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): https://savelife.in.ua/en/donate/
Nova Ukraine has many humanitarian programs to participate with
Revived Soldiers Ukraine supports injured Ukrainian troops on its eastern front