Prince Andrew and Vladimir Putin

Sam Smith – I was a high school sophomore when Queen Elizabeth was coronated. My parents bought their first TV in order to watch the event, which has resulted in decades of empathy on my part towards the queen and pointless fascination with the British royalty.

Eventually I stumbled upon a reality that is viewed insignificantly, namely that in a country that once ran a good part of the world, produced figures as significant as William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, and created admirable educational institutions such as Oxford, the current leader of this achievement is a family that has produced little other than repeated media coverage and a bunch of guys embarrassing themselves and their mother or grandmother, as most recently exemplified by Prince Andrew and his legal settlement of some of his past sexual affairs.

The British journalist Des Wlson wrote in this journal – then the DC Gazette – back in 1985:

After the near-hysterical media coverage of the recent visit to the United States by Princess Diana and her husband, you will not need to be convinced that she has done much to re-establish the glamour of British royalty. It has been largely because of the warmth, bravery, and dignity of the Queen’s father, King George VI, particularly in the war years, that the Royal Family has retained so much public affection in Britain. The continued public presence of his wife, the Queen Mother, helps. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how it is that the monarchy remains as stable and unchallenged in Britain today as it has for centuries. The Queen’s personality is such that in any other form of public life she would disappear without trace. Prince Philip has never been a popular personality, and were he in politics would be to the right of the Conservative Party. All of the royal family live in a world largely isolated from reality. Only Princess Anne has established some independence and occasionally appeared to put a foot onto the same ground the rest of us occupy. Yet, as the Queen’s Silver Jubilee showed, the affection is still there, the acceptance of their role in the British constitution as safe as ever.

And now there is Vladimir Putin who currently is threatening war. War these days seems somewhat like the British royalty, strikingly out of touch with the logic of our times yet treated at the top of major choices. This doesn’t surprise Putin and may, in fact, part of the inspiration for his behavior. But as a general fact, war just isn’t what it used to be. Here’s a summary of US deaths in significant wars:

· Civil War, 625,000

· World War I, 117,000

· World War II, 405.000

· Vietnam War, 58,000

· Korean War 37,000

· Iraq War, 7,000

· Afghan war 2,000

With the exception of World War II there has been a steady decline in US deaths, reflecting a more restrained role in our culture.

It’s not clear what Putin’s actual plans are but it’s highly likely that he has taken into account the fact that traditional warfare could produce a traditional warfare response including, say, a lot of bombs dropped in Russia. It is also possible that he has considered the fact that big wars are not all that successful and is using threat and perception more than reality. Or that there are easier ways to thrive these days, for example using cyber attacks, rather than risking all those tanks he has brought to the border.

While we don’t presently know the answer to this, what is worth noting and yet generally ignored is that war, like the British royalty, is not what it used to be. And a lot of this change comes from alterations in our culture. How many wars, for example, have been so lengthily discussed by opposing parties in the media before anything has happened? Like so much else in our society, we have learned to talk rather than do anything about a topic of debate.

I have no idea what Vladimir Putin is ultimately up to. But like Prince Andrew and Donald Trump he is currently using image as his primary weapon. And it may well be the best weapon he has.