Letters to the Editor: Limitations of modern war, and what happens to Ukraine once the war ends

A man holds a piece of wood in front of a building that is in ruins
A man clears debris at a residential building that was damaged amid shelling near Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Feb. 25, 2022.
(Daniel Leal / AFP/Getty Images)

To the editor: As ML Cavanaugh analyzes in his op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stalled military initiatives in Ukraine are quickly revealing serious limitations on his negotiating template for the postwar period. Both sides are, in fact, expressing flexibility not seen as recently as a month ago.

Having taught a course on the Vietnam War for 30 years, an obvious analogous point emerges here: Armies don’t fight wars; political cultures fight wars. Putin’s advantage in armament seems, particularly in the last two weeks, to be blunted by Ukraine’s more open society, one decidedly more engaged with the international state system, led well by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The trump card in this scenario might be what Cavanaugh refers to as Zelensky’s “golden voice.” He alone might be able to coax his own people and international stakeholders to support an agreement that will inevitably require concessions. Although Zelensky is outmanned and out-armored, he controls global goodwill.


Absent a comprehensive military victory and an overwhelming occupation that can impose a settlement — what, in another world, was called “unconditional surrender” — the dubious efficacy of limited war in the modern era will again be revealed.

Not even an authoritarian regime can escape the laws of its gravity.

David DiLeo, San Clemente


To the editor: Hopefully things will soon move toward peace and the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine. One issue I have not seen addressed when analyzing how the war will end is who will pay to rebuild Ukraine? We have all seen the images of the devastation Russian forces have caused to the Ukrainian infrastructure, not to mention the lives lost. U.S. and European taxpayers should not be required to foot the bill. Nor should the Ukrainians.

A spin on the old saying, “You break it, you pay for it,” seems to be applicable here. All the Russian assets that have been frozen should be used to pay for the rebuilding. Once that is done, what is left can be returned to the Russians.

William Elmelund, West Hollywood