The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a mix of emotions within me: revulsion, anger, loathing, fear, and sadness. But amidst that cocktail of feelings my hope is buoyed by the incredible courage of Ukraine’s people and their leader, Volodymyr Zelensky.
I don’t know what prompted Vladimir Putin’s unwarranted assault on a neighboring country, but the world can clearly see the destructive results of his steady bombardment. He has unleashed an array of terrifying weapons as he relentlessly attacks Ukraine’s cities from the ground, air and sea. Apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure have been mercilessly destroyed, leaving nearly a thousand Ukrainian civilians and thousands of fighters from both countries dead or injured. Millions of Ukrainians have gone into exile.
It sems to me that Putin’s war is designed not just to capture a country, but to inflict maximum damage in cities, to slaughter or injure as many people as possible, and to create a deep and lasting fear among the surviving populace. The outcome he seeks, I think, is that Ukraine would quickly kneel before him, pay homage and promise to be subservient to Mother Russia forever.
Brutality and Inhumanity
Despite lacking the knowledge and credibility to analyze war strategy, I am human and have the right and the obligation to speak out in the face of pervasive brutality and inhumanity. My words, however, will be read by only a few people, some of whom will agree with me and some of whom will oppose. None, however, will reach the ears of the power brokers.
I, thus, am grateful to President Biden for speaking the truth rather than feeding us mumbo-jumbo diplomatic talk. He spoke for me when he labeled Putin a ‘butcher,” a “war criminal,” a “murderous dictator,” a “killer with no soul,” a “pure thug.” And he spoke for me again this week while in Poland, saying that “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The substance of the speech was a call to the world’s democracies to see Russia as a threat to freedom and global security, but these nine words are all that many Americans remember.
While I understand the angst this prompted, I think there are times when brutality and injustice need to be clearly called out by people who have knowledge, clout and influence. It does us and the world a disservice to pull punches and leave us hopeful that Putin will soften. History teaches us that if Putin “softens”, it is probably a feint to give himself time to regroup.
My belief is that the only way this war stops is for Putin to be rejected by the world and to be increasingly doubted by the Russian people. As the truth of this brutal invasion comes home to Russia in body bags, and as the economic devastation caused by sanctions continues to decimate the nation, Russians (from oligarchs to peasants) might conjure up the courage to turn on him.
Ukrainians are Paying a Price
I acknowledge that it is easy for me to sit in the relative security of America, thousands of miles away from the Russia-Ukraine battle, and debate about what should be done. The price I pay is miniscule, limited primarily to the cost of gas for my car. But the people of Ukraine are paying a huge price in lost lives, destroyed homes, family separations, hunger, thirst and flattened cities. They will not and should not ever forget the price they willingly paid in the fight to preserve their freedom and democracy.
We in the western world must understand that the Ukrainians are also fighting as vanguards for our freedom. The entire democratic world owes them an mammoth debt, and we and other wealthy democracies had better be front and center when the time comes to honor their heroes, clean up the rubble and rebuild their nation. The clearest and most endurable memorial to democracy and freedom I can imagine is a strong and thriving Ukraine taking its place in the family of democratic nations.
The United States and our NATO allies might not be able to end the Ukraine-Russia war with our military power, but we certainly can stand with Ukrainians and provide their war efforts with the weapons and supplies they need. Then, when the dust clears and the Russians retreat, we need to stand with them again as partners in the reconstruction of their nation.
I close with a thought from Madeleine Albright: “Resilience of spirit (far more than brilliance of intellect) is the essential ingredient of a full life.” I would add that, in the long run, maintaining a resilience of spirit is far more powerful than military superiority. The people of Ukraine are proving that.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.