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On self-awareness, legal distinctions in war, and what looks like good news on balance from a strange weekend
Whatever agreement he reached to settle his differences with the Kremlin, it is unlikely that Yevgeny Prigozhin will ever truly have a sound night's sleep again in his life. But it shouldn't be the ever-present threat of being defenestrated or poisoned by Russian spies that should keep him awake at night. It should be his conscience that keeps him unsettled forevermore.
■ Humankind probably won't ever fully excise our unfortunate instinct for violence. We are highly evolved, but we are still animals after all, and the animal kingdom remains universally subject to the ultimate rule of the jungle. Our elevated intelligence and self-awareness are gifts that compel us to teach our young that cooperation and reason are better than bloody conflict, but not everyone gets the message. And so it becomes necessary that, even in a peace-loving society, some of us must learn how to use violence in order to keep the strong from oppressing the weak.
■ Mercenaries are not necessarily wrong by definition. But just as there exists a legal distinction between enlisted troops and officers, so too is there a moral gradient among those who fight only because they are being paid. Nothing justifies the types of specific war crimes on all-too-frequent display in Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.
■ But the culpability for engaging in the war at all falls differently on the mercenary whose other choice was to languish in prison than for an individual like Prigozhin, who could have walked away at any time. He didn't, and he should never sleep again without distress.
■ History will not treat him well, but if he were sympathetic to history, he never would have joined the Kremlin's cause in the first place. It's no more than idle speculation to guess what might have happened if his mutiny had actually made it all the way to Moscow. But to the extent that his abandonment of the battlefield will undermine the Kremlin's cause, then the tumultuous events of this one very strange weekend will have at least accrued some gains for the side that deserves to win.