Ruth Gadebusch

On the Edge

Ruth Gadebush

Just as we began to relax with the pandemic moving along, we received a rude awakening from Europe once again. This time, it is Russia further intruding into Ukraine beyond the southeastern provinces that it had illegally seized several years back.

Are we destined to go into Europe again? Didn’t we fight the war to end all wars just over a century ago? Would it have been different if we had gone to the rescue of Poland and Czechoslovakia when the Nazis invaded those countries in the late 1930s? There is no simple answer.

We stand on a sharp edge looking down into a deep crevasse. Horrible as it is, atrocious as it is, what is our responsibility? Bad as previous wars have been, this has potential even greater than those two previous events engrossing the major parts of the planet. There is the nuclear bomb!

Following the armistice of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proposed the League of Nations as part of his plan to forestall such conflicts of the future. Unfortunately, the United States did not join.

We took a different action in 1945 following that conflict known as World War II but does it really have power? Whether it is designated as a war between nations or by a group within a nation (civil war) determined to rule overall, it is hardly humankind’s best moment.

One has to wonder if torture and greed are inherent in humankind. Can respect be taught or is some form of depravity so ingrained that we are doomed to always have conflict?

It is generally believed that preparation for military aggression—mutual deterrence—is the best prevention of an attack. Even in the interest of peace, few of us would fail to retaliate when attacked. It is generally believed that Putin underestimated the fierceness, the determination of the Ukrainians to protect their homeland.

Alas, none of us can see into the future sufficiently to direct our action at this point. Is our responsibility self-protection? moral responsibility? common decency?

Can any of us remember a time in our lives when this planet did not have any serious conflict somewhere on it? Do we know of any recent times when this nation did not spend a major portion of its budget on weapons of war? Has that expenditure protected us from more war or does it make war seem inevitable?

If we joined in this current conflagration, would we shorten and protect or make it worse? After all, there are nuclear weapons not only in our hands but also in those of the aggressors in Ukraine.

There is little doubt that the aggressor would use such weapons despite the well-known guaranteed obliteration. Knowing the ultimate capability of such weapons, we have for years depended on mutual deterrent. But, what now?

Given the depravity that we have already witnessed, there is little doubt that the leader orchestrating this travesty will likely stop at nothing short of complete victory or utter destruction. Several weeks into this conflict, there is ample evidence that the invading nation is devoid of compassion or decency.

The word moral does not seem to exist in the Russian conscience. Yes, their actions are beyond explanation. However, before we too quickly condemn with a holier-than-thou attitude, we had best slow down and look at our own history—some of it relatively recent. Nor am I thinking of our criminal element, our civil rights abuses or our plain day-to-day missteps. Can any of us forget that naked, burning child running down the road from that Vietnam village?

Then there is Guantanamo Bay, hardly our finest moment, breaking our principles even to this good day: guilty without trial; failure to release upon completion of punishment (not imposed by legal action), torture and more. This can hardly be justified even to gain the desperately needed information and certainly not for the sins of their fellow countrymen.

We brag about our democratic protections, but we had embarrassing stories coming out of Baghdad during that conflict instigated by us on incorrect information. It does seem to be all too easy for humans to fall into what we call war crimes when others indulge.

It seems that from the beginning of time, conquering armies inflict rape, often in the presence of loved ones, as the most notorious damage short of death on the population of the overpowered nation. There is something about crowd bravado that convinces an individual to go beyond normal boundaries.

We have so-called rules of war against damage to women and children, presumably not the fighters, but we all know it is common. Actions abound in the cities of Ukraine with buildings known to be hospitals or schools or even those designated as “safe houses” for fleeing refugees clearly deliberately targeted.

We have seen this same action in Syria—sometimes mistakenly by our own troops! Or was it a mistake, or perhaps only a part of the war, undeclared or not? Yes, let us not forget that part of the world is pushed to the back of our minds as Russia finds another target.

And there’s Afghanistan, where we and the Russians are both guilty of “war crimes” arguably as bad as the damage we were attempting to mitigate.

Currently, we face a deep dilemma: Just what do we owe Ukraine? Would assisting them help to prevent some of the damage or just pour more fuel on the fire?

We know that our and the Russian military are capable of inflicting great harm on each other and any bystanders. No military conflict damages only one side. The perpetrator and the victim pay a huge price. It matters not the cause, why or who started the whole mess. We can only count up the damage done by both sides once it gets to that point. And what does it accomplish? We hope it was worth it.

Worth it for what? Here at home, we, who thought it could not happen to us, as we just escaped the nearest thing to an overthrow of the government we have ever experienced during the transfer of power.

We have one political party declaring anything, anything, vaguely with any connection to the Democrats as dead on arrival, be it the vote access, a well-qualified Supreme Court justice appointee, previously fought for legislation and the like. Furthermore, the party leaders have declared it to be a continuing policy. All this while turning a blind eye to its own unquestionable criminal acts. We go to war now, that is what we are defending.

Even with this sad frightening picture, we are still the best, most promising nation in the world. It is the place where others seek refuge.

Given our own disarray, it is no wonder we have trouble deciding on our responsibility/obligation to this latest conflagration with Russia seeking what is not theirs and the attacked begging, pleading with the rest of the world for help in saving their nation, their land and their lives.

It appears too late for Syria, Yemen and others. What do we do about Ukraine? Let us not fall off that edge. It is a long unpleasant dropdown.

  • Ruth Gadebusch, a former naval officer, was recently recognized by the League of Women Voters with its Lipton Award for volunteer work in various community endeavors. She was elected four times to the Fresno Unified School District Board, appointed by Governor George Deukmejian to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and is an emeritus member of the Board of the Center for Civic Education.

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