While I realize that most of the people who visit this blog aren't as obsessed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine as I am -- I check my Twitter feed for recent news about Ukraine many times a day -- likely everybody is at least somewhat familiar with how bravely the Ukrainian people are fighting against this unprovoked war by Vladimir Putin.
So I'm interested in learning how you feel about what's happening in Ukraine. Note, feel.
I stress that word because while I do a lot of thinking about Ukraine, all those thoughts aren't nearly as important to me as the emotions I feel when news stories show me what's happening there. Clearly the world has been touched by how Ukrainians have reacted to the invasion.
For sure, I have.
I'll share some of my feelings in this blog post. If you choose to do the same in a comment, great. Again, I'm hoping to learn more about how other people have been affected by Putin's war. Maybe your feelings are much like mine; maybe they're not.
I'm not a big fan of being dead. I'd like to live as long as possible. With this proviso: so long as life seems worth living.
What's super impressive -- it blows my mind, really -- is the readiness of Ukrainians to fight to the death for what they consider makes life worth living. Yes, that sounds contradictory. How could dying be welcomed by a person who recognizes that something makes life worth living?
Sebastian Junger points to some answers in a Vanity Fair piece, "Can Ukrainian Freedom Fighters Stand Up to the Russian Military? History Suggests They Can."
Most successful underdog groups have three things in common, and Ukraine has all of them. First, such groups need to have a clear moral purpose with deep roots in the history of the population. The ability of a group to be autonomous and self-defining—free—is one of the few things that people will readily die for, and framing a struggle in those terms makes them much more likely to succeed.
(Freedom is a powerful word that often gets dragged into bogus political fights. Recent protesters who appropriated that word in this country were clearly not prepared to die in large numbers for it—a sign that the protests may not really have been about freedom at all.)
The deep moral purpose at the heart of the Maidan Square protests in 2014 and in the current Ukrainian resistance makes sacrificing one’s life seem like a heroic thing to do—a sentiment probably not shared by most Russian troops.
Deep moral purpose. Yes, that's what I find so moving about Ukrainians.
They're willing to endure great misery, even death, in order to resist the moral outrage of Putin's invasion of their country. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian men who had been living in other nations have gone back to Ukraine to help defend their beloved country, risking their lives.
Ukrainian women are equally impressive. I see them being trained to use a rifle. I see them making Molotov cocktails for use in urban warfare. I see them in subway shelters with their children, seeking refuge from Russian bombs.
When my life seems difficult, I envision Ukrainian men, women, and children coping with a hugely worse situation with a courage that I aspire to.
So what if I have some irritating health problems? So what if I feel stressed by Covid? So what if I get tired of all that needs to be done on our non-easy-care house on ten acres? Whatever I have to deal with, the people of Ukraine have it so much worse, my complaints seem minuscule by comparison.
Of course, Putin and his generals also have a deep purpose: to take over Ukraine, bringing it back into a reincarnated Soviet Union led by Russia.
The difference is that Putin lacks a moral purpose. There's no justification for his invasion of Ukraine, but there's plenty of justification for the Ukrainian people to fight that invasion. Truth is all-important in having a genuine deep moral purpose.
I'm not saying that 100% of what Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, says is true. No one is perfect. However, almost every word that comes out of Putin's mouth is a lie, so there's no comparison between Putin and Zelensky.
When honesty is lost -- whether this is being honest to ourself or to others -- it is next to impossible to fight energetically for something greater than yourself. Sure, you can go through the motions, just as Russian soldiers are doing, but the passion that comes with fighting for something true and good and worth dying for is lacking when a cause is built on a lie.
We all see the world differently. Yet there are times when a certain viewpoint is so captivating, most of the world sees it in the same way.
For me, this is the tragic beauty of Ukraine. It took the horror of Putin's invasion to wake me and so many others up to the value of fighting with all our strength for what we strongly value. Again, that value has to be based on truth and doing good for others, or at least not harming them.
Sometimes life can seem like the Russian army. Disorganized, lacking competent leadership, but seemingly powerful enough to eventually run over anyone or anything standing in its way.
Yet as Junger says in his Vanity Fair piece, might can be overcome by a smaller, weaker adversary. Each of us is capable of so much more strength and courage than we normally are aware of. It shouldn't take an invasion to remind us of this, but with Ukraine, that shock has opened my eyes to a latent power within me, which is the same power within you.
On paper, Russia’s quest to occupy Ukraine looks like a foregone conclusion. With about four and a half timesas many soldiers, five times as many tanks and armored vehicles, and 10 times as many military aircraft, common sense tells us that Ukraine does not stand a chance.
In fact, history tells us otherwise.
From street-corner fistfights to insurgencies and wars, size is a terrible predictor for the outcome of human conflict. We are unique among mammals in our ability to defeat a larger, more powerful opponent; were this not so, the world would be composed of fascist mega-states and human freedom would not be possible.
We readily risk our lives to defend others, as combat narratives for Medal of Honor recipients make abundantly clear. The smaller the group, the more stubbornly loyal members are to one another, and the harder—and costlier—they are to defeat.
In 1604, the Ottoman Empire decided that the small, mountainous principality of Montenegro had to be crushed. The Montenegrins were a famously warlike people who had always rejected any form of dominion and supposedly feared nothing except dying peacefully in bed.
They inhabited a land that was too poor to support large concentrations of people, but the scattered population invariably came together to fight invaders. The Ottomans boasted some 12,000 men, including cavalry and artillery, and faced a mere 900 Montenegrins. The Montenegrins were unfazed, though, and sent three-man raiding parties out all night before attacking at dawn. They killed one third of the Ottoman army and sent the rest packing.