The current crisis descending on Ukraine and its people is clearly the responsibility of one man.
Yes, a select few individuals can impact world history, and, like almost 90 years ago, beginning in 1933, we are witnessing the devastating effects of one man’s disturbed psyche and weltanschauung (worldview).
Unfortunately, we are also witnessing another episode of appeasement, cowardice, and avoidance of reality laced with the vain hope that a wider war in Europe can be avoided if NATO sits on its hands and forces the world to watch as independent democratic Ukraine is wiped from the map and its people are massacred in front of our eyes.
The corrosive impact of this immoral and selfish decision implicates all Western nations in this atrocity.
While I am a historian and an editor, I also administer a national Holocaust and Human Rights Program, and the impact of this crisis on such a program is debilitating. How will educators continue to pay lip service to the obviously hopeless ideals of human rights education after this; are we not all bystanders to this descent into war criminality and potential genocide; how can we teach young people that bullying is wrong and destructive when it so clearly works on the world stage? What about the responsibility to protect civilians and the role of the UN? How can we allow the perpetrator nation to chair a session of the UN Security Council and veto the resolution condemning his country’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of its neighbor? How can this institution withstand this level of hypocrisy and stupidity? How can Western diplomats continue to participate in this charade?
In 2022, we are far past earlier questions like whether anyone knew about the mass murder of European Jewry or explanations about different regions and a lack of interest—this is happening in Europe and the Western public is deeply engaged and sympathetic to the horribly desperate plight of Ukrainians despite the media and politicians rattling on about their obvious bravery. And still nothing is being done to end the approaching massacre. Sanctions will not stop Mr. Putin’s war and Ukraine cannot withstand this onslaught without real military assistance, which means boots on the ground and air support.
How should educators answer the question: why did the world not stop the massacre of Ukrainians in February-March of 2022?
We—members of the Western public—are being forced to participate in this illegal invasion and slow-motion massacre as spectators and bystanders who have no individual power to do anything to stop it. We have unprecedented knowledge about this crime—we are watching it unfold in excruciating detail, on video, via phones on social media, and the Ukrainians are recording it for Western consumption hoping for real intervention and rescue. The internet and social media coverage circumventing state-owned television has spurred beautiful young Russian people to bravely protest the crimes committed by the dictator of their country. This is clearly not a war perpetrated by the Russian people on their cousins next door.
How many days can we all watch the 65 km Russian convoy of ground troops and weapons waiting for it to arrive and obliterate the people of Kyiv? And we are forced to listen to craven politicians bleating on about their support for Ukraine and its brave citizens while we all know what is going to happen to them in the next days and weeks. Google images of Aleppo, Syria, and Grozny, Chechnya, for a preview.
It is very likely that the Western abandonment of Ukraine will live in infamy. Just wait for the recriminations—they will come hard and fast.
It is obvious that our thinking about post-Cold War Europe and its boundaries is woefully outdated and needs an immediate overhaul. The Germans have thankfully woken up to today’s new reality and reversed their entrenched post-WWII foreign policy of not providing weapons to combatants and barely funding the Bundeswehr. Their finance minister has made a new category in the budget for military funding, and they are pledging €100 billion for it in the 2022 budget. Thereafter they will spend 2% of GDP on their military. This is an incredibly important development. All European militaries should follow suit.
The best thing for Europe and for the world would be for all European countries to join the European Union and NATO, including the Scandinavian countries and a democratic Russia. There are so many Russians who are fighting for reforms and want to live in a free and democratic European Russia. The divisions of the Cold War should be allowed to recede into the past and those who cannot let them go must not be allowed to hold the continent captive.
There is understandable reluctance on the part of western Europeans to allow any more former Soviet states into the EU—they are an economic drain, have a significant democratic deficit, and add to the reactionary elements inside the Union. Given this serious crisis, however, Ukraine should be accepted into both the EU and NATO immediately, with the clear understanding that Ukraine will have to institute serious transformative reforms regarding its legal and political systems, democratic standards, problems with serious corruption (including by Zelensky himself), the power and influence of its far-right organizations, protection of human rights (especially minorities, gays and lesbians, and Roma), and economic policies.
Sweden and Finland should join NATO now and Russia should be encouraged to work toward membership in both organizations. The time has come for the entire European continent to finally unify against war on its own land, retire the divisions of the past, and move into a cooperative and peaceful new future. The world and its children are counting on it.