The never-ending war with a thousand faces

It’s surreal being a student of history and watching as the world repeats itself while most people remain indifferent or ignorant. 

I’m once more going to be blunt in this piece – the most senseless and threatening war to the international community in 80 years doesn’t allow an alternative.

What floors me is the large amount of indifference I see in the people around me in America while one of the two most powerful authoritarian despots in the world is waging a war of conquest in Europe.  We should be flooding our support in prayer, dollars, and military equipment to Ukraine as it fights for its survival and the protection of its people.

But by and large the same attitude I see is what dominated America prior to its involvement in both World Wars – “eh, it’s a war ‘over there,’ it has nothing to do with us.”

You would hope that we had not forgotten, as we learned the hard way in both those wars, that it damn well does have to do with us sooner or later, and it’s unconscionable that anyone who identifies as a Christian could sit idly by as millions upon millions of people are at risk of dying.

We forget in America, Canada, Europe, Australia, all the nations that collectively fall under the “Western Civilization” umbrella – the relative peace and luxury enjoyed in the West due to the stability of the international order for the last 30 years is not inevitable nor a necessary worldwide destiny.  Neither are we ourselves immune from our own would-be authoritarians and despots.

The trouble is we’re constantly at war in both a personal and corporate sense: we’re at war with the worst impulses in ourselves – selfishness, greed, apathy, pride, tribalism, callousness – and we often find ourselves at war with others who have succumbed to the worst within themselves and risen to power over other people.

This is all complicated by the two truths that, one, we are great at recognizing the perceived evils in people we identify as our enemies but are often blind to the evils within our own tribes and, two, almost without exception, no human being ever understands themselves as doing evil or being a “bad guy.”

The West is dominated by a type of government that is identified as a liberal democracy, which has a lot of the hallmarks Americans recognize in our own government: a system of checks and balances that helps to enable the separation of powers within a government so that, ideally, no single person or specific group can wield enough power that would abuse any other groups of people.  Generally speaking, when it comes to interactions with other nations, liberal democracies are able to get along with each other remarkably well.

The world, however, is not made up entirely of liberal democracies, nor is it a given that a nation that has a liberal democratic government will remain that way.  Russia is a prime example of both: a nation that is, nominally, a constitutional republic but is, effectively, a dictatorship.  Vladimir Putin was elected to the presidency of Russia first in 1999 until term-limits ended his tenure in 2008, but he had amassed enough personal power that he remained unofficially in charge in the background as prime minister until 2012, when he reclaimed the presidency and subsequently had the constitution amended to allow for his continued rule – Dictatorship 101.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine is, from his perspective, justified insofar as he has explicitly stated his desire to reestablish a Russian Empire and views Ukraine as historically a part of Russia.  Of course, from Hitler’s perspective, he was justified in invading Austria because it was ethnically German and then in invading Poland because the German people needed more room to grow: lebensraum, or “living space.”  As I said, rarely are any of us evil in our own eyes, but that doesn’t mean that we may nonetheless be performing evil.

There are at least a few important lessons here that we in the West need to learn.

One is that authoritarian aggression often can not be reasoned with and must be confronted.  From the repeated attempts at appeasing Hitler in the 1930s that only made him stronger and thus World War II more horrific to our hesitations at how to react to Russia now, normal diplomacy doesn’t work with a despot who is bent on conquest.  I absolutely hate war and am actually typically a pacifist, but when a dictator begins trying to grow an empire, the dictator must be confronted.  That doesn’t necessarily mean war (especially considering the complications of the nuclear age), but it certainly means economically crippling the dictator and empowering the people of his or her nation to rise up and overthrow them so peace can return.

Two is that much of the world falls under authoritarian control and is subject to potentially similar actions that we are now seeing from Russia.  China is the most potentially dangerous, and it is complicit in numerous human rights abuses against its own people, not least of which is the ongoing genocide against the Uyghur people.  This is what makes the maintenance of a close international coalition like NATO so indispensable – we who stand for liberal democratic freedoms need each other in solidarity to hold back any potential authoritarian tides and to encourage and support the people under these authoritarian regimes to take control of their nations from those who dominate and take advantage of them.

And third, we need to have our eyes and ears open to the subtle siren songs of authoritarianism that can rise within our own nations.  Most specifically, we need to be careful of authoritarian impulses within our own tribes.  It’s easy for a Republican to think they’ve spotted abuse by a Democrat or a Democrat from a Republican, but often that is because we demonize those with whom which we disagree.  What is vitally more important is that – echoing my most recent post about self-deception – we work to recognize these aspects within the groups of people with whom we identify.  It’s very safe to say that there have been warning signs of authoritarian tendencies from both the political left and the right in America: if you think otherwise, it’s likely you’ve lost yourself in self-deception and tribalism or you’re not paying close enough attention.

This isn’t a time for us to be blaming those we disagree with politically here at home.  There is blame to go around on Democratic and Republican administrations and lawmakers for years and years.  Right now, what we need to do is to support the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves, and to do it tangibly.  Here are several ways you can donate money to humanitarian or military causes:

Ukraine’s main charity fund (option to donate to Ukrainian Army):

UNICEF support for Children in Ukraine

Ukrainian Red Cross

Nova Ukraine has many humanitarian programs to participate with

Revived Soldiers Ukraine supports injured Ukrainian troops on its eastern front

11 thoughts on “The never-ending war with a thousand faces

  1. A large part of what you just said can be paraphrased as follows. A weak government and leaders along with a weak military leads to large scale aggression from our enemies.

    1. It’s a bit more complicated than that, as I wouldn’t say any of our leadership has been particularly weak (though they’ve all had a lot of other problems) and when our military is essentially larger than all other militaries of the world combined (or at the least, it certainly spends more money per year than all others combined), then it’s without question not a result of a weak military. Putin spent the last four years fairly successfully trying to undermine the NATO alliance, and nearly succeeded as Trump is on record as saying he would have withdrawn the US from NATO in his second term, so in that regard, yes, this is in part a result of nativism in the US nearly leading us to abandon our place in the international community. Thankfully the world has demonstrated over the last several days that the old alliances are not dead, nor the West as weak as some thought.

      1. Ron is right. The strong West which the US represented before Biden would never have allowed this to happen and even the radical left-leaning media are coming to terms with it now. The Press, the economic world forum, multinationals and woke movement who portrayed the West’s history as insidiously bad and Politicians who followed in suit have caused all this. The US Navy officially warned about social-media polarisation of a nation a few years ago and noone took head. Now we are in big trouble.

      2. Actually, Trump isolated the US from its Western allies and states he was withdrawing from NATO during a second term. Condoleeza Rice just commented on Fox News tonight that Biden has gotten a stronger response out of our NATO allies than she thought was possible in a post-Cold War world. Trump was all about America first and alone (as evidenced not only by the myriad words out of his mouth but also by his pledge to leave NATO), so I’m not sure where you’re seeing stronger alliances under his administration. That’s simply not the case.

        Afghanistan was a disaster under Biden, but it likewise was a disaster started by Trump, who committed to a withdrawal and, in negotiations with the Taliban, freed several hundred imprisoned members “in good faith” who were immediately involved in the rapid retake-over of the country.

        Our failures are across parties and across administrations, so as I stated in my article, let’s not point fingers but instead move forward – and the increased commitments by our NATO allies (including Germany’s commitment to ramp up its military expenditures drastically) is an excellent start. Putin has been biding his time and playing a long game, and indeed perceived that America and the West was weaker than thankfully is proving to be the case.

  2. Facts? Trump never isolated the world. Arguably the world hasnt been more peaceful.
    The press, Corporaciones, social media platforms included, made Trump a threat and even banned him from media platforms. To even postulate that the US is stronger under Biden is delusional.

    I don’t know how people like you who see Biden as reaffirming in this whole event is advantageous. That’s it. How do you see that? Have you studied academically what happens when the Judeo-Christian community becomes weak?

    1. You’re reading a lot more into what I’ve written than I actually wrote. I never claimed that the US is either stronger or weaker under Biden. And I agreed that the perception has consistently been that the US is weaker than it once was, going back for many years across several administrations.

      As far as Trump being isolationist, it’s harder to get much more isolationist than planning to leave NATO and repeating themes and slogans from pre-WWII days of America First, which was the isolationist’s jargon.

      This is devolving into partisanship, which I’ve been explicitly trying to avoid. I have a lot of problems with the Biden administration, and my cautious optimism is not based on him or his administration but on the fact that our NATO allies are stepping up finally after decades of needing to do so, and the economic sanctions the world is imposing are powerful and more than might be expected given that they will inflict some level of self harm on everyone else’s economies. Condoleeza Rice and others credit the Biden administration for helping to pull all that off; I would assume there is at least some truth to that given our level of standing in NATO, but even if there’s not, the optimism is in that it’s happening, period, not who gets credit for it.

      I’ll leave it at that as my final word on the topic as I want to focus on helping Ukraine and working with the situation we’re in rather than trying to determine who is exactly to blame for what percentages of the issues we are facing.

  3. Yes, be a moral bastion like the woke-left. JESUS, honestly. If for one minute you looked at the world we lived in under Trump (and I don’t even like him) and compare that to the mayhem under Biden, then you might understand. You guys keep thinking that because you are moral bastions according to how you see it, that that is how the world should be. Have you heard of Russia under Stalin? Do you have a political degree? Like me who has studied communism?

    1. Sir, I believe we’re completely talking past one another. The basic thesis of my post was that: every human wages a war within themselves; sometimes some of us lose that war for the worse, leading to the creation of people who do bad things; we need to be mindful of and confront authoritarianism in all of its guises; in particular we need to try to be mindful of it within ourselves and our own tribes, where we are often most blind; and we need to support Ukraine.

      The post is not making the claims you’re attributing to it, nor have I made them in the comments. And that’s because I’m not interested in arguing at this moment – argument distracts us from action; there’s a time and a place for it, but it’s not ideal when there are imminent threats at hand to deal with. And I’m likewise just not interested in these kinds of arguments because they don’t typically bear fruit – getting people to change their opinions on how to interpret the past is ridiculously hard, so the best we can do is learn from the past as best we can and try to work together moving forward. I think that’s the best any of us can do.

      I thank you for reading my blog and to this point kindly interacting with it, and I hope you continue to do so.

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