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Commentary: Ukraine As Gospel

Photo by Linda Gschwentner from Pexels

It was about 3am in the morning, during the first week of attacks on Ukraine by the invading Putin lead forces of the Russian Federation. I could not sleep effectively enough for my privileged expectation. As an American, those who have historically struggled to sleep can usually find many good options for such a condition–practically anytime, anywhere.

But tonight, my normal eight hours, gifted to me by a return to exercise, B12 supplementation and working for myself for the first time in my adult life thanks to the pandemic, was going to be upended. Before I awoke at such an early hour, randomly, I received an email on my phone which detailed that I had been mistaken about part of my ancestry. My father, when he was alive, had always said that his mother was from a Russian family that lived in St. Petersburg. But, my sister had discovered through conversation with the descendants of my estranged grandmother, a grandmother who abandoned my dad at the age of four, that our family were actually Scandinavians, most likely Swedes, who settled in and founded the first Russian city, Kyiv. This ancient connection, this surprise in the morning that I possibly have family fighting for their freedom in Ukraine right then and there, gave me a starker revelation: I should have cared more before.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I do not have to feel that way, most Americans, at least before the defiant stand by the Ukrainians had success, felt that this conflict on the outskirts of NATO alliances had nothing to do with them. Hell, some are even siding with Putin because they believe he is more of the leader they are looking for than Pres. Biden. While I am no Democrat, I did not remain aloof to the conflict for those reasons. Instead, my lack of concern came from a word I peppered into the first paragraph to foreshadow my main point: I and every American who would say they live “comfortably” has a level of privilege that is transforming the country that stood up against Hitler, that nearly saved China from the fate of Maoist Communism, that fought a Civil War for a deeply moral and dire cause, into a bunch of click bait obsessed non-participants that confuse peace with protectionism.I turned on a lot of news channels, looked through many internet memes, posts, tweets and articles and found that the coverage, while supportive of the Ukrainians, was always fitted with the holier than thou spell: Well, of course, we won’t send troops, we pray for peace! Obviously, I am paraphrasing, and no I have never been in the military so I have not fought in a war, but our world is seriously regressive and to be honest quite fallen if we really believe that it is a worse and immoral even, gosh, unwoke of a position, to have an army of volunteers who are brave enough to say, “Yes, I will risk my life in pursuit of a safe and better America!” rather than politicians who will not admit to us that they fear Putin, and know that if he wanted to be, he could be a generational iconoclast of peace and a demagogue of 20th century fascist proportions.

O, are you enjoying your latte today? Perhaps the job you work at just isn’t helping you manifest any more? Perhaps those pictures of you on your third trip in five months to Bali aren’t getting the likes you had hoped for? Well, here’s a solution for your insecurities: Watch Ukraine. Watch how their entire society of millions of citizens who live in a democracy just like you, have turned a very grave switch and are tapping into cultural memory (oral stories, remnants of the post- war Soviet dominance, poems, books, etc.) to do whatever it takes to take Putin seriously, if I can use those words to cover what I really mean which is to to stand up to evil effectively. 

I recognize that when the U.S has sent troops abroad it has not always been popular or even effective. Afghanistan and Iraq are two examples from my lifetime, as is the Gulf War. But if we look back at the regimes that created those problems, what we can find is each of these examples were affected by some sort of manipulation. Did we really want to save Kuwait or were we after something ulterior (oil!)? Did we really want to solve the terrorism problem or were there other more corporate lead collisions that lead us into both regions? My point is rarely are there honest, hot wars; wars where the mission is clear with a clear evil and a clear, present victim. I am not of the opinion that simply because you fail to simply stop trying to succeed. And I am certainly wary of nuclear consequences and the escalation that can come from a direct conflict between the U.S and Russia. But don’t we all have the inkling that our institutions, our media, and our leaders are actually more terrified of such consequences than we are? Can you really have your millions or billions, your fine trips and tailored suits if the world collapses into nuclear winter? No. And these people are not prepared to sacrifice a world comfortable enough to buttress their power. Thomas Freidman, the economist and author of the influential “The World is Flat,” said that two countries that share a McDonald’s, would never war due to the corporations interest in profiting from buyers in two countries at peace rather than war. If we extrapolate and this theory holds true, as I agree it has and does and will, then “sending troops” would not be a deal breaker in this conflict. Because Putin, like Biden, and Trump and Hussein and Bush, Sr., were all powerful, but they were also human beings who did not or still do not want the world to change so drastically that it undercuts their power. The way to defeat men like this ,and in this situation the villain of villains is Putin, is to surprise them. They believe humans are fat, lazy, social media obsessed sheep would would rather just say, “fuck it, maybe it won’t be so bad” then do what Ukrainians are doing, which is to do what is unfortunate, yet is necessary, in the face of an incurring force that wants to radically limit your ability to self determine.

Self determination. Philosophers from Rousseau to Socrates, to Seneca to Lao Tzu contemplated this. The Western secular world has made it a pillar, the foundational piece, of its zeitgeist and constitutions and yet now we as the most powerful military force on the globe by over 20 times, stand here rooting for a people that must wonder “when it is your turn Switzerland; when it is your turn France, when it is even America’s turn to face Russia or some version of what Russia’s government represents now, will you be excited for just the moral support or will you be to busy freeing Gulags and a total erasure of every one of your “God Given” rights?” As a government, whose sanctions hurt the people of Russia more than their “targets,” your responsibility is to not only defend people, but principles. Because eventually, when people start dying, it’s the principals, the ones that live in the future fighters they inspire, that keep you focused looking down the barrel at the rebirth of “insert your evil empire here.”

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