We at the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College Columbia University stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and unequivocally condemn the war currently being waged by Vladimir Putin’s Russian government. As Betty Reardon has written, “Violence is a failure of the imagination.”
All wars are grotesque nightmares. History has taught us that some are eventually considered “just” wars, and others unjust, although the distinctions between these can be fuzzy. The current war in Ukraine is clearly unjust – an act of egregious, violent aggression against a nonthreatening sovereign nation. The responsibility for this act falls solidly on Vladimir Putin and his supporters.
With that established, a word of context. Thomas L. Friedman wrote this week about the consequences of some of the historic decisions made by the U.S. and NATO that prepared the landscape for this invasion. He points to, “the ill-considered decision by the U.S. in the 1990s to expand NATO after — indeed, despite — the collapse of the Soviet Union.” He cites George Kennan, a former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow who said then about the decision, “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves.”
Of course, the causes and consequences of such policy decisions are complex and often contested. Nevertheless, current events demand that all of us reflect critically on how they might have been avoided.
It is apparent that what we are witnessing in Ukraine today – the slaughter of innocent families – is the nadir of a time of runaway authoritarianism. Its ugly rise has been foretold and documented by many, and its creep in the U.S. must be taken seriously and contained.
But for now, we must do what we can to aid the desperate people of Ukraine.
As the celebrated Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminisky cautions,
We Lived Happily During the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.”
(We Lived Happily During the War" from the Poetry International website. Copyright © 2013 by Ilya Kaminsky. Reprinted by permission of Ilya Kaminsky. Source: Poetry International 2013 (Poetry International website, 2013).
Please go to International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine and give today.