Once underway, Russia’s “special military operation” immediately brought to mind all the most inhumane atrocities human beings have committed against other human beings. Mainstream media groaned about how nothing like it had been seen on the European continent since World War II. For me, the specific tools and strategy involved to carry out the slaughter were less significant than the intent to commit it.
(If you missed part 1 of this essay and wish to read it please click here.)
In how many forms over how many centuries have we seen the same barbaric inclination manifest with heartbreaking blood-drenched results? Ukrainians in particular will recall: there was once a neighboring country near the Black Sea called Circassia, but it no longer exists because Russia did to it (1830s-1870s) exactly what Russia is attempting to do to Ukraine at this historic 2022 moment.
They will remember in particular the Ukraine famine of 1932-1933 which ended the lives of almost 4 million people. They cannot forget the take-over of Crimea in 2014. When considering these things, it becomes easier to understand why they have opted overwhelmingly to die in battle rather than exist in a repressive autocracy proclaiming itself a democracy.
Some Useful Lessons
For humanity as a whole, it remains difficult to understand why we insist on duplicating the ignorance of the past instead of building upon whatever wisdom might be gleaned from it. If the enslavement of Africans and the eventual rejection of their chains had not been enough, then some kind of useful lessons should have been learned from: the Holocaust (1941-1945, approx. 11 million killed, including Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romas, Gays, and others); the Cambodian “Killing Fields” Genocide (17 April 1975- January 1979, nearly 2 million killed); and the Rwandan Genocide (7 April to 15 July 1994, approx. 800,000 killed).
From 2 to 6 million is a number often cited when calculating Black lives lost during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison put the figure at 60 million. The number of Black lives lost during the process of capturing Africans combined with that of Blacks who died in slavery throughout the resulting diaspora may very well be incalculable. What is certain is the documented assumptions of members of one population deciding they possessed the right––some convinced themselves it was an obligation––to destroy the cultural integrity of another population.
‘A Large-scale and Treacherous War’
Whether Russia’s ceaseless bombing of Ukraine may be properly defined as genocide is something scholars and politicians might debate but which Ukrainians cannot. Virtually addressing Israeli lawmakers on March 20, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pointed out:
“This is a large-scale and treacherous war aimed at destroying our people. Destroying our children, our families. Our state. Our cities. Our communities. Our culture. And everything that makes Ukrainians Ukrainians. Everything that Russian troops are now destroying. Deliberately. In front of the whole world.”
For me, now a month and a half later, it has been too much like watching the proverbial oversized bully flanked by two Goliaths even larger than he taking turns punching a solitary 99-pound book-wormish classmate. Except the bully came armed with tanks, warplanes, and long-range missiles, and the bullies’ victim was not a solitary school boy.
The victim is a sovereign democratic nation which at the beginning of the war, on February 24, 2022, had a population estimated at 44.1 million. At this point, a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced, including more than 4 million refugees fled to other countries. Videos of atrocities committed in Mariupol, Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin, and elsewhere have left the international community stunned with disbelief.
At least three times each year--when honoring his birth, acknowledging the pain of his assassination, and commemorating the 1963 March on Washington, DC––people across the globe invoke the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on nonviolence and human rights. One of his most memorable pronouncements states: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King’s words clearly do not end with considerations of the social, political, or cultural battles undertaken by Black Americans and which have placed them among the foremost defenders of justice and democracy in the United States. The concept is easily applicable to the now famous blue and yellow shades of Ukraine’s enduring flag.
Who, watching the reduction of Ukraine’s beautiful citizens and cities to piles of corpses and rubble, can doubt they are witnessing injustice in its most malevolent form? What could be more unjust than a sustained concentrated effort to erase an entire people’s culture, history, and presence from the earth? A day will come soon enough when onlookers denouncing the onslaught will have to decide whether efforts to help stem the rushing streams of blood have been meaningful in any significant life-saving way, or if they merely constituted an unintentional form of further enabling orchestrators of the butchery in Ukraine.
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.