They Are Us

They Are Us


Leonard Zwelling

I have been thinking about why I am so upset by the images coming from Ukraine as opposed to similar images that have come from Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East. This is not the first modern war of aggression where a native population has been uprooted and terrorized. We just saw it in Afghanistan less than a year ago. We have seen mothers and children running for their lives before and fathers trying to resist. Heck, we saw it when we were the aggressors in Vietnam. Why then does this one hit so close to home?

I think the answer is simple. Where it is hard for us to envision ourselves as victims like those in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, it is not so hard to picture us under Russian attack like the people of Ukraine are under. This is no third world, backward country. This was a modern, free democratic state with a president elected with 70% of the popular vote. Ukraine has stores, and streets and markets and public transportation just like us. It has modern hospitals and heavily attended schools. Now the country is being laid to waste by an invader who hides the truth of its barbaric invasion from its own people. Furthermore, if this keeps up, the Russians will have conquered a heap of burning rubble and a very hostile population that will fight them to the death.

The previous time I felt this way was during the Gaza War of 2014, but the Israeli population living in a society like ours and like the one in Ukraine was protected by the Iron Dome. We arrived in Israel a day after the fighting stopped in 2014. The bomb shelters were still up with signs directing people in the hotel to the basement. But on the streets, life went on in Israel because the Iron Dome made sure the rockets of Hamas never found their targets. This is not the case in Ukraine. It has no Iron Dome and its air space is wide open to Russian fighters.

If ever there was a population worthy of American sympathy, empathy and tons of foreign aid, Ukraine is it.

I really do understand why President Biden has been reluctant to send in our airplanes and troops to fight against Russian aggression. But had he amassed a two hundred thousand-man army on the NATO side of the Ukrainian border and secured a no-fly zone over Ukraine before February 24, perhaps Mr. Putin would not have been so bold let alone so intractably evil and destructive. Of course, no one in Europe took Putin seriously. To his credit, Biden did.

Once again, as in the 1930s, the United States is going to have to decide when it will join the fight for a free Europe. It took Pearl Harbor to get us in in 1941. I fear that it will take Russian troops advancing on NATO nations to do it this time. The only thing that might deter Putin is the sight of a greater fighting force than his own waiting for him in Poland.

There is one other population that’s a lot like us. They live in Russia—the ones who haven’t gotten out already. They too live in a modern society now without 850 McDonald’s restaurants and goodness knows how many fewer Starbucks. American corporations are doing what they can to inflict pain on the Russian economy. It is up to the Russians to determine when they have had enough. Or, the oligarchs can decide for them and do the Julius Caesar number on Putin. It may be our best hope.

Mr. Biden, we have no time to lose. Get the war material to Ukraine and start building up an army on NATO territory. If you really want to avoid WWIII, don’t do what Europe did in the 1930s. That turned out really badly.

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