This is just sort of a stream of consciousness, so apologies if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I still remember the first time I realized I was directly talking with someone in another country. It was the mid 90s and I was a teenager, hooked on playing MUDs. When most people in my high school could barely turn a computer on, I felt like a wizard who knew about an entire secret world, and it was awesome. I was playing, every day, with people from Scotland, Denmark, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and so many others I can’t even remember now.
And we talked. I learned so much about other cultures just by talking directly to people. And I remember thinking, in my own young, idealistic naivete, that if just everyone could be online, and could have these experiences, we might actually achieve world peace in my lifetime. We could see that we are all human bothers and sisters, separated only by artificially drawn borders. I believed free information will result in the most educated population in human history. And the Internet would bring the whole world a new age.
I look back on myself then and mourn the world that we could have had. Humans apparently just aren’t ready for world peace and togetherness.
Well, it turns out what actually happened is we made it possible for racists, sexists, xenophobes, etc to find each other and organize. We made it possible for the absolute stupidest conspiracy theories to find widespread audiences. We made it possible for foreign states to directly use propaganda against us. And we made it so that everyone can have their perfect ideological bubbles where they never have to encounter any cognitive dissonance.
And, to me, there is no clearer indication that the world teenage me wanted so badly to see just isn’t going to happen than Russia launching the first major war of aggression in Europe in 80+ years by invading Ukraine.
The same social media that has caused so much damage to human civilization is also giving us the ability to see the horrors of war without the usual sanitization that has traditionally occurred with mainstream media war coverage. We’re less than 24 hours into this war and I have already witnessed several war crimes committed against civilians in Ukraine. Even more so than the Arab Spring videos that spread like wildfire in the early 2010s, because Ukraine is a well- connected European nation the videos are plentiful on Twitter, TikTok and others.
I would urge you to watch some of them if you are of sufficient stomach. What is happening right now in Ukraine is an atrocity. And while there is little I can do about it from my home here in Alabama, I can at least bear witness to this and say “this is wrong.” We should not allow the horror of what is happening to be hidden under a veneer of normalcy or sterile reporting of facts and figures. Every single death - Ukrainian and Russian alike - was a human being. Whether they were soldiers or innocent civilians who are just caught up in the middle of a mad man’s war, they were our human brothers and sisters. They had mothers and fathers, friends and family, hopes and dreams. Every single death is another sad entry in our long history of killing one another.
A few years ago I ordered an airliner model off eBay. I had no idea when I ordered it that it was coming from Ukraine. The person even included some Ukrainian candy. Now I can’t help but wonder if that person is dead or alive.
The thing is, I hold no ill will towards Russia as a country or the Russian people. In fact, I have always felt strangely captivated by large parts of Russian culture (not to mention finding Russian aviation to be super fascinating.) And I was hoping to visit Ukraine before the pandemic hit, to the point where I was actually looking at itineraries. I have wanted to visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone ever since I saw the infamous LiveJournal post about the motorcycle tour in the early 2000s.
I just want peace.
This feels like a coda on a virtually unprecedented era of European peace, and a dangerous new escalation in what could spiral out of control if given the right conditions. But I do feel clear in saying one thing:
Appeasing dictators never works. Ever. Appeasement and neutrality didn’t work in 1938 and 1939, and it won’t work now. We were supposed to have learned that lesson in the 20th Century. Dictators who are willing to launch wars of conquest once will do so again, and again, and again, until they are forcefully stopped. The only language bully dictators understand is force. Whether that force comes from inside or outside, they will not stop until they are forced to stop.
The sanctions that will be levied against Russia for its unprecedented invasion of a sovereign nation should be among the harshest and most invasive ever levied against any nation. But the thing that sucks the most is that Putin himself is very unlikely to feel the pinch; his corrupt wealth will keep him insulated. As always, the brunt of sanctions will be borne by the civilian population that had very little say in this war. Unless such sanctions are targeted at the oligarchs who keep Putin in power and are sufficiently damaging to their business interests that they determine he has to go, the only other way to stop him would be either a popular uprising against him … or deepening involvement by other nations.
I hope I am wrong. I still hold a bit of naive hope that cooler heads will prevail at some point, and everything will return to status quo ante bellum. But I really do worry that this could spiral out into a wide European conflict the likes of which hasn’t been seen in generations. A war in which more innocent people will die needlessly while politicians, whom have no skin in the game, move lives around like chess pieces.
Even as jaded as I am now, and as negative as I am about the future, there is still a small flame in me that hopes for a future free of war, where all humankind can live together as one. But until then, we mourn the dead and try to help the living as best we can. One person at a time.