees, threw his arms wide apart and the Chinese youngsters, running and laughing, flew into his welcoming embrace.

“When you think of children,” I thought, “How can you think of war?”

And now, when I think of war, all I can think about is children. That, and Vladimir Putin and his inability to think of anything else but his personal glory and his strategy to control Ukraine by killing as many civilians as it takes to break their spirit of resistance. It is hard to believe that people like Putin exist. A quick glance at history lets us see that they do, but it is still discouraging to know that there are people who have neither compassion nor thought for the lives of others as long as it advances their personal goal to become an important person in the history of the world.

The Western world is largely disgusted at what they see. They have imposed sanctions on Russia and given Ukraine weapons to fight back. The sanctions, however, will work both ways; as intended, to make life hard for Russian citizens, and as unintended, to make life more expensive for the citizens of the countries imposing the sanctions. How long, I wonder, will we Americans be willing to put up with higher prices of fuel and food caused by the sanctions against Russia for the sake of the people of Ukraine? How long will we be inconvenienced to help save the lives of children we don’t know? Probably not very long. Sure, the horrific news coming out of Ukraine about Russian atrocities is chilling and may stiffen our resolve somewhat, but will it be enough to stick together?

This will get a lot worse before it gets better — if it gets better. So, the world will suffer and children will die and women will be violated and killed and as much of a nation as it takes will be laid to waste to fulfill a madman’s dream of eternal fame. It has happened before, and it will happen again. And just as it has happened before ,the madman’s legacy will be not exactly what they have imagined it will be. For his part, Putin’s legacy has already been written. In 1818 the English poet Shelley wrote about another despot — in fact, all despots — in the poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

That will be his legacy. That, and the souls of dead children and those who loved them.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.


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