The lesson of the Ukraine

March 25, 2022 by Jeremy Rosen
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The brutal violence of Putin (against dissidents as well as Ukraine) cannot be justified on any moral grounds whatsoever.

Jeremy Rosen

The indiscriminate murder of women and children trapped and unable to escape, sheltering from constant bombing, the dislocation of millions of refugees, and the sheer evil of the revolting Putin defies all human standards of decency. All wars are horrible and involve collateral damage and casualties. Some wars can be justified on the grounds of self-defence. But when an independent, internationally sovereign country is attacked out of a desire to restore pride or prove strength, no argument or excuse can be used to justify the horrors that result.

I have heard the theories. A disturbed childhood, the trauma of a failed USSR, surrounded and insulated by a court of fawners, a fear that declining demographics point to throwing the dice now before it is too late, megalomania, and poor intelligence. None of this justifies his brutality.

It is a given that we live in a world overwhelmingly corrupt (with some remarkable exceptions) people and nations try to promote their own agenda, and these are often pursued through espionage, subversion, financial pressure, even theft, and often assassinations. I am prepared to blame politicians and meddlers on all sides in any conflict. Politics is filthy and morally ambiguous. No one is entirely clean or free of mistakes and misjudgments. We live in a climate of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news.

The last time I felt so disgusted was in 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends in Prague. Even then it did not bomb indiscriminately. Although the Soviet Union’s action successfully halted the pace of reform in Czechoslovakia, it had unintended consequences for the unity of the communist world. Public reaction was as widespread and divided as now. Although the majority of the Warsaw Pact supported the invasion, many communist parties lost influence, denounced the USSR, split, or dissolved. The invasion only made the USSR more unpopular, and the Czechs resisted passively, if not militarily. The result was that the USSR began to change its aggressivity and Brezhnev entered into negotiations with Nixon.

Many analysts argue that the invasion led to worldwide disillusion with communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. History never exactly repeats itself and Putin has brought a degree of stability and success to Russia. Some have argued that there is less anti-Semitism in Russia now than elsewhere in Europe and even in the USA. But all this at the cost of suppression, violent repression, and freedom. Perhaps this too will lead to the end of Putin’s murderous regime.

Ironically in 1968 China voted against Russia and condemned the attack, whereas now it is actively supporting Russia because China itself has a horrible record of invading Tibet and threatening Taiwan, treating its own dissidents and minorities, and is happy to see how weakly the rest of the world is responding.

Roosevelt, admittedly a dying man, thought that being nice to Stalin would secure peace, and Stalin was allowed to extend his regime into much of Europe and challenge the West. The doctrine of deterrence, the fear of mutual destruction in a world divided by an Iron Curtain, actually kept the peace in Europe for the longest war-free period in its history. President Kennedy did indeed risk a nuclear war when he stood up to Khrushchev over the Cuba missiles in 1962. The USA led the world in standing up to communism ( not always successfully or cleanly).

But in contrast to those who believed in standing firm against totalitarian regimes, there was always a strong pacifist and left-wing voice that came to dominate the State Department ( as there was in Britain) and academia. It was reinforced by a perception that the USA over-reacted to the 9/11 terrorists and their Jihadi supporters. When Obama became president with no experience in foreign affairs, he surrounded himself with people who were committed to such an ideology, that saw America as racist and imperialist. They believed that being apologetic and nice to one’s enemies would win them over. This doctrine produced the pathetically weak deal with Iran which they thought was a regime you could reason with (echoing Chamberlain’s comments about Hitler) when they were simply playing on American naiveté to pursue their violent repressive and atomic agenda.  But as we know weakness only encourages more violence.

Obama’s passivity over Crimea in 2014 and his refusal to stand up to Assad of Syria when he used chemical weapons all contributed to a perception that the USA had lost its mojo. The chaos of the Afghanistan withdrawal suggested it had lost its competence. The Biden policies have only shown America’s hitherto allies that they cannot rely on the USA for protection. Is the USA now just too weak to take serious instead of token, action? To impose a no-fly zone? To provide jets and missiles? Is it just fed up with wars and weakened by internal divisions? Perhaps it is too narcissistic, cowardly, or simply in the wrong hands.

As for the UN, it has once again proved what a useless and morally compromised waste of time it is.Any organization that still gives Russia and China a veto has lost any moral authority whatsoever (not that it had any before). The USA despite its words of protest and token sanctions has shown itself to be a paper tiger. While other far poorer and weaker states are helping the Ukrainians. What a scandal.

Diplomacy has failed. Murder continues each day. We still do not know how this will play out. All around the world from the Americas, to Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East,  there are failed and corrupt regimes with millions of ordinary people at daily risk of murder, rape, and theft. And I do not hold out much hope of this changing soon. Yet constant acts of humanity, charity, and support show that the human spirit has not been completely crushed. And if most Russians and Chinese are happy with their totalitarian regimes, good luck to them. But as for the rest, every state must now realize how foolhardy it is to rely on the USA and do what it takes to defend themselves against violence and tyranny.

Fine words, good intentions have their place in our world. But the reality is that bullies are cowards and the only to deal with them is to stand up to them. “ Do not trust princes” says the Psalmist. As true today as it was then. We are as far from a peaceful Messianic world now as we have ever been.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen lives in New York. He was born in Manchester. His writings are concerned with religion, culture, history and current affairs – anything he finds interesting or relevant. They are designed to entertain and to stimulate. Disagreement is always welcome.


One Response to “The lesson of the Ukraine”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Absolutely spot on. Couldn’t agree more.

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