To protect my mental health these days, I keep most of my news consumption to online articles because when I watch television news and see the strength and resolve of the Ukrainian people as they undertake what may well be an in-vain attempt to salvage their nation, I often have to leave the room to cry. I just can’t. It’s too much. Coming off two years of a global health crisis that kept us indoors and away from the greater community that binds us, my coping strategies have reached their limit like an old, elastic band that has been sitting in a drawer for ages and now will break when stretched. Just when the light at the end of the tunnel came into view, an aging white autocrat in Russia decided to push his limits.
I saw a video today of a four year old who approached his waiting school bus, got within fifteen feet of its steps, bent over to put his mask on, and then fell backwards with dramatic flourish onto the concrete, as if the prospect of the school week was more than he was capable of handling at that moment. We are all that kid right now as we wonder how much more insanity, unrest, upheaval, heartbreak, hardship, and stress we can take both at home and around the world.
For almost 77 years, the world has known peace in Europe. That peace has existed my entire life and all but three years of my parents’ lives. While my parents had a solid concept of the horrors of war through their parents, I had only what I saw in films. Aside from the 1980s era nuclear holocaust fears I had courtesy of our Cold War with the Soviets and “The Day After” television movie that haunts me 38 years later, I have felt mostly safe in our geographically isolated American bubble. That ended the other day when Putin’s army invaded a sovereign Ukraine, and then shit got real when he dangled the threat of a nuclear attack.
In an opinion piece on the CNN site this morning, six global voices weighed in on Putin’s invasion. Marci Shore, an associate professor of modern European intellectual history at Yale, had this to say about Putin: “This no longer felt like a man playing a high-stakes chess game, now it felt like a scene from Macbeth. My intuition was that an aging man facing his own death had decided to destroy the world. Ukraine is very possibly fighting for all of us.” This does indeed feel like the situation. While texting with my geopolitically savvy son last night, we discussed what can be done about the war as Putin begins to feel the squeeze of the joined hands of the free world around his neck. Joe told me, “The goal of the west should be to sanction as much as possible and create a counter propaganda machine to turn the oligarchs and Russian people against Putin.” And while I realize he is 100% correct, it means this war in Europe does not stay in Europe. We are a global economy. People around the planet will feel the sting of Putin’s actions in higher fuel costs, and those higher fuel costs will trickle into the costs of goods manufactured and sold around the world. The sanctions imposed on Russia will touch us all one way or another.
These financial hardships will be our contribution to squashing tyranny and, hopefully, restoring stability to Europe. Are we up to this task? I’m not sure. For the past two years, we’ve witnessed a steady cavalcade of tantrums over wearing a mask. If we weren’t all on board with covering our noses and mouths to suppress a transmissible, deadly virus, how willing will we be to suffer financial hardships for the sake of protecting democracy on a continent across the Atlantic? Are we smart enough to recognize that our peace and freedom are tied to the peace and freedom of citizens on the European continent? Will we be able to channel the ghosts of our American predecessors and adopt the WWII war-effort mindset of “Use it up – Wear it out – Make it do – or Do without”? Will we withstand financial hardship inside our own households and country, however long it takes, to protect the freedom and peace we have taken as a given for three quarters of a century? Man, I hope so. I would like to think we still have better days ahead.
We are a global people now. We need to act in the best interests of others to maintain our own best interests. As long as the majority of us in free nations are able to comprehend and live with that fact, we might be able to vanquish Putin, return Europe to peaceful homeostasis, and avoid nuclear fallout. The question remains, though, do we have it in us to continue living in an uncomfortable and perhaps increasingly painful holding pattern until better days arrive or are we just too soft now?