Russian and U.S. astronauts get along. Why can't the rest of us?

Roger Twitchell
York City
A child watches from from a train carriage waiting to leave Ukraine for western Ukraine at the railway station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 120,000 people have so far fled Ukraine into neighboring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion. The number was going up fast as Ukrainians grabbed their belongings and rushed to escape from a deadly Russian onslaught. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

In space, we and Russia get along well, with both sides understanding we two are the only nations that really know what we're doing in space. There's plenty of earned mutual respect there. While their economy is small, with more corruption than ours, I don't think we've ever stopped respecting the work of Russian scientists and engineers.

In a speech and Q&A given by Russian-American journalist Vladimir Pozner at Yale recently, a student from Moscow asked him, "Is there any hope for Russia at all?  Any?  Or should we just brush up on our American accents?"

He responded that those in power, like Putin, are products of the old Soviet system and like Putin miss the USSR.  The young student, Mr. Pozner said, "is reason for my optimism." 

More:Putin puts Russia's nuclear forces on alert, cites sanctions

More:US joins Europe in freezing Russian President Vladimir Putin's assets

More:'Democracy under attack': Ukraine isn't Russia's only target, historian warns

While not expecting to live to see the change 20 to 30 years away, he was sure the acceptance of freedom of thought with an honest representative government would reach Russia once the Putin's Soviet-raised generation leaves.

From that talk and articles I’ve read, Putin and most Russians view NATO largely in terms of ICBMs pointed at them. They want those ICBMs kept a distance away as JFK wanted Russian ICBMs kept out of Cuba. We in the West however view NATO as a community of ideas of freedoms to be defended, a group of nations with or heading towards an honest representative government. 

Also from that talk and many articles, as we view Putin as trying to rebuild an archaic Russian Empire, Russians view the encroachment of NATO with its ICBMs as the unwelcome expansion of the American Empire into their neighborhood. Ukraine has been turning from Russia to Europe culturally, and if it joins NATO, Russia’s western border will be entirely with NATO member nations.

This business of folks on the right thinking of the left as the evil Other and vice versa needs to end. Our now-global civilization has too many problems to have time for anything but building solutions. I remember Gorby and the glasnost era, the Great Opening that seems to now be officially closing. No one anywhere now seems able to get along with anyone else.  Remember that a divided house will fall, as Lincoln pointed out.

In the 1980s, those in Congress largely didn’t view those on the other side of the aisle as the enemy, for they were the brothers and sisters they fought alongside against the real enemies — Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini. That “We Generation” is gone, and that understanding of fellow brotherhood and sense of duty together appears to be gone.

While it's illegal to protest in Russia, many thousands have "gone for a walk" as they put it over there and protested the war anyway. Putin relies on apathy, fear and cynicism to stay in power. But fear is the mind-killer, and apathy and cynicism have never been constructive. Never have, never will. 

On Thursday alone, according to Al-Jazeera, more than 1,745 protesters were arrested, getting a criminal record and likely jail time for saying that Putin’s invasion is wrong. I applaud that mass defiance of apathy, fear and cynicism at significant personal cost.

Mr. Pozner pointed out a lack of fear about nuclear weapons among people today, even as the risk again gets excessively real. In the 1980s there were plentiful mass protests against the very possible living nightmare of nuclear war. 

No one’s going to escape to other planets anytime soon. We have to get along. There is no choice. There are too many people on Earth now to survive the alternative.

I’m not convinced the American people hate the Russian people. Russians may no longer trust America, but I’m not getting the impression they (unlike Putin) want to rebuild the Russian version of the old Roman Empire either (“Tsar” being from “Caesar”). 

Can we and the people of Russia please be more like our respective astronauts on the International Space Station, looking together at the Pale Blue Marble that is Earth and seeing fellow humans doing good stuff together? Please?