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.