Great Decisions Lecture Examines Russo-Ukranian War

Lt. General Mark Hertling. Image courtesy of Great Decisions.
Ryan Greitlin, Contributing Writer

Nearing its one-year anniversary, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is still making headlines and influencing the world. As one of the most notable escalations of the nearly nine-year-old Russo-Ukraine War, many wonder how the ongoing crisis might affect their lives, with Europe witnessing its largest refugee crisis since World War II, countries cutting their dependency on Russian oil and foreign countries collectively spending over $80 billion in aid and support. This large scale conflict produces plenty of questions: How does this affect those living in Ukraine? What have been the inner workings of the militaries involved? Is this a strategically beneficial move for Russia? The 2023 Great Decisions of Wayne County Lecture Series sets out to answer these questions.

The series’ first event was a talk from retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, Commanding General of the U.S. Army in Europe from 2011 to 2012. With years of experience in military strategy, General Hertling analyzed and explained Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, breaking the conflict into a series of phases representing major shifts in strategy and examining Russian militaristic weaknesses.

Through his examination, General Hertling listed Russia’s extensive objectives, reflecting that Putin seeks a Ukrainian regime change, a weaker “West” and Ukraine and control over the Black Sea. Despite these objectives, General Hertling called Russia’s military “severely uncoordinated [with] poor leadership at every level.” He believes that even when it comes to morale and unity, the Russian military is still lacking. He spoke of a time when he was visiting a German military training facility that was previously used as a prisoner of war camp during World War II. A troop of local boy-scouts had spent time cleaning and restoring the graves of Russian prisoners-of-war in the facility graveyard – when the Russian general who was visiting with General Hertling saw this, he denounced the fallen soldiers, saying that they were not true Russians if they were in a prisoner of war camp. This was just one of many examples of the widespread lack of camaraderie seen throughout the Russian military, and ultimately is what contributes to what General Hertling seeks severe lack of unity and strategy. General Hertling made it clear that while this invasion has been and will continue to hurt the Russian military, there are still wild cards such as Russia’s potential to use nuclear weapons that leave the outcome of this invasion unknown. As one audience member said when asked after the lecture about their takeaway, “Time, economics, public support and pure military strength will combine to end the war, but the capacity in which they do so is unable to be predicted due to the shifting nature of various components.”

This series consists of four events through February and March organized by Great Decisions of Wayne County, a 40-year-old collaboration between The College of Wooster and members of Wayne County. For 2023, Great Decisions aims to bring in experts to increase the learning and engagement of worldly affairs for the entire Wooster community. In the words of Matt Mariola, the Environmental Studies program chair and Executive Director of Great Decisions, “The two biggest objectives are to have a forum in which we discuss issues of global importance…then along with that we really want this to be a college-community integration.” 

It was obvious how much impact this series will have on the community. Just for this opening night, Gault Recital Hall was at max capacity, with around 60-70% of the audience members being from the Wooster community outside the College. These events also bring lots of benefits to the students and their classrooms–after arriving in Wooster but before the lecture, General Hertling was able to meet with students both inside and outside of classes. One student who was able to meet and spend time with General Hertling during the day prior to his lecture said their time with him was eye-opening and hopes that other students can take advantage of these opportunities. 

As put by organizers, the Great Decisions series captures the essence of the exchange of knowledge. These events are fantastic opportunities to become enlightened about world issues and learn how they are integrated with both the global community and the Wooster community. The next event, on Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Gault Recital Hall, will be a lecture from Michael Bociurkiw, a journalist who has been reporting from Ukraine for the past year. I encourage anyone who has that Tuesday free to check it out, as well as all future events in the Great Decisions series. An hour and a half of your time is more than worth it to walk away with this level of quality first-hand insight and awareness.

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