War Is Tragedy
The wake of Russian aggression
The tides of history are shifting swiftly in Ukraine. An audacious and expertly orchestrated counteroffensive by the Ukrainian military in the northeast part of the country has left Russia reeling and its soldiers fleeing, often leaving weapons and ammunition behind.
It’s the kind of operation that leaves military experts in awe and reaching for superlatives — “the biggest counteroffensive since World War II,” and something that “will be written about and analyzed for decades, maybe centuries.” Western intelligence sources agree this is probably a turning point that can put intense pressure on Vladimir Putin, some speculating that it could even lead to the end of his regime.
But before anyone gets too carried away, it should be noted that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in vital sections of the south is facing tougher resistance. Its outcome hangs in the balance even as you read this.
Overall, despite the many days of positive developments, uncertainty abounds. The Ukrainians need to figure out how to consolidate their gains. The Russians could push back against an overstretched adversary. This war could escalate further in ways we cannot predict.
However, this much is also clear — a once-feared military has up until this point shown a shocking lack of competence. Certainly the bravery and skill of the Ukrainians has been a major factor. But just as certainly, the poor performance of the Russian military has surprised the world. It has sustained staggering losses to people and equipment. Morale has to be in the ditch.
It is encouraging to see a bully like Putin get punched in the face, at least metaphorically. He has been a malevolent actor on the world stage for decades — a killer, an autocrat, and an inciter of instability. The fact that many on the right wing of American politics (including the previous president) appease and curry favor with him only exacerbates the danger he poses.
Meanwhile, the close ties between Putin and China’s combative leader, Xi Jinping, further strain the world order. Weakening Putin might be a helpful counterforce to China’s appetite for mischief-making, if not outright war.
War is often discussed as if armies were chess pieces and maps were the backdrop for colorful arrows marking troop engagements. This imagery represents a gross distortion of reality.
War is hell.
It is death.
It is loss.
It is sadness.
It is pain.
It is destruction.
It is devastation — of body, soul, and all that we as humans hold dear.
War is tragedy.
Above all, this tragedy has been borne by the brave Ukrainian people. Their military has been hammered while holding the line to keep the marauding Russians at bay. The invading forces have targeted civilians — even women and children — and subjected them to horrific war crimes. Cities lie in ruins.
The tragedy ripples outward.
Ukraine is called the “breadbasket of Europe.” Its grains feed people around the globe. We can measure the tragedy in hunger.
Russia is a major supplier of energy to Western Europe. Countries are rushing to find other sources. We can measure the tragedy in economic pain and disruption.
And what about Russia itself? No sympathy should be given to those who launched this assault and those who have committed war crimes. But there is tragedy in Russia as well.
There is no reason for this war. Tens of thousands of young Russians have been killed, many who were drawn to the military from ethnic minority populations with few prospects for earning an income. Russia is blessed with tremendous natural resources. It has a rich culture and traditions. And yet it is now a pariah on the world stage. And for good reason.
One could easily imagine a different course, in which Russia joined free nations as a responsible member of the international community. Here, the country’s established expertise in math, science, and technology would be galvanized toward peaceful and productive pursuits. Its cities would welcome tourists. Its artists and athletes would be feted around the globe.
All that potential is shattered, and for what reason? No good one.
This is about a dictator and his delusions of grandeur. It is about a worldview that should have been buried forever in the 20th century. This idea of power measured in square miles conquered is feudal, especially in a modern, digital world where economic might is often generated by ideas more than possessions.
Wars range around the world, even if they attract little attention in our news cycles. Many are civil wars in nature, in places like Syria, Myanmar, Yemen, Somalia, and the Central African Republic, to name a few. The threat of war also looms, from places like North Korea, China, and Iran. Some conflicts simmer, others explode.
Tragedy stalks all of them.
Sadly, when one side wages war, the other side has no choice but to capitulate or react in kind. Ukraine chose courageous, all-in resistance. It is being fortified in its fight for freedom by much of the democratic world, but the greatest burden it alone is bearing.
We owe this brave nation our deepest thanks, because they are fighting not only for their own freedom, but for ours, as well.
Here in the United States we see many who would eagerly follow Putin’s playbook, who seek power based on division, hate, and lies. They would take us back into our past. They do not hide this fact; they acknowledge it in their slogans. But they must also be rebuffed.
It is time to build a world, here in the U.S. and beyond, that recognizes what we can be. With that in mind, we can all concentrate on our hopes, not our fears: our hopes that Putin and his enablers will be taught a lesson that autocrats and would-be autocrats should all hear with clarity — the future is not yours.
Note: If you are not already a subscriber to our Steady newsletter, please consider joining us. And we always appreciate you sharing our content with others and leaving your thoughts in the comments.