We thought the age of war in Europe was over. We thought that people of intelligence and culture had learned to cooperate and at least to prevent the senseless destruction of property and lives. We thought that the lessons of the past had been learned, and that the urge to overrun and rule others had been tamed. At least in the so-called civilized world.
But we were wrong.
We knew that wars and senseless killing still continued in distant lands, in Africa and other distant parts. But not on our doorstep. Not in places that had learned the lessons of the past.
I suppose we should be grateful for the seventy-odd years that have passed without war breaking out in Europe. After all, there have been tensions and disagreements between countries. But most of those were settled through discussion and negotiation. No country took up arms against another, despite the long history of constant war, enmity and the desire for supremacy that has formed the Europe of today. The conclusion of the Second World War in 1945 marked a turning-point in the way international relations were conducted in Europe. Eventually, thanks to far-sighted and brave leaders, the European Union was formed, bringing once-warring nations into alignment and cooperation with one another.
It would be foolish to put all the blame for the current conflagration in Ukraine on one side. Undoubtedly, Russia is the aggressor, but its claims are not entirely baseless. My first thought upon hearing about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961. At the time it seemed that America’s demand that Russia remove its long-range missiles from Cuban soil were justified. I lived through that terrifying time, when it seemed that the world was on the brink of another world war. But fortunately, the two leaders involved, Kennedy and Khruschev, managed to reach a solution that avoided conflict.
Sadly, that has not been the case this time.
And so every night our TV screens are filled with scenes of human misery, displacement and loss. To this is added the wholesale destruction of towns and villages, the unending stream of refugees and the enormous cost in material and human devastation.
Is Russia right to wreak havoc on Ukraine in order to make its point? Of course not. Nothing justifies the terrible sights to which we are witness. The question remains: could not some other, better way of resolving the dispute have been found? The efforts currently being invested by various parties, including our own prime minister, Naftali Bennet, to mediate between the warring parties, have not borne fruit so far. But perhaps one day soon they will. All that is required is for each side to take a step back.
Khruschev decided not to plunge the world into war in 1961, and his name will go down in history for having had the moral courage to do so. Kennedy was prepared to stand his ground, but also to make concessions in order to encourage Khruschev to go towards him.
It seems so simple now, looking back, but it was a very tense few days at the time. I remember saying goodbye to my fellow-students on the Friday and wondering if London and our university would still be in existence on the following Monday.
All we can do now is extend what humanitarian aid we can and watch from the sidelines as death and destruction are rained down on people whose only desire was to make a life for themselves and their children. But in this day and age that isn’t enough. One has to be able to make compromises and concessions in order to achieve that life.
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