Gongol.com Archives: March 2022

Brian Gongol

March 31, 2022

Threats and Hazards Sympathetic impressions

A poll conducted for The Economist produced some results bound to create some consternation: Among American respondents ages 18 to 29, only 56% said they sympathized with Ukraine over Russia in the midst of the latter's unprovoked invasion of the former. Large numbers responded "neither" and "not sure", with a non-trivial set responding that they sympathized more with Russia than with its victim. ■ The same polling found similarly distressing results among the same age cohort in both Britain and France; perhaps not quite as offputting as those in the US, but far from where they ought to be. These results indeed ought to be troubling, since the Kremlin is not only the undisputed aggressor, but also the perpetrator of self-evident war crimes, like bombing maternity hospitals and shelters full of children. ■ There is a good chance that people who are not well-informed about current events assume that there must be a "both sides" nature to the conflict -- hence, the large numbers of "neither" and "unsure" respondents. ■ But it is also nothing new for the Kremlin to be the force behind real atrocities: See what Russian forces did in Chechnya, in Syria, and in Ukrainian Crimea in 2014. It doesn't require full-time attention to the news to recognize that one of the sides in the conflict has a history of malevolent behavior. ■ Worth noting, of course, is that anyone under the age of 31 was born after the Soviet Union dissolved. That event was one to celebrate. But in the subsequent years, it is possible that the absence of a clearly defined moral opponent (like the "Evil Empire") made the proponents of human liberty and freedom a little too lax for our own good. ■ In the days before the Cold War had vanished from memory and the Internet had made all things seem like they were forever happening right now, lots of cultural touchstones served to subtly remind the people of what we called the "free world" that things were plainly better under our systems of self-government, democracy, and the rule of law. ■ It wasn't just something we noticed when the first McDonald's opened in Moscow. An uninhibited, unapologetic, and unironic enthusiasm for free markets and free people was embedded in a lot more of what we experienced. Practically everyone was a booster for capitalism, because the alternative was obviously dreary, soul-crushing, and repressive. ■ Without the giant Communist counterweight (and with China, the USSR's likeliest successor as Communism's redoubt, deciding that getting rich was glorious), criticism in countries like the United States tended to turn inward, against the institutions of democracy and markets -- hence the growth of the Democratic Socialists. ■ Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is 44 years old, and graduated from college in the year 2000. His age cohort is just about the last to have meaningful memories of the Cold War, whether they lived behind the Iron Curtain or outside it. That age group is now well above the global median age. Perhaps that is why, despite his youth compared with many other world leaders, Zelenskyy seems to have an unusually capable grasp of both the tools of contemporary communication and the historic language of unambiguous moral clarity. ■ If we are to revive the default assumption that totalitarian government is one of the primary evils to be avoided in all of human society, the clock may be ticking for those who remember the Cold War to speak up without reservation -- not to condemn Russia as a state, but to condemn authoritarianism in all its forms for the indisputably repugnant corruption that it is.

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