I admit I am torn. My good friend and Intersections’ colleague Fred Johnson often says that the greatest distance lies between the head and the heart. It is in that nether land that I now find myself.

Like you, I am appalled every day by the continuing onslaught in Ukraine. Employing scorched earth tactics that have been an historic hallmark of Russian and Soviet armies, war crimes are underway on civilian targets—including residential areas, schools and hospitals—and indiscriminate bombardment shatters individuals and communities in starkly grotesque ways. Putin’s ruthless assault on the Ukrainian people is devastating to watch; their stories evoke emotions that range from profound sorrow to despair to righteous anger. Events of the past few days are eerily familiar to 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. The Fuhrer’s speech to the Reichstag on September 1 finds echoes in Putin’s justification to invade Ukraine—global forces divided Ukraine from its “natural” Russian homeland, oppression of Russian speakers, a response to violence begun by Ukraine.

Back then, Hitler said this: “Danzig was and is a German city. The Corridor was and is German. Both these territories owe their cultural development exclusively to the German people. Danzig was separated from us, the Corridor was annexed by Poland. As in other German territories of the East, all German minorities living there have been ill-treated in the most distressing manner…This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our territory. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met by bombs.” We all know what happened next.

So, my heart screams out: This. Must. Be. Stopped…Now. We must do everything we can to combat this evil. Something deep within me wants to lash out irrespective of the risks—as so many brave Ukrainians have done—and drive the madman Putin from Ukrainian soil.

But then, my head takes over. Geopolitically, massive changes are underfoot that Putin had miscalculated but has nevertheless unleashed—a genie he cannot put back in the bottle. He began this invasion by claiming that Russian speaking people in Ukraine were being persecuted. He entered the country expecting to be welcomed as a Slavic brother, a liberator from the neo-Nazi political leadership in Ukraine (the absurdity of the statement boggles the mind: Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish). He tells his own people that Russian forces are not targeting civilians, something disproven daily through video footage shot on the scene. In response to these atrocities, the West has stiffened its resolve to work in concord, has placed a stranglehold on the Russian economy and drawn a line in the sand on NATO’s Eastern front.

My head says: Stay the Course. Right will Triumph over Might. It will take time and there will be more suffering, but if history is our guide, and as Russia’s attacks on nuclear power plants in Ukraine and Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons make clear, the potential for growing this war and the suffering it will bring potentially extends far beyond Ukraine.

Putin cannot win this long-term. His delusions of re-creating the Russian Empire cannot hold in the real world. Russian oligarchs will become impatient. The Russian people will eventually learn the truth. He has already laid the groundwork for Russia to become a pariah nation. His scorched earth policy may win out temporarily, but it will not hold off an entire nation fueled by anger, grief and revenge. Though I cannot realistically change the course of this war, I can do what people in Russia can only do at great risk: I can speak out. But what do I say? What position can I take when my heart says one thing and my head says the opposite?

Perhaps there is a way to thread this needle. Rather than focusing on either heart or head solutions, perhaps by changing the frame, we can begin to find a resolution that both minimizes current casualties and forestalls the possibility of a wider war. Though, this thought is personally repulsive, maybe If we concentrate our efforts—economically, diplomatically, and in our public relations—on giving Putin an off-ramp, uncovering ways that, if he ends the onslaught, he can save face—then perhaps, just perhaps, he will realize that the costs of this demonic crusade are too great, even for him.  

5 thoughts on “Threading the Needle

  1. When I was in college, I received a minor in National relations and studied mostly the Soviet Union. As I learn then, a Russian leader is not worried about saving face, or popularity, they only focus on the objective and will do what it takes to achieve it. This is the case with Putin. He is a product of the Soviet era. He will not back down until he reaches his objective. He controls the narrative in Russia and the people will learn the truth, yes eventually, but by that time Putin will have his prize and will have another narrative. Some will believe his new narrative, but most will fall back into the depths of governmental fear of the Soviet days and not rise up.

    We think too much like western people, this is our biggest mistake and will lead to more horror if this is not stopped now. Putin only understands strength and must be met with strength otherwise we are weak in his eyes. Sanctions will not deter him, pain by his people will not deter him and world opinion will not deter him. These are western ideologies not Russian/Soviet ideologies. We must meet his force with force. When he puts his nuclear force on high alert we need to counter and then some. We must remember he will not think like a westerner and counter accordingly, then and only then will he back down. We only need to look to history. What happened with khrushchev? it was our willingness to sacrifice Nuclear war that caused him to back down. Reagans crazy arms build up caused the Russian economy to falter along with our over reaching military capability that caused the Soviet Union to crumble. Think like a Soviet Leader and we will make him back down. This is our time and we need to act now.

  2. Reluctantly I agree fully with Michael. Sometimes our head will destroy our heart, and Michael suggests that head and heart here should be aligned.

    The echoes of early world responses, not just European, American as well, to Hitler were similar. Even in the face of early intelligence on the massive loss of Jewish lives, much less combatant lives.

    A fuse is lit. It is burning. We can wait till it explodes ore stop it on its way, either point there is death and destruction The further it goes the worse it gets.

    Our post-WWII assumptions are crumbling. The generations are changing and it is indeed “Easy to Forget” As Germany fell, we of necessity (perceived) bombed German cities into rubble, to achieve a needed win. And had we acted stronger ,earlier, would not more lives have been saved.

    Sometimes the heart is right.


  3. My sister and I keep tearing up at each new heartbreaking image. Our Hungarian genes seem to be stirring us though we know little about that part of the world..
    The child in me wants to go in with both pistols blazing and end this thing, Eastwood style. My adult-self knows this fantasy will only bring more horror, loss and tragedy. Biden and our allies have to walk such a fine line here, exercising restraint over impulse and ego, weighing the risks to our own security.. but do we have a moral imperative to act? When will we know? 😞

  4. I too agree with Michael and Sam.not sure if there is a way to cut straight to a resurrection story of Ukraine without going through the crucifixion. We’re trying to throw the money changers out first, right? Just like Jesus did. But in the end it still came to a bloody war hung in a tree, and then a woman’s love who rose him in her heart from the dead. The only other possible chance to spare Ukraine might be the death of Putin.

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