COMMENTARY | Let’s jump into our cartoon Wayback Machine, return to our Bicentennial year, and view a brilliant film called “Network” written by Paddy Chayefsky, specifically to see Ned Beatty give a riveting speech to Peter Finch. Beatty plays the head of the broadcast corporation that controls the news show that Finch anchors, a wildly popular but problematic broadcast following a bizarre turn of events. To compress, Finch has been given two weeks’ notice, has lost his mind, and is filling his last airtime with rants about the declining quality of life in America. What Beatty tells Finch, essentially, is that there are no peoples or nations, that such concepts are the delusions of an “old man.” The boss’ world view boils down to these memorable lines:
“There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.”
One might assert that this view is a yes-and-no matter, certainly cynical, and that events since this speech have determined that there are, in fact, peoples who definitely think differently than other peoples. What events in the decades since Beatty’s speech have not denied, however, is that many matters cloaked in political terms are ultimately hardened matters of business.
I hark back to this speech in light of the current situation in Ukraine, which has suddenly taken an interesting turn absolutely embedded in business.
Yesterday thousands of steelworkers and miners began patrolling throughout the southeast Ukrainian city of Mariupol, as well as several other cities in the east, re-establishing some order amid separatists’ often violent efforts to create the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.
Here’s the deal (as in the phrase “business deal”): Mariupol produces five million tons of steel annually, and both the workers there and Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, whose System Capital Management employs those workers, are now in agreement that a separate eastern Ukraine would severely damage steel exports from their region. In other words, paychecks trump warm and squishy feelings about Russia.
It remains to be seen how successful the worker-oligarch pushback against a separate eastern Ukraine will be, but 18,000 of Mr. Akhmetov’s workers have already volunteered in Mariupol for peacekeeping patrols. The instant status quo there seems to be multiple patrols of six workers and two police officers that have driven separatists from the streets. Additionally, Pew Research found last month that most eastern Ukrainians actually prefer keeping their entire country intact – minus Crimea, of course.
So, what’s a Putin to do – shall we have some more loose talk about Russian tanks rolling into their neighbor? Let’s try to bring this home a bit.
Imagine that, for some reason, the US did not emerge from World War II as strongly as it did. Let’s imagine as well that some strange turn of events had considerably strengthened Canada, and that there had been a serious influx of French Canadians into Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, where they began a push to become a formal part of Canada. Envision destabilizing riots in Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, Erie and Pittsburgh in 1948. Let’s say, though, that peace had been re-established in Pittsburgh by steelworker patrols.
If you were a Canadian leader (or soldier) in that situation, how would you like the notion of trying to take Pittsburgh?