Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Comment: Tanks but no negotiation is bad news for Ukraine

Civilians are the big losers in a propaganda war that devolves into the conclusion that the only way to “win” the war is total defeat of the other side.
U.S. soldiers move to their battle position in an Abrams M1 tank during an exercise in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The decision by several NATO countries to send tanks to Ukraine will extend the war and cost lives, William S. Geimer writes. U.S. ARMY VIA ABACA PRESS/TNS

I am uniquely saddened by the recent flurry of photos and articles about sending tanks into the war in Ukraine. Apparently the trigger for Canada, Germany and others to take this step was the U.S. decision to send over a battalion of Abrams battle tanks. A recent photo showed those tanks training in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

I am familiar with “Graf.” Long, long ago I was a tank unit commander in the U.S. 3rd Armored Division, which also trained there twice a year.

Later, I was assigned responsibility for the personal security of the general after whom the current battle tanks are named, when Lt.-Gen. Creighton W. Abrams commanded V Corps.

In that long-ago time, we were said to be on the border of the “free world.” The Berlin Wall had only recently gone up.

We did not “win” that war because there was no war. Thankfully, people on both sides continued talking with one another.

So the news of the decision on tanks in Ukraine certainly grabbed my attention. What already had it was another disturbing factor: Propaganda but no negotiation.

The propaganda that is fed to all sides helps wars get started, helps keep them going when they should end, and lays the groundwork for the next one. Ukraine is currently in that second stage.

Civilians are the big losers in a propaganda war that devolves into the conclusion that the only way to “win” the war is total defeat of the other side on the battlefield.

The result is that for every day negotiation is absent, more women, children, old people and soldiers die.

Watch and listen to the pundits and see if you ever hear that undeniable factor mentioned. I will take bets that the closest you will come is something like “Ha! You can’t negotiate with the evil Putin.”

That is classic propaganda. Substitute Biden for Putin and you have completed a description of what is being fed to the people of Russia and the West alike.

Nonsense. If an old tank commander in East Sooke can think of items that could form an agenda that could at least be discussed in good faith, surely in the name of those civilians whose lives are being sacrificed daily then the great minds of diplomacy could at least get started.

Why, for example, refuse to talk about:

• Immediate cease fire and cease supplying weapons during the negotiation.

• Free humanitarian access during negotiations.

• Withdrawal of all forces from Donetsk and Donbas.

• Withdrawal of Russian forces from the rest of Ukraine.

• No nuclear weapons, including tactical weapons to be supplied by either side.

• New, internationally supervised Crimean referendum.

• Ukrainian neutrality.

If you don’t like this list, come up with your own. Just don’t continue to be fooled by the time-(dis)honoured propaganda trap. Our indulgence in that is costing lives every day.

During my time in the 3rd Armored Division, I did not think much about the homes and families of the “Commie” soldiers we could occasionally see across the border when we scrambled to our forward alert positions. I did not think about killing them. I did not think about them killing me.

I don’t know how much Russian and Ukrainian soldiers are thinking about those things today. I do know that with the injection of tank warfare, the killing is about to get much more personal.

Death by missile, drone or bomb is the norm these days. Warfare is like some lethal video game where killer and killed are never in close contact. That is about to change.

My M-60 tanks, the forerunner of the Abrams, had three weapons systems. There were .50-calibre and 7.62-mm machine guns and a 105-mm howitzer. The cannon had several types of shells.

One of them, designed for use against other tanks, created a “spalling” effect by attaching itself to the outside and sending the metal inside the other tank, whirling around thus eviscerating its crew and creating a bloody mess.

Canada, purportedly good at diplomacy, should be about that difficult task rather than sending tanks.