I am transfixed with what is happening in Eastern Europe, specifically in Ukraine. And it gives me more than a bit of jitters.
As I wrote almost two weeks ago, no war is tolerable. Yet the outcome of this one in Ukraine will affect us all. Global geopolitics being what it presently is, with the west-led order (read: democracy) in decline and autocracy on the rise, depending on how and when this war ends, its political and economic upshots will be felt perhaps for decades to come, perhaps forever. The same cannot credibly be said about any other current conflict in the world, despite the excruciating pain and agony those inflict on innocent individuals and families.
There was never a good war, or a bad peace.Benjamin Franklin
Yes, I think it’s that important. We are now not only in a liminal space in this war; we are at a pivotal moment.
There is much at stake. I’m not at all keen to over-simplify or dramatize, yet I see this situation has developed into at best a stand-off and at worst a battle between representative government and totalitarian government, not only as between Ukraine and Russia, but throughout the world.
You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.Jeannette Rankin
How the West plays its hand in its efforts to deter Russian aggression will have repercussions for all of us, especially for those of us who value freedom, human rights, rule of law, and other democratic principles.
At the price of Ukrainian lives, the West has taken care to stay out of conventional warfare on the ground in Ukraine, evidently in order not to give the Russian emperor-wannabe a pretext to escalate the conflict. Understandably, no one wants to start World War III. Or, heaven forbid, to provoke a nuclear war.
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.Albert Einstein
Yet political and business leaders in the West have taken decisive actions beyond a point that we can say we’re not at war. For sure we are already at war; it just doesn’t look like wars of years past. It’s the new 21st century war of economic sanctions, commercial decisions, and cyber conflicts.
I have no crystal ball to say to where this war will lead, the possibilities are still open and endless. But I am certain that parts of it will eventually reach us all personally. How? At the very least, by paying more for gas at the pump or for the food and products we buy, since the price of oil and supply chains in general have already been affected. Then there’s the risk that ordinary people in rich countries will start to bitch about that, get fired up by opportunistic populist politicians who seek (autocratic) power at all costs, and hence ultimately lead to the end of democracy as we know it. A worst-case scenario is the unthinkable, a nuclear holocaust.
If we don’t end war, war will end us.H. G. Wells
I don’t pretend to have any answers; I’m not a foreign policy specialist nor a political leader surrounded by experts in various fields. But I do know what I believe in and how this war is making me feel.
Even as I am physically far from the conflict, I emotionally feel very much a part of it.
It is (perhaps naively) inconceivable to me that people accept, vote for, and support politicians who lie. Policies matter greatly, but for me, the litmus test for choosing a political leader is their honesty. Liars cannot be trusted to care about ordinary people. Whether it’s making it criminal to call an unprovoked invasion a war (Russia), lying about “stolen” elections (US), making patently false promises about the “positive” effects of Brexit (UK), censoring truthful social media posts (China), or falsely rewriting the history of martial law (Philippines), a political leader’s (and their enablers’) dishonesty and lack of transparency point to a lack of integrity.
Bottom line: governments run by people without integrity scare me.
What is it about the government and its agents and employees that they can lie to us with impunity, but we risk being sent to jail if we lie to them?Andrew P. Napolitano (Lies the Government Told You)
And even the slight prospect that democracy as we know it could die alarms me. It raises for me the specter of a bleak, if not dystopian, future.
Democracy, or rule by the people, as we experience it, is, of course, far, very, very far, from perfect or ideal. It needs a lot of TLC. A lot of rooting out the systemic injustices and inequalities.
But the alternative, autocracy, or rule by a dictator, is simply unbearable. I’ve heard people say, “our people are stupid, uneducated, or undisciplined, so we need a strongman.” Well, no, because I have yet to hear of the illusory “benevolent dictator” who cared a hoot about the welfare of his citizens. Remember the adage, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator.Richard Branson
Give me the messy, slow to change, bound by rules system of government that democracy offers. It has room for argument, diverse opinions and lifestyles, and freedom of personal expression.
Many decades ago, I researched and learned about miserable lives lived under the iron fist of Stalin. Then I heard and read many personal stories of lives ruined under Mao, especially during his Cultural Revolution. In his memoir, my honey tells the riveting stories of his mother in a Chinese labor camp and his younger brother swimming to freedom.
But you don’t have to go back in history to know that living under authoritarian rule is not bliss, rarely creative, seldom joyful. Where there is tyranny, there is fear, because fear is how the tyrants hold on to their power.
I think the Ukrainians know this, deep in their souls. Historically (and not too long ago), Ukrainians have lived through various times of tyranny, and they’ve had enough of it. They’ve had enough of living in fear, living with lies and corruption. They know what’s at stake. This knowledge is the source of their grit and courage.
They are fighting for their country. They are fighting for a better life. They are fighting for democracy.
And therein the reason we need to stand with them, each in our own way, in our own lane. Make no mistake, a loss in Ukraine will be a loss to all freedom-loving people. A pivotal moment, indeed.
Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.Thurgood Marshall
My small way to help is to support my friend Victoria, founder of the UK charity, MAD-Aid. She has mobilized volunteers and donors to help serve people fleeing war on two main fronts. In the UK it has collected container-loads of emergency goods to truck to Moldova and Ukraine. In northern Moldova, near the Ukraine border, Phoenix Complex (its main program) is hosting mothers with children.
PS. Many others more informed than me are analyzing, discussing, and writing about this. If you want a bibliography of deep dives, let me know in the comments.
PPS. If anything on this post resonates with you, please share. And I’d love to hear your opinion.