The Sorrows of Vlad the Conqueror

Striding masterfully through St. George’s Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, Vlad the Conqueror turned his thoughts once again to his place in the pantheon of History’s Immortals.

“Victory follows victory for my splendid military forces,” he assured himself.  “I have halted the offensive of the Ukrainian bandits and demonstrated to the world that a great nation―commanded by a great leader!―is unstoppable.”

“Of course,” he noted bitterly, “our national enemies will point to the fact that our military forces are far larger and better armed than those of the treacherous Ukrainians.  But what these subversives won’t tell you is that our forces should be.  After all, they are fighting for Holy Mother Russia and the restoration of its glorious empire.  What could be a worthier cause?  Certainly not that of our depraved neighbors, the Ukrainian Untermenschen!”

Stopping briefly, he smiled lovingly at himself in one of the palace’s jewel-encrusted mirrors.

“But just when my superior leadership should be acclaimed around the world,” Vlad brooded, “it has been eclipsed by this Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.  Has this Netanyahu―this zhid leader of a second-rate, little country―slaughtered as many people as I have?  Conquered as much territory?  Successfully wiped out that small Palestinian terrorist group in their tiny strip of land?  No!”

“Now, admittedly,” Vlad remarked, “he’s trying.  Also, given the rightwing values that we share, we’ve always gotten along just fine.  Still, when it comes to foreign conquest, Netanyahu is a big nothing―at least compared to me!  Why does he get all the glory?”  Vlad paused for a moment to ponder this paradox.

“My good friend, Kim Jong Un, is also steaming about all the attention Netanyahu is getting.  Kim may lead a tiny country,” Vlad observed, “but he really knows how to keep dissidents in line at home and garner public attention abroad.  If the poor guy only led a great nation like Russia, he might have a chance.  But, you know, life is sometimes unfair.”

Having arrived at one of his favorite intricately-carved gold mirrors, Vlad stopped once more to admire himself.

“By contrast,” he continued,” my friend Donald Trump has had every opportunity for greatness.  He was born the son of a multimillionaire, acquired billions through crooked business dealings, and slipped into the U.S. presidency after being substantially outpolled by that $**^%^%* woman, Hillary Clinton.  And then, when Trump had the power, he proved too incompetent to use it.  What a pathetic insurrection!  You can bet that Kim and I wouldn’t have blown it!”

“Alas,” Vlad added, “I do have a re-election campaign to stage next year.  But I have enough wisdom to take the necessary precautions.  After Alexei Navalny, my leading rival for the presidency, unexpectedly failed to die of poisoning, I saw to it that he was packed off for a 30-year term in a slave labor camp.  When another potential rival, an obviously demented woman calling for ending the Ukraine War and freeing political prisoners, announced her candidacy, government officials made sure that she was immediately disqualified.  So, have no doubt about it: I’m not only Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Stalin, but I will continue to rule!”

“In fact,” Vlad added, “though I’m a remarkably self-effacing individual, I have to admit that the competition for ruling the world is pretty modest.  Kim and Trump?  Pathetically childlike, ruled by their temper tantrums.  Netanyahu?  Aside from eliminating a lot of Palestinians, nothing of significance.  And that big Chinese guy with the funny name?” he said, pausing briefly.  “Yes, he has potential.  But, so far, what has he really done?  When it comes to military conquests, no one in recent decades measures up to my record!”

“The tragedy, of course, is that, even when you’re clearly the best man for the job, you can’t rely on people.  My old friend, Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Vlad recalled, “was certainly talented.  He created a vast mercenary army and unleashed it in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa.  That’s just the kind of service that a great nation―and a great ruler!―needs.  But then, forgetting who ran things in reviving the glorious Russian empire, Prigozhin got out of line and had to be liquidated.  Sighing, Vlad asked wearily:  “Who can you trust these days?  Whatever happened to loyalty?”  A few tears trickled slowly down his cheeks.

“And that’s just the latest betrayal,” he remarked.  From the Third Reich back in 1941 to Armenia today, our former allies have compiled a long record of treachery.  Even the many East European nations that we brought under our generous, protective wing during the Cold War stampeded to join NATO the first chance they got.  During the first year of our ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, as many as a million Russians fled their country. Is there no longer any decency?”

“You know, I have feelings, too,” Vlad said, brushing aside his tears and blowing his nose.  “I work hard at this job―commanding Russian armies, subduing and annexing other countries, controlling the mass communications media, and imprisoning traitors and, sometimes, executing them.  And what do I get for it?  Criticism!  Draft-dodging!  Seizure of my financial assets!  Is that the way to treat a great leader?”

Plunged into gloom, Vlad continued his journey through the ornate palace hall, stopping finally before his favorite full-length mirror―one specially designed to exaggerate his height.  Striking a heroic pose before it, he slowly recited:  “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the greatest of them all?”  Silence followed.

Red-faced and incensed, Vlad growled:  “Well, mirrors don’t talk.  And, anyway, there’s no doubt about the answer!”  Resuming his march, he muttered:  “Damned Ukrainians!  Damned Russians!  Ingrates―all of them!”

Lawrence S. Wittner ( ) is Professor of History Emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

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