The old man was up early this morning. It is the beginning of autumn, the most pleasant time in his world, Adelaide. A few years ago, a Malaysian friend had said to him that his world was very small, the implications of which did not escape him. She meant that he wasn’t worldly. He was being compared with another chap, a Hongkonger, in their conversation. A schoolmate from way back, the Hongkonger was a lot more travelled, more seasoned, more savvy, more worldly and much more successful as an entrepreneur plying his trade in the fine art of promoting lifestyle in the rarefied realms of sommeliers, viticulturists, high fashion jewelry designers and jewelers. The old man seemed troubled as he sucked in the fresh air that reinvigorated his arteries and lungs whilst practising a version of Qi Gong that he had in all likelihood butchered. His brows were knotted, his lips in their usual position – turned downwards forming a perpetual scowl as his mind disappointed him again and again from his quest at meditation. It was not from the realisation that he had portrayed himself to his friends as low-brow and brutish making a livelihood from petrol-heads that disturbed him today but the events from recent days had clearly upset his equilibrium.
The old man often finds solace and comfort in his neighbour’s garden adjacent to his. There is a little stream that produces a variety of soul-soothing sounds from four tiny waterfalls that lead the water to a beautiful pond the size of which can be described as big for a suburban water feature. The old man has often been heard to call the stream a creek, so prone to exaggeration he is that no one ever believed the size of the silver trevally he claimed he caught off Magnetic Island in late 1981. The stream flows in a north-east to south-west direction as it cuts the beautiful garden in half. On the left side of it is a rose garden with delightful blooms of Pierre de Ronsards and the alluring scents from a ring of Mr Lincolns. On the right side is a mini orchard of apples, plums, pears, cherries, peacharines and persimmons. He did not spend a single cent on fruits from the shops all summer just past because the neighbours have been stuck overseas, unable to return because of the pandemic. They will finally be back next month but they won’t be the wiser about the absence of fruits in their garden. There is also a putting green for the master of the house, an avid golfer who lives and breathes everything to do with the tiny white ball.
Marcus Aurelius is the old man’s hero. Not only was he a philosopher expounding the merits of Stoicism but he was also a benevolent emperor who presided over a Roman Empire that was relatively peaceful and vibrant. As a student, he was rather impatient with the Greek and Latin subjects being taught – his interest was in the Discourses by a former slave, Epictetus, whose moral teachings were of the Stoic school. The old man has been asking himself all week. What would Marcus Aurelius have done if faced with today’s threats? Would he continue to be stoic or would he be heroic? The recent events unfolding in Europe are terrifying for the old man. He has family members in London and Amsterdam, not quite a stone’s throw away from Kyiv but any nuclear fall-out will not take long to reach Western Europe if the nightmarish scenario of burning nuclear power plants were to happen. The previous evening’s headline news was exactly that. Europe’s major nuclear power plant, whilst billowing in dark smoke and smouldering, is now under Russian control. It turns out that what was ablaze was a training facility on the site although that has not stopped various countries from calling it a “war crime”. What will Russia do with it? Hopefully, they still simply turn it off or turn it back on and not blow it up. Is the Russian strategy simply to deliver a cold winter to much of Europe, thereby forcing them to buy Russian oil and gas? Has America miscalculated by using their favourite option in their playbook by applying trade sanctions (a well-disguised word for what is in fact a military siege that causes untold misery and suffering) and for the first time in history, withdrawing the SWIFT payment system from selected Russian banks? Selected banks only? Why not all? Is this war about the same reason? Hegemony? The political, economic and military dominance of one country over others? Or is it about money? The US military might has often been used to force the one rule on the world that matters to them – to ensure the continued use of the USD as the global reserve currency which allows them to print money with total abandonment in exchange for the world’s economic output?
The sad truth is that Russia saved Europe from Germany in WW2, and they should have been revered in our history books for their huge sacrifices and heroic acts against the Axis forces of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Operation Barbarossa planned for the Nazis to capture Moscow in four months but before that, Hitler successfully secured the food supplies and raw materials his army needed for that offensive by capturing Ukraine. In their failed mission to protect Kyiv, the Russians lost some 700,000 men. Does any Ukrainian remember this sacrifice? Our history books will show that the Nazis were repelled in the two major battles to occupy Russia, namely the Battle of Moscow and the Battle of Stalingrad at a huge cost to the defenders. Some 1.6 million Russian soldiers paid the ultimate price in those two battles alone. Yet, after WW2 ended, the Americans, in their own admission, mismanaged the peace by pushing the Soviets into a Cold War. They became enemies when they should have become partners instead. During the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact saw many East European countries support one another in a defence pact with Soviet Russia until it was dissolved in 1991. Since then, Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and the three Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – former members of the Warsaw Pact and under Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, became members of the European Union and in some cases signed up with NATO. This alliance, formed in 1949, was to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. The questions that cannot find a reasonable answer is why has NATO expanded rather than dissolved following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and why has America retained their military presence in Europe for the past two decades when their perceived enemy is broken up?
Not an inchU.S. Secretary of State James Baker, https://books.openedition.org/ceup/2906.
In Document 119, Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker, February 9, 1990, Baker said, “And the last point. NATO is the mechanism for securing the U.S. presence in Europe. If NATO is liquidated, there will be no such mechanism in Europe. We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch (emphasis is mine) of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.” Besides the Americans giving that assurance three times, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl also gave the same guarantee to President Gorbachev. Rubbing salt to the Russian wound, during talks of the German reunification in 1990, wherein the Two Plus Four Agreement would see to it that the two German countries would become one and that the four victorious forces in Germany (the US, UK, Soviet Russia and France) would renounce their rights to any territorial claims, it was also discussed that there be a NATO-Russia Founding Act under which NATO’s eastward expansion would end at the new Germany’s eastern border.
War is always bad and wrong. The West could have easily avoided this one or prevented it. Russia has always maintained that Ukraine joining the EU or Nato is their red line. Why have the Biden administration and its predecessors continued to ignore this? Why did they play this deadly ‘game’ with millions of Ukrainian lives at stake? What would Marcus Aurelius have done? Would he have taken the stoic route or the heroic route?
There is nothing worse than a wolf befriending sheep. Avoid false friendship at all costs.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.15
In search of what his hero Marcus Aurelius would do today if he were alive, the old man decided to find relevant words from his many wise remarks that may throw some light into how the great man would act or react to today’s hostilities. The above quote is perhaps very appropriate for those who have chosen to risk their lives in recent days. It is always wise to choose your friends carefully and trust only those who have a good track record of being trustworthy. Are they wicked? Are they two-faced? Do they speak with forked tongues? Are they trouble makers? Do they have a sinister agenda where they stand to gain from your demise?
The best way to avenge yourself is to be not like that.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.6
The best advice Marcus Aurelius gave to those harmed by past grievances is not to exact revenge. If someone had cheated you, lied to you and tricked you into giving up a prized possession, do not be vengeful. If you meet dishonesty by giving back dishonesty, you will be as bad as the other party. You will have proven them right, that you are bad, that we are all bad. If they have broken their promise and reneged on their guarantees, the best way is to leave such scoundrels alone. Do not embrace them in your life. Form new friendships instead.
Leave the past behind, let the grand design take care of the future and instead only rightly guide the present to reverence and justice.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.1
Leave the past behind. Forget the wrongs people have done to you. Persist and resist by focusing on reverence and justice. Learn to be virtuous instead, show respect and be honourable in your deeds and words. People will recognise the good in you and your life will be rid of turbulence and stress. If nothing else, you will find peace.
The person who does wrong does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves – making themselves evil.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.4
When we do something bad, we don’t ever feel good about ourselves. Most of us (all of us?) have a conscience that disturbs our peace when we do or say something bad or evil. The gratification may be instant but fleeting if we benefited from a lie or a bad act. Rarely do we go unpunished or feel rewarded for long. Our conscience is often a good judge, although biased towards self, it will also pour guilt on ourselves as an evolutionary process of self-preservation or as the necessary course of action for the safety of one’s family or community. A very selfish reason not to do something wrong!
That which isn’t good for the hive isn’t good for the bee.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.54
That which doesn’t harm the community can’t harm the individual. If you bring war to your country, you can’t be a good leader for your country as many of your people will die. At his neighbour’s creek next door, the old man was concerned about the increasing numbers of bees buzzing at the water’s surface. The creek is where he finds his peace and quiet, but lately his paradise has been disturbed by the threat of being stung by the bees. Someone in his neighbourhood must be harvesting honey from a hive. What should he do? Start his own army of bees? Or introduce a bio-threat to wipe out the bees? Is this why President Putin has been restless of late, flexing his military muscles as he attempts to bring down the Ukrainian government? Has his peace and quiet been disturbed by the neighbouring hive that NATO has been bringing closer to his borders?
Often injustice lies in what you aren’t doing, not only in what you are doing.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.15
When a narrative is well-scripted and well-repeated, it is very difficult to debunk it. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. The old man knows that killing the bees that visit the creek for water and nectar from the surrounding flowers is wrong, yet they are destroying his peace and serenity by being there. He is haunted by his own voice. War is always bad yet how do the Russians drive away those who threaten their peace if they won’t respect their own honour and abide by their promises?
Does the light of a lamp shine and keep its glow until its fuel is spent? Why shouldn’t your truth, justice and self-control shine until you are extinguished?Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.15
Let us live a life that prizes truth and justice. There are so much fake news and distorted facts that we no longer know what or who to believe anymore. Social media is rampant with conflicting ‘news’ about the conflict in Ukraine and mainstream media are also caught up, intentionally or otherwise, in the web of deceit and lies. Family members are entangled in the barb-wire of conspiracy theories and even long-time friends are being injured in the crossfire of a battle of words during a heated argument. We ought to value truth and justice. So, rather than be trigger-happy and forward a message without checking its veracity and accuracy, let us pause first and check the facts before posting video clips and text messages from social media. There is really no urgency to be ‘first’ to share the news.