I’ve been a peacenik for as long as I can remember. In my youth, I marched against the Vietnam War; later I fiercely opposed the Iraq War and I have forever been a critic of excessive military spending. I even display a peace sign in my house.
But the patience of this dove is wearing thin.
Six weeks into Putin’s war, I’ve had enough of this guy. Time to defeat him. Time to dispense with silly and wishful thinking that he can be reasoned with. Time to plot a long-term overpowering military response, since tyrants like him understand nothing else and nothing less.
First, let’s start by telling ourselves the truth: What we’re seeing isn’t some border skirmish a half a world away. Putin has launched a genocidal war of extermination against an entire people. No one can view the images of mass civilian casualties in the streets (some shot with their hands tied behind their backs) — the incessant targeting of schools, hospitals, day care centers, shelters, apartment buildings — and deny that this isn’t an epic catastrophe with frightening global implications.
Russian soldiers are now marauding Ukrainian homes and taking clothes, shoes, toys, and sending them home. People are homeless, cold, hungry — countless of them are in immediate need of medical attention. Ukrainians are now frantically retrieving items from their museums so that they’ll have a record of the country’s history should it be wiped off the map.
Haven’t we seen enough?
I’m sure the protesters at the peace rallies around the world mean well. Everyone waves yellow and blue banners, sings songs and carries signs that say Peace Now, No War and We Stand with Ukraine. Politicians and celebrities proudly display their Ukrainian flag pins and scarves. It’s the new chic — yellow and blue are the new black. All nice gestures, but to quote President Zelensky a few weeks ago when he was offered safe passage out of Ukraine, “I don’t need a ride, I need weapons.”
Ukrainians do indeed need weapons. A lot of them. They are doing heroic things on the ground, but the horrific assault of non-stop missiles rains on them day and night. Bottom line: Ukrainian forces cannot defend themselves without a steady supply of anti-missile and anti-tank defense systems now and every day — and it will probably need them for a very long time.
Ukraine — indeed the world, particularly the West — is thus at a critical crossroads. How far is the West willing to go to stop a violent tyrant? Does it have the appetite to re-supply Ukraine for as long as necessary — just like the Soviet Union and China did for North Vietnam when it was fighting the U.S.? Is the West willing to spend whatever it takes? Pay more for gas? Engage in direct military conflict?
The questions are eerily similar to those being asked 70 years ago.
Will today’s West be like England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was so blinded by Hitler’s duplicity that he left Munich saying that he “got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word”? Or will the West choose to be like Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill, who was never under any delusions that Hitler was a thug who would only understand a military defeat?
The West has a decision to make. Either Putin is an unhinged war criminal intent on destroying a people and then fixing his eyes on greater territory, or he is a sane and zealous patriot who just believes that Ukraine is part of Russia and seeks nothing beyond its borders.
He cannot be both.
If we believe he is just an angry — but otherwise rational — guy, we can try to convince ourselves that soon he’ll recognize that a peace deal is his only out and he’ll then re-join the family of nations.
But if we believe he’s just a brutal thug — and there is an ample record to support that position since he assumed power in 1999 — then he’s not unlike a Stalin or Hitler, and thus poses an imminent danger not just to Ukraine, but indeed to NATO and beyond.
Thugs are a different breed. Thugs don’t scare easily. Thugs (especially billionaire thugs) don’t cower to economic sanctions. They don’t care about protests or bad press. They think nothing of lying to the world, or even to their own people. Thugs only understand one thing: getting punched in the nose harder than the punch they’re giving. We can delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, but the longer we do, the longer this war will continue — and the greater chance the conflict will widen and swallow all of Europe and us.
I recently heard an interview in which the interviewer asked a Ukrainian, “Isn’t it crazy to think that a whole country has to guess what one person will do?” He didn’t skip a beat:
It’s not just one country, it’s the whole world.
Putin clearly didn’t foresee such fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces, who have demonstrated extraordinary courage in the face of an overpowering enemy. But Putin can play the long game. He can re-position his troops and continue to bomb Ukraine into the Stone Age. Ukraine can hold out — but only if the West steps up and commits to supplying game-changing weapons for as long as it takes.
We can hold protests, sing songs, debate whether Putin is a war criminal, hold hearings, wear yellow and blue all day. That’s fine. But if our goal is to halt the destruction of Ukraine and avert the possibility of a world war, we better hurry up and come to terms with our new reality:
This is wartime for us as well and we had better win.