Eighty years ago, I was barely a gleam in my father’s eye. Then he was in the middle of a world war brought on by a European dictator. His choice was to be a non-combatant, a conscientious objector. The role he accepted was that of a fire fighter.
Now eighty years later we are faced with the potential of a third world war brought on by another European dictator. My choice would be the same — to be a conscientious objector. I can see no merit in planning, attempting or succeeding in killing another human being. Nor in planning, then targeting and destroying the structures of civil society.
For my lifetime thanks to the efforts of my father, and countless others, we have had a remarkably peaceful period of history. At least for me where I have chosen to live, in Western Europe and Canada. Not so for many others. In Northern Ireland, Syria, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, the Baltics, Iraq, Somalia, to name some.
But my sympathies are unquestionably with the Ukrainians. It is not an easy decision to have to defend one’s freedoms. I would struggle enormously with it perhaps to my eternal shame. I am not pushed, I have never been pushed to fight for my rights. I have faced commercial competition and lost. My business survival may have been the issue but not my personal survival.
This is a fight between the two great social philosophies, dictatorship against democracy. Do we allow one person the right to tell all of us what to do, or do we give all of us the right to choose who governs?
As such it requires us to defend our freedoms. But does that mean denying others their freedom by killing them? No, the greater courage lies in meeting face-to-face and in discussing our situations to our full mutual benefit.
For me the far greater cowardice, lies not in refusing to fight, but in fighting from a distance. The bomber who would fly at 20,000 feet and drop explosives on an unseen target, is a far greater coward than the grandmother we saw last week offering sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier. The gunner who would sit in a tank 10 miles from his target. The drone operator who sits in a deep bunker, and rains terror on an unsuspecting human, man woman or child. Those are our world’s terrorists. It takes remarkable courage to stand in front of an armed soldier, far more than shown by our much-respected militaries.
It takes guts to face a perceived enemy with no arms. It takes far more courage to insist on dialogue rather than combat. Combat is the act of a coward who has failed at face-to-face resolution of a disagreement.
None of which is to belittle the fight of the Ukrainians. Nor does it excuse the actions of the Russians. Both are to be deplored, the latter more so because they are the aggressors. The fact that they (well, he, Putin) interprets history as requiring him to stand up for the long-lost power of the Rus, ironically originating in Kyiv, cannot be allowed to justify his actions. Bullies cannot be tolerated.
Some say there are other forces at work. Maybe NATO and the EU have had a negative impact on the situation. But this is ultimately a resource war like many before. Ukraine is Europe’s (and Russia’s as well) breadbasket. In a world of increasing climate conflict, access to productive farmland will inevitably lead to greater political stress. Russia is a significant supplier of oil and gas to the world, not least to Europe. Civil society, civilized nations, require us to find amicable solutions to these issues. Blasting each other to smithereens, is not a civilized response.
We need leaders of courage yet again. Leaders who will see the benefits that arise from negotiation and diplomatic discussions that will resolve this conflict before the wastage of another six years of global warfare. Please.