Recently, I had a long and fascinating discussion with Seva Kukushskin, who is to Russian hockey what Stan Fischler is to North American hockey: a prolific scribe with a wealth of knowledge and historical backdrop.
As both a student of world history and someone who has lived plenty of it myself, both within the sport of hockey and experiencing life around the world over the last 62 years, I have plenty to say on these issues myself.
At the end of World War II, American General George Patton recommended to then-General of the Armies, Dwight D. Eisenhower that, with the Axis forces vanquished, the U.S. turn its attention to militarily thwarting ostensible ally Russia's designs on Eastern Europe. The request was denied. Only a few years later, the Cold War began.
I was a child of a Cold War era. I remember the fallout shelters and preparation drills in school. I remember all the anti-American rhetoric from the Soviet bloc and all the anti-Soviet rhetoric from the American and NATO country politicians. I remember Cuba and October of 1962.
Nevertheless, the most striking aspect of that era to me was this: In response to the question as to which side would have won had Patton's request been approved by the White House, the most truthful and poignant conclusion was that neither side would have won. Everybody would have lost. And with that said by Seva, I could hardly disagree.
No truer words were ever spoken than this: All war is the failure of diplomacy. It's the failure of our so-called leaders. It's our failure of our self-presumed stature as thinking and reasoning beings.
I am proud to be an American. I have enormous admiration for the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces. I hold first-response and emergency workers both domestically and abroad in the highest of esteem.
I am also in the unique situation of working in Russia and traveling around the world in a hockey context. What I have learned is this: people are essentially the same everywhere you go. The people I know in Russia are just as confused as to what is really going on in the Ukraine as everyone else.
They have the same anxieties, the same hopes, the same wishes for the well-being of their family and loved ones. They are people.
I am not blind to the pulls of politics. If anything, I hold politicians and bureaucrats in contempt, whatever the language they speak. I reject it when people here explain things they morally know are wrong by saying "Well, this is Russia."
Within my own country, I have no time or patience for the so-called leaders of either side. Spare me any pro-Obama or pro-Hillary Clinton rhetoric, and spare me any talking up of Jeb or GW Bush, Sarah Palin or whatever other big-talking, small-minded, do-nothing Democrat or Republican on the national scene that you want to trot out in front of me. I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh, nor am I a Tea Party type.
Again, I am proud to be an American but I wave nobody's flag, especially in the context of hockey. Frankly, it concerns and disgusts me that there are some folks in North America who are taking a perverse pleasure in the fallout and the collapse of the ruble.
When there are junior hockey games in Russia that get canceled, does it benefit our game?
When travel for overseas game tours -- valuable experience for players and coaches on both sides -- gets severely limited or cut entirely, does it benefit the sport?
When imported pro players who are not strong NHL starting-job candidates seek to leave the KHL because of economic downturn, does the weakening of the biggest alternative league benefit the sport of its community of players around the world?
The answer to all of these questions is no. All of us in hockey lose. There is no victory in Russian hockey struggling right now because of economics and political issues that are beyond their control.
Whether it's true or not that U.S. relations with Russia are at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War, part of the beauty of hockey at its best is its ability to transcend borders and politics. A victory or loss on the rink is not proof of one's political superiority or that one's style of hockey (never mind that all styles nowadays are a hybrid melting pot of ideas and techniques from North America and Europe) or even that one set of rules and rule enforcement is the best. It simply means that one hockey team was better than another on that given day.
That's how it should be. Just as those in all walks of life, hockey people need to lose their small-mindedness and see the bigger picture.
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.
Stewart's writings can also be found on HockeyBuzz.com every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.