For the past week the world has watched anxiously as the tragic events of the Russian government’s invasion of the sovereign nation of the Ukraine have unfolded. We all have felt moved by the clips of Ukrainian soldiers weeping as they bid their young children and wives goodbye. Skylines of cities across the world have been illuminated in Ukrainian blue and yellow and every social media platform has been flooded with support for the Ukrainian people.
The fog of war is also well underway as the propaganda abounds. We all learned of the thirteen courageous Ukrainian soldiers who replied in defiance to the Russian Navy’s demand to lay down their arms. We were told they died heroically only to learn days later all thirteen are possibly alive. Propaganda is used in every war to bolster moral support for each side’s respective cause. This conflict will be no different. Emotions everywhere are high and leaders on both sides know how susceptible we all are to propaganda.
War with all its horrific carnage, destruction, death, and tragedy has a powerful way to build community.
This sense of community provided by war is so intoxicatingly powerful it easily becomes a spiritual crusade. The effect is not just on the people directly involved but as we are seeing firsthand, on us observers who have no real connection to Ukraine or Russia. War provides what we all desire to some degree—moral certainty and a common purpose.
After the past two years where much of the world has suffered increased isolation via government mandates, economic hardship and uncertainty, and the loss of any sense of community we are all likely extra susceptible to the temptation to recapture a common sense of belonging with those around us. There may be no more powerful opioid of common cause than a war. This war in particular is easy to find common cause with. A nation with a history of being brutalized by the oppressor, with a president who is extremely likable, and the noble cause of freedom and democracy against a despotic thug of a dictator is not difficult to rally to.
There are real dangers in the sense of moral certainty of any war.
Robert Nisbet, the acclaimed sociologist, in his cult-like classic, The Quest for Community, discusses war and its influence on people’s natural desire for a sense of belonging and community. “When the goals and values of war are popular, both in the sense of mass participation and spiritual devotion, the historic, institutional limits of war tend to recede further and further into the void. The enemy becomes not only a ready scapegoat for all ordinary dislikes and frustrations; he becomes the symbol of total evil against which the forces of good may mobilize themselves into a militant community.” War can provide a strong sense of unity and tempts us to paint in black and white when observing the enemy.
We need to be vigilant not to allow the fervor of war to tempt us to abandon principles, justice, and true morality.
Already we are seeing this occur. We must be vigilant to recognize it is the Russian government who is attacking the sovereign nation and innocent people of Ukraine and not the Russian people. Russian people have been courageously in the streets protesting against the actions of the Putin regime. Yet we now have a sitting U.S. Congressman calling for innocent Russian students to be kicked out of American universities. Businesses such as Total Wine are removing Russian products from their shelves. And Disney, who filmed Mulan next to Chinese concentration camps, released a statement saying the next Pixar movie won’t be released in Russia.
There may be a strong argument to be made not to trade with despotic nations regardless of the merits of free trade and the wellbeing of its innocent citizenry, especially when the nation in question is actively invading a sovereign nation. But there is a real danger in quickly turning innocent Russian people into scapegoats and symbols of total evil. A sitting U.S. Congressman grandstanding to evict innocent Russian students from their universities should be universally condemned.
America has made the tragic mistake of collectivizing an entire people before in response to the evil actions of a government when we forced Japanese Americans into camps during World War II. We must refresh our memories on what war is capable of devolving us as a people into.
We should be putting our full support behind the Ukrainian people as they fight for their homes, families, and way of life while simultaneously condemning the evil actions of the Russian government. However, both innocent Ukrainians and Russians alike will suffer due to this conflict. Families of both nations who only want to live in peace will never see their loved ones again because of the despotic Putin regime. War, as we are seeing, is sometimes absolutely necessary, but we should never cease to be unequivocal advocates against war and for peace. War like any crisis invites new tyrannies and erodes freedoms, but worst of all it destroys our shared humanity. Pray for peace and pray for the innocent Ukrainian and Russian people who are suffering.