His sacrifice reminds us of the human factor which, strip away the technology and weaponry involved, is the essential difference between victory and defeat in any given war or conflict. Filipov’s death, the manner of it, confirms that for him and his comrades defeat is not an option.
These are men who believe in what they are fighting for, and also in each other. And in the world of cynicism and self-absorption in which we live, in which meaning has been reduced to making money and achieving material comfort, young men such as Roman Filipov shame us with their honesty and absence of pretense. For them, duty comes before self, even self-preservation, which is reflected in their willingness to sacrifice their lives without a second’s hesitation if necessary.
Then we have Aleksandr Prokhorenko, who, while operating behind enemy lines in Daesh-controlled Palmyra in Syria, realizing that his position had been discovered and facing capture, called in an airstrike on himself in order to kill as many terrorists as possible in the process of sacrificing his own life.
Are we prepared to say that nothing connects these examples of valor and defiance in the face of death other than coincidence? It is difficult to hold to this view, not when we also have the historical example of the epic tenacity of the Russian Soviet Red Army during the most epic conflict of any in history – the Second World War (known to Russians as the Great Patriotic War) – as further evidence of the propensity for inordinate human sacrifice that is part of the Russian character.
"Only through suffering can we find ourselves," Dostoevsky wrote, and if the Russian character has been forged by anything throughout history it is suffering. This massive country of such extremes of terrain, weather, and conditions has cultivated throughout its long and oftentimes tortured history a people whose capacity for suffering is likewise extreme. Another Russian author, Vasily Grossman, could have been describing the valor and defiance demonstrated by Filipov, Nurbagandov, and Pokhorenko when he wrote, "In great hearts the cruelty of life gives birth to good."
When it comes to shaping a distinct national identity and character, cultural values are key. Whether American, British, German, Cuban, every nationality produces specific and unique characteristics in our minds. Speaking as a product of Western cultural values, I could not imagine a British, French or US soldier, airman or policeman eliciting the same kind of defiance in the face of death as those Russians did. This is not because they lack courage – courage is not, of course, exclusive to one particular nationality – but because they lack the same willingness to die even in situations where death is certain.
Now do not get me wrong; I am not for a second suggesting that Filipov, Nurbagandov, and Pokhorenko were not afraid at the point of their respective deaths. To assert such a thing would be to lapse into half-baked romanticism. All human beings experience fear. The difference comes in what we do despite being afraid, "The hero and the coward both feel the same thing," legendary boxing trainer Cus D’Amato famously opined on the subject, "but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters."
When it comes to the circumstances surrounding Major Filipov’s death, when the US Congress authorized the supply of MANPAD shoulder-held missile launchers to Syrian opposition groups in December 2016, they may well have embarked on a course which led inexorably to the Russian pilot’s death.
If so, if the provenance of the MANPAD used to shoot down Filipov’s aircraft over Syrian territory currently controlled by the Nusra Front terror group can be traced to the US, it will have far-reaching and serious ramifications for what are already tense relations between Moscow and Washington.
Some of us still recall how that the Carter and Reagan administrations took it upon themselves to arm and train the self-styled Mujahadeen in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Rather than the Islamic Jeffersonian democrats and freedom fighters portrayed in the West at the time, the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan was in truth a previous incarnation of Daesh – in other words, a brutal and barbaric murder gang intent on turning the clock back to the 7th century.
As in Brecht’s admonition that the womb remains fertile from that which crawled, the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan gave birth to Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, leading directly to 9/11, followed by the war in Iraq, followed by the emergence of Daesh, followed by…well, by now everyone knows the trajectory this sorry saga.
We have reached the point where it is no longer possible to deny Washington’s culpability in the creation of this monster, otherwise known as Salafi-jihadi terrorism. "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," English poet William Blake has it. Clearly, when it comes to Washington’s foreign policy of excess when it comes to cultivating extremism and terrorism, this palace of wisdom is yet to appear anywhere on the horizon.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.