I have been thinking about writing this post for several months now. But in a world were everything coming from the heart is misconstrued as some form of posturing, I was frankly afraid to do so. Also, writing that kind of stuff is not what bloggers do, much less so those who try to run a halfway credible blog. And yet, every time I got a kind email, a letter or even a gift, I felt that I have to write this. God knows I am opening myself up for even more misrepresentations as usual, but I think it is well worth it. My spiritual father always used to say “one soul is more precious then the entire universe“.
So I dedicate this post to that one soul.
My life has been one of ups and downs. Early on, after a pretty nasty childhood, it went up, rather rapidly. Then came the “fall from (pseudo-) grace” and I lost my career. It is still too early to go into all the details, but let’s just say that I used to be associated with a “three letter outfit” whose existence was not well-known by the general public and which has since been disbanded. In my field, I got to the proverbial ‘top’ pretty early on, but soon the war in Bosnia began to open my eyes to many things I had never suspected before. Then I found out about two things which got me blacklisted in my own, putatively democratic, country: I found out that a group of people had uselessly been murdered as a result of the criminal incompetence of their superiors and I found out that one guy had taken a long jail sentence while all this superiors had managed to walk away from a crime they all had committed. And even though I never went public, or even told my closest friends about it (to protect them), I was blacklisted and prevented from ever working again.
In those dark days my wonderful wife was always trying to tell me that it was not my fault, that I had never done anything wrong, that I was paying the price for being a person of integrity and that I had proven many times over how good I was in my field. I always used to bitterly reply to her that I was like a “submarine in a desert”: maybe very good at “something somewhere”, but useless in my current environment (I always used to visualize a Akula-class SSN stranded smack in the middle of the Sahara desert – what a sight that would be! I wish somebody would use a Photoshop-like software to create that pic). What I have found out since, is that our planet is covered with deserts and that there are many, many submarines in them, all yearning for the vastness of an ocean.
Modest beginnings at first
I came to the USA in 2002 with only one desire: to leave my past on the other side of the ocean and to disappear, to become an anonymous ‘nobody’ who would be left alone. More than anything else, I needed time to recover, to lick my wounds and to spend time with the only people who had stood by my without every doubting me: my wife and my kids.
The French have a very good saying:”chassez le naturel et il revient au galop” which can roughly be translated as “try to suppress your nature, and it will come back with a vengeance”. This is what happened to me. While in 2002 I had promised myself to never analyze anything more complicated that a fiction book, by 2007 I suddenly decided to start a blog. This blog. My goal? Very, very primitive: to write whatever the hell I wanted. I had spent so many years writing for “big people” who had very narrow limits of what they were willing to read that I decided to indulge in the joy of writing whatever I wanted with no concern or regard for anybody’s opinion. I had an itch to scratch I decided to scratch it.
You can still parse the archives of 2007 or 2008 and you will see that I really was making no efforts to reach anybody, make a difference or become popular. A short and ill-fated contact with Antiwar.com (which ended up in disaster), gave me a few more readers but my readership was still tiny.
My choice of topics did not help. Years before, I had literally “bumped” into the topic of Hezbollah and, my curiosity picked, I spent a decade studying this movement and its amazing leader. By 2007 I was an unrepentant Hezbollah-groupie and Nasrallah fanboy and most of the blog dealt with the Middle-East. The other topic was Russia, simply because this was the country my family came from and which I had professionally analyzed for years. As for the Ukraine, I don’t think that I ever mentioned it at all. While I was disgusted with the ignorance and hatefulness of Ukrainian nationalists, I did not care about the Ukraine: “let them soak in their own ‘independent’ and yet pathetic and clearly sinking statelet if they want – I have more inspiring things to look at” was my philosophy at the time. Sure, I kept an eye on events there, but to me this reminded me of Russia in 1993 – I was disgusted with all the actors and with the entire situation. Besides, what could happen there which would be worthy of interest?
And sure enough, life proved me wrong (-: again :-)
The big wars of 2013
First, there was Syria and the Russian role in stopping Uncle Sam. Oh yes, there were the political efforts of the Russian diplomats, and they were ‘bad’ enough. But less noticed what the fact that Russia sent a hastily assembled but capable naval task force to the Syrian coast. Not a task force big enough to fight the US Navy, but a task force capable of providing a full view of the skies over and beyond Syria to the Syrian military. In other words, for the first time the US could not achieve a surprise attack on Syria, not with cruise missiles, not with airpower. Worse, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah embarked on a covert and overt program of material and technical assistance for Syria which ended up defeating the Wahabi insurgency. The AngloZionist were absolutely *livid*. So to teach Putin and those damn Russkies a good lesson, they blew up the Ukraine and, again, Putin did two things they had never expected and which they could never forgive: he did sent forces Crimea but he did not do so in Novorussia: there he helped covertly. There was no doubt possible: Russia had committed the “Crime of Crimes” of openly defying the will of our planetary overlords. The Empire’s response was predictable: a full-spectrum ‘war’ on Russia and Putin, albeit not an overtly military one (yet).
For me and my blog, the consequence of this mega-crisis was immediate: the readership literally exploded and, at the suggestion of other (it was not even my idea!), more Saker blogs suddenly began popping up. From a unknown one man anonymous blog the Saker blog morphed into a global community, and that over less than one year.
[Sidebar: if often fell like a war profiteer. The worse the situation in the Ukraine, the more readers I get, the calmer, the less. On a really quiet day I get as little as 20’000 hits, on a really bad day, up to 69’000. I estimate my more or less regular readership at no more than 30’000]
I am outlining all this to truthfully explain to you that this was never the plan for me. Not only was this completely unplanned, it even took me by surprise. In fact, I was so surprised that I could not honestly make sense of it. Think of it.
Here is a one-man blog, written by some anonymous dude with a silly alias, who repeatedly engages in all sorts of crimethink (like the day when I wrote – to a mainly Arab readership – that I believed that Hamas ought to unconditionally release Gilad Shalit, LOL!) who is neither from the Left, nor from the Right, whose writing is chock full of typos and, frankly, very poorly written sentences and yet this blog suddenly takes off like a rocket. And you can tell by my writing style that I don’t even take myself too seriously. But so what in the world has happened here?
Sure, I am a decent analyst, I know Russian and a few other languages, I have studied Russia for all my life and the Middle-East for, well, a little over a decade. This is not bad, but hardly a reason for such a success.
Then I understood:
It was never about me, but always about you
Along with more daily visitors, I began receiving more and more emails and letters. And presents. Often very touching ones. Just look at the absolutely beautiful drawing of a Saker Falcon I got yesterday (thanks SO MUCH “S.T.”! I will frame and posted it on my wall)
People who had never met me and who really knew nothing about me were literally pouring kindness over me. Most emails and letter centered on political issues, but a big minority were expressing much deeper feelings such as gratitude and a desire to morally support. I was amazed, really. Then my readers began suggesting that I should place a donation button on the blog. Many may not believe me here, but that idea had never even crossed my mind. Eventually, I did (God knows I needed the money) and to my absolute amazement people began donating. Why? Why would anybody in our cynical word filled with crooks donate some hard earned and always scarce money to a guy he/she has never met? Was that just because I was posting materials about Syria or the Ukraine? Or my oh-so-good analyses? Hardly.
And then there was also the rage. Many, many letters were literally oozing with rage. Rage against the government, its media, the Empire, the lies and the dishonesty. Rage at having been lied to. Rage at the humiliation of being treated like a serf or a slave. Rage at our dysfunctional and self-destructive society. Before that, I had no idea that so many people were so mad.
The most gut-wrenching letters were often from US servicemen. They often began with “I consider myself a patriotic American and I love my country which I served for many years in the military but….” and here it inevitably turned into a painful admission that this country was lead by evil crooks, occupied by parasites, owned by a 1% of SOB whom everybody else despises. And you would simply not believe the kind of stuff these correspondents, including former servicemen, would write about Putin. It was amazing – I regularly joke that if given a chance to run, Putin might be elected as President of the US of A.
[Sidebar: By the way, I will not post these letters here. Not even excepts. First, I want to protect the trust of those who wrote to me. Second, some of these letters are so amazing and moving that I will inevitably be accused of making them up. So I will simply forgo presenting any ‘proof’ for my statements. Believe me or not – makes no difference to me. And if you don’t – then I guess that yours is not the soul I dedicate this post to anyway]
So there I was trying to figure out – why such an outpouring of kindness for a total stranger (and an anonymous one at that!) and such an outpouring of rage against the society we live in. And then, I think that I figured it out.
The deserts are filled with submarines (but they are breaking free!)
That’s it. I had mistakenly believed that I was the only one feeling like a submarine in a desert, but in reality the deserts of our society were filled with people who felt completely alienated. Several times in the past I posted here the beautiful song by David Rovics “We are everywhere” because with each passing month I began to realize that he was literally right – we are, indeed, everywhere.
What society had done to me – made me completely powerless – it has also done to you. And just the way it had made me feel like a single lonely nutcase, it made you feel like you were the only one. I most sincerely believe that the real reason for the success of this blog, its global community, its vibrant discussions and the amazing outpouring of kindness towards me is in the following simple fact: I inadvertently made it possible for many thousands of people to realize they they were not alone, not crazy, not wrong but that quite literally “we are everywhere”!
The second thing that I did, again quite inadvertently, is to empower those who felt powerless to do something, to make a change, to really have an impact.
Our societies are designed to make us feel like prison inmates, serfs or slaves. We all know that voting is a useless joke, that our rulers don’t give a damn about us, that political dissent is frowned on when it is real, that revolts are crushed in violence, that pluralism is viciously repressed by the prevailing ideology, that our schools brainwash and stupidify our kids and turn them against us, that the home brainwashing appliances like the Idiot-Tube, the radio or the papers are here to do only three things: entertain us, get our money and zombify us. We know that, but we feel powerless to do anything about it.
By asking for help in my work on the blog and, especially, by allowing for what I call “spontaneous self-organization” (something which I had directly taken from how the Debian community functions) I had given those who shared my goals a readily available means to take action. And I have to say that the result exceeded my expectations by many order of magnitude (and made me realize that some “amateurs” are at least as good as, or better, then “pros”). Treat people with respect, give them a chance, and they will do miracles for you!
[Sidebar: if you are interested in how big complex projects can self-organize, please read – online – chapter 2.4 “The Debian Community” pp 46-57 in this book. Of course, I did not deliberately try to copy the Debian model, but I did apply the “just do it” principle and I let each Saker Blog self-organize in a completely independent manner. I also see my own role in the Saker community as one of a “benevolent dictator“, another free software phenomenon, though, so far, I have only had to act in this capacity once].
Thanks to my inadvertently stumbling into the fantastic and yet untapped potential of so many good people our community began to grow almost spontaneously (several Saker Blog Team Leaders have also expressed to me the same amazement I was feeling).
Suddenly many “submarines” had found their oceans to show what they were really capable off!
Do you know about the Asch conformity experiment? [If not, take a quick look here before reading on]. Well, I think that my oppositional-defiant personality inadvertently crashed at least part of the gigantic Asch conformity experiment our society has become. I was calling it as I was seeing it and to hell with the consequences (I had so few readers anyways…). Then, in 2010 I decided to really give a good kick into the sandcastle of our delusions and posted an article entitled “Why am I not hearing the endless rumble of jaws dropping to the floor?”. In this post I basically repeated something which anybody could verify and which was undeniable: NIST had, by direct implication, admitted that WTC7 had been brought down by controlled demolition. Furthermore, and contrary to popular belief, NIST has simply no explanation at all for how the WTC1 and WTC2 had fallen. And yet, this amazing fact was completely obfuscated by the collective Asch experiment being imposed on us. But the reality is that the 911 issue is just a tip of an iceberg. Our entire society is one big, long and neverending Asch experiment and most of us, at least on some level, know about it. We all feel what the Matrix series calls the feeling like a “splinter in our mind”.
I suppose that for types like myself (disrespectful of social dogmas and norms, oppositional and defiant towards authority, rebellious and aggressive by nature, deeply contrarian on an almost knee-jerk level, libertarian in outlook) the outcome of the tension between what I feel and what I am told to feel results in a long battle against the established order and dominant ideology (no wonder another two of my favorite songs of David Rovics are “Burn it down” and “We will shut them down“). But once a bad guy like myself decided to yank the splinter out of my mind – others decided to give it a try too and that is how it all began.
My gratitude to you
And here is what I wanted to say through all of the above: I know that I personally do not deserve such kindness and gratitude. In reality, the very fact that you have shown me so much kindness also shows that you are truly the one deserving gratitude and praise. I am just the very very lucky one – you are the kind and generous one. And, please believe me, this has nothing to do with me engaging in some kind of false modesty – I truly believe it, this is the conclusion I have come to from your letter and your emails.
In conclusion, I want to share a special song with all those of your who have “poured out their souls to me” (Russian expression). It is from the Russian bard Vladimir Vyssotskii and it is called “Song of the Earth”:
Here are the lyrics (translated by George Tokarev)
Is the earth, as they say, burnt and dried? Will a seed, as they say, never sprout? Has the earth, as they say, really died? No! It’s taken a lengthy time-out! Mother Earth will forever give birth, Its maternity isn’t a fiction! Don’t believe that they burnt down the earth, No! It’s blackened from grief and affliction. Trenches, running like scars back and forth... Bleeding guts black shell-craters expose... They are open nerves of the earth, Which unearthly unhappiness knows. It will stand wars and grief - any thing! It’s not crippled, though booted and looted... Don’t believe that the earth doesn’t sing, That it’s quieted down, diluted! No, it’s singing as loud as it can From a trench, from a wound, from a hole! Since the earth is the soul of Man, Boots cannot trample down the soul!
This last sentence, “boot cannot trample down the soul!”, speaks, I believe, not only of physical boots, though these are also meant, but also about psychological, ideological, social boots who, no less than the real thing, try hard to trample down on our souls.
Remember the last sentence of Orwell’s 1984? “He loved Big Brother”. I always absolutely hated that sentence. Yes, for the purpose of the book, this was the correct ending being, as it was, a warning. But I always though “hell, no I will always hate Big Brother”, “boots cannot trample down souls”.
What you all, my friends, have proven to me is that there are many of us who will not love Big Brother and that Big Brother has not trampled down our souls. 20 years ago I used to feel like the most lonely man on the planet. Now, thanks to you, I feel like we are everywhere and I have friend, free fellow humans, all over the planet.
And for that you have my eternal and most heartfelt gratitude,
PS: note to the Saker-haters: I am fully aware of how easy it is to distort and “rephrase in other words” what I wrote above, and how many ugly and nasty conclusions you can come up with. At the very least, you will call me either a hypocrite or delusional. Fine. You have shown me over and over again that this is a price to pay for honesty. I did not try to make this text slander-proof and if you want to use that to trash me further – fine. I just want you to know that I accept that and that I don’t fear you one bit :-p
December 2015 addendum from the Saker:
I consider that the “Submarine in the desert” text above really says everything relevant about me. I also believe that you can tell a tree by its fruits – so my blog is really what people ought to judge me by. However, since others apparently want to know a little more about my past life, I can add the following:
I was born in Zurich, Switzerland, from a Dutch father and Russian mother. My father left us when I was 5, so my mother and my Russian family raised me and this is why I took my mother’s last name. I lived most of my life in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1984 I did my military service in electronic warfare and I was later transferred to the military intelligence service (UNA) as a language specialist where did some work with the Swiss Air Force. I then traveled to the USA where I got a BA in International Relations from the School of International Service (SIS) at the American University and a MA in Strategic Studies from the Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University. Upon my return to Switzerland, I worked as a civilian consultant for the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service (SND) writing strategic analyses, primarily about the Soviet/Russian military. In the military, I was given the Major-equivalent rank of “Technical Officer”, which is a fancy way of saying that I was an analyst. I also worked as an “enemy operations” (“Red Team” in US parlance) specialist for the operational-level training of the General Staff of Swiss armed forces. I then accepted a position for the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) where I specialized in peacekeeping tactics and operations. This gave me the opportunity to co-author a book on Russian peacekeeping operations with the Major-General I. N. Vorob’ev, of the Russian General Staff Academy. My last work at UNIDIR was about psychological operations and intelligence in peacekeeping which can be downloaded here. At the same time, I also wrote an evaluation of the performance of the Russian military during the first Chechen war for the Journal of Slavic Military Studies which somebody has since uploaded here. The wars in Bosnia and Chechnia really opened my eyes to the real nature of the Empire. Since I thought that I was living in a democracy, I did voice my opinion on these topics and I soon ended up being viewed with suspicion by my former bosses. I quit the UN and took up a position at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which was probably the worst mistake of my life and which I shall never discuss publicly. By the time I got out of that job, I was basically blacklisted as a “dangerous element” (meaning “disloyal”) by my former bosses (my regular contacts with Russian diplomats and my efforts at providing aid to the Bosnian Serbs probably did not help). In total disgust, I abandoned my career as a military specialist and re-trained as a software engineer. When 9/11 crashed the IT sector I was unemployed again and I left Switzerland for the USA where I homeschooled our 3 children while doing odd jobs, mostly as a translator (I am fluent in Russian, French, English, Spanish and German) while my wife worked as a veterinarian (now, that our kids have grown up, my wife and I work together). In 2007 I decided to start an anonymous blog, mainly as a psychotherapy for myself, and I called it “Vineyard Saker” – a simple machine-generated anagram of my full name :-)
Finally, and just for the record, a few points: I never did any intelligence gathering for anybody, though I was approached by the Americans, the Russians and the Swiss do to exactly that, but I turned them all down (just not my cup of tea at all). While my maternal family are all from the Russian nobility, my Dutch DNA is 100% proletarian, and I am quite happy with that mix. To my great regret, I get no help from Russia at all – not money, not information (I would *love* to be a paid “Putin agent” but VVP has not made any offers yet). All my info is 100% “open source”. My past experience with classified data tells me that it is either highly technical or time-critical but not otherwise better than open source information: 80% of all the good info is out there, in the open, it is just a matter of putting it together correctly. I get a regular trickle of donations from the blog, but nothing major, and only 2 private donors (thanks guys!!) provide most of it anyway. If making money was my big goal, then I assure you that I had plenty of much better opportunities. My main objective in the immediate future is to (finally) write my thesis for the graduate degree in patristic theology I am working on now, and to set some money aside to visit Russia again (which I have not done since 1996!). Oh, and if you still wonder, no, I am not a Muslim nor am I on any Muslim (or other) payroll.
Personally, I reject the Left-Right reference system and consider myself an Orthodox “People’s Monarchist” (народный монархист) in the tradition of Lev Tikhomirov, Feodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Solonevich and Ivan Ilyin. Just like the Russian philosopher Berdaev, rather than looking left or right, I rather look *up*!
I also recognize myself in the notion of “Left of labor, Right of values” (Gauche du travail, droite des valeurs) of Alain Soral. My economics are: laissez-faire capitalism for the family and small business level, socialism for the corporation level and communism for strategic/national level sectors of the economy.
Now that I wrote all of the above, I still think that it is largely irrelevant. Judge me not by what I say about myself, but by my blog or, better, my book. All of the above is true, but these are my *external life circumstances* and they do not say much about who I really *am*. My writings do. Study them (if so inclined) and you will know who I am.