The scenes from Ukraine
The pictures from Ukraine tell a story of unspeakable horror. They are echoed by the narratives of those who lived through it — and can be measured in the bloodshed of those who did not.
These images of murdered civilians, of mass graves, of once-thriving cities reduced to rubble, seem transported from another time or dimension.
But these are not colorized newsreels from World War II. Nor is this some Hollywood movie, no matter how much we would give for it to be fiction.
Modern technology, like smartphone cameras, drones, and satellites, means this war is being broadcast in ways previous battlefields were not.
When I was in Vietnam, for example, we were still shooting on film, a precious resource measured by the foot. It usually took days for what we saw on the battlefield to make it to the public. Now hard drives can hold almost unlimited amounts of information, and social media platforms enable nearly anyone to go live.
Putin can lie all he wants. And it is a sure bet he will do so. This is the currency in which he has always trafficked. But the world has put a spotlight on his murderous mendacity.
We feel a deep tear at the fabric of our common humanity...
But we know that these feelings are far from a sufficient response to such bloody injustice. There are specific definitions for “war crimes” and “genocide.” I will leave it to others to place what Russian forces are doing in Ukraine in those categories, but on a gut level we know what we are seeing.
The bodies in the streets…
Gunshots to the back of heads…
Hands tied behind the back…
Civilians. Fathers. Mothers. Children. This is the face of evil.
Sadly, in war, noncombatants often die. And we must acknowledge these losses occur when the United States is fighting, as well. The death of innocent civilians is a major reason all war is hell. But this is something else. Russia is the instigator, the originator, and the aggressor. It invaded Ukraine. And as the Russian military gets outmaneuvered and outsmarted, it retreats — leaving deliberate terror and death in its wake.
The world is receiving an unwanted lesson in what unchecked autocracy can unleash. We vowed “never again.” Sadly, there have been many “agains.” Most have occurred in places outside of the global media’s focus. But if anything good can come from this calamity, it can be a commitment to fighting back against such naked aggression.
While the rest of the world reacts, it is the Ukrainains who bear by far the heaviest cost. They are not only fighting for their own survival but also serving as the frontline defense of a much broader world order.
As the days have turned into weeks, the carnage on our screens continues to intensify. It is so unsettling (in a world where so much of the news is perilous) that we may feel tempted to look away. We risk becoming inured to the death and suffering. It is horror on repeat. But we cannot afford to hide from the full force of the truth. We cannot accept this as fate beyond our control.
There is a fight for the future of this world between democracy and autocracy. It takes many shapes and is playing out on many stages — including here in the U.S. What the Ukrainians have demonstrated is that we must engage in this battle, in any way we can. These are the times in which we live. We have no choice in that matter. But for all the heartbreak, we should also realize that a better world can emerge.
That’s why I wanted to leave you tonight with an example of encouragement. The world-famous chef José Andrés has dedicated his life recently to feeding those in need in the wake of natural or man-made disasters through his nonprofit charity World Central Kitchen. Now he is rushing into these godforsaken towns where the Russian army committed its atrocities.
In a world full of hunger, let us all try to offer the nourishment of empathy and the sustenance of hope.