By Jim Towey
The images from Ukraine are heartbreaking. A great country with a noble history is being pulverized. Civilians are being targeted. No relief is in sight. Sanctions may damage Russia’s economy and scale back the excesses of its oligarchs, but the military is undeterred. Those least capable of fleeing Putin’s wrath – the very young and very old – are left at the mercy of his troops who administer cruelty and chaos in equal measures. After all, bullies love an unfair fight.
Ukraine remains unbowed and unbroken. The acts of bravery and selflessness that the world is witnessing provide compelling testimony to the greatness of human dignity and the triumph of humanity. Putin badly underestimated what a people longing to be free from tyrannical rule are willing to do – not just for themselves, but for one another.
These heroic warriors do not fear death. Women stand in front of tanks. Men with no helmets or vests fight anyway. Putin’s campaign of terror expected quick results because he expected to meet a citizenry that would cower when confronted. Instead, he met serious men and women willing to die for their country. While sanctions and strongly-worded statements from NATO have their place, there come moments when human beings must risk something greater to be free – namely, their own precious lives.
What comes next?
With military hardware streaming into Ukraine from Poland, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees huddled together on Polish soil (soon to be populated by fleeing combatants), it is not hard to envision Putin finding a pretext in the coming months to launch an attack within the territorial boundaries of Poland. Putin will want to sow division and test resolve among the members of NATO. He views them as weak. How will they respond?
I am reminded of the “Roaring Twenties” a century ago that followed the Spanish Flu pandemic. That carefree era unleashed cultural forces that have gained momentum over time: the pursuit of material well-being and pleasure; the adulation of entertainment; the promotion of social issues; the embrace of modern technology (then it was autos, telephones, television, and other gadgets); the use of advertising to manipulate consumer demand and electoral politics; the loosening of sexual and moral ethics; the conferral of extraordinary power upon the news media; and many more.
Over the course of the next 100 years, America made many sacrifices to better the world, including the lives of more than 400,000 soldiers in World War II. It is fair to ask today whether we have forgotten the lessons that war taught us about freedom, responsibility and their price. In some ways, the pursuit of comfort and individuality these decades may have made us soft as a people, and at times, unserious. The folly of Facebook’s “metaverse” is a perfect example of this.
With Putin’s invasion, and China inching closer to its own of Taiwan, is the world entering the “Warring Twenties?”
The Roaring Twenties followed a pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people and posed a deadly threat to every man, woman and child on the planet. The Covid pandemic, where lethality is almost exclusively confined to the elderly and infirm and not the general population, nonetheless terrified many with a paralyzing fear of death. The lockdowns that were imposed in response inflicted grave damage upon the world’s economy and divided our own nation along “mandate” lines. Rational fear and irrational fear formed a toxic combination, and the mental health consequences of these last two years, particularly upon the young and fragile, are only beginning to manifest. With concerns about Covid now receding, America finds itself awakening to a greater threat that will exacerbate inflation and test our security interests. Putin has set into motion unpredictable forces that may trigger a large commitment of U.S. troops to defend NATO and our interests.
If the United States is in fact entering the Warring Twenties, are we ready? We love our freedoms every bit as much as the Ukrainian people. But what are we willing to sacrifice for them? What are we willing to sacrifice for each other, particularly our elderly and most vulnerable?
A new era of seriousness has come. What is ahead will be much more challenging than Covid. I believe America will respond generously and courageously. More to come on this subject later.