DUNN: How will we answer this familiar wake-up call?


Linda Dunn

Is Putin’s unprovoked war upon Ukraine a wake-up call for the rest of us? Do we finally see him as a serious threat to darn near every value we hold dear, or are we still hero-worshipping him as a strong leader?

I concede to being prejudiced on this subject. I grew up at a time when people were burying bomb shelters in their back yards, and we had air-raid drills in schools. For me, the threat of a nuclear attack from the USSR was very real and was one of the reasons why I later supported President Reagan’s “Star Wars program.” That futuristic effort officially known as the “Strategic Defense Initiative” cost us about $30 billion but it also contributed to ending the Cold War and unraveling the Soviet Union.

When the USSR broke apart in the early 1990s, we freedom-loving, flag-waving folks congratulated ourselves and hoped to see democracies rise from the ashes. Instead, we saw chaos followed by the rise of authoritarian leaders who seemed every bit as frightening as Khrushchev had been during his era.

I sometimes think the soundtrack for this section of our history should be The Who’s classic, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Geographic borders and names changed but it was still very much “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The former Soviet Union citizens cast off the yoke of tyranny only to put on another one just like it that had a different label.

Or maybe they weren’t fooled, and it’s just human nature to want a strong, wise and decisive leader to take the reins of government versus dealing with the slow and troublesome process of democracies.

Democracies don’t deal well with long-term problems. They get mired down in the mud of short-term solutions that politicians embrace because those are the ones that enable them to win re-election. A successful democracy also needs its citizens to be well-informed, which is particularly difficult in an era where far too many of us trust “social influencers” more than we do our government agencies. Last, and perhaps more importantly, is that democracies are too often the equivalent of two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

The rights of the minorities are easily lost when the majority fails to protect them.

But Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine may offer hope for those of us who still cling to the ideals of our founding fathers. The war has not gone the way Putin expected.

Here in the US, many of us who ignored Ukraine and dismissed their leader as weak and unpopular have been shocked to see the citizens of Ukraine become the type of freedom fighters that so many of us always claimed we would be if our way of life was threatened.

The telling moment for many of us was when their President waved away an opportunity to save himself and his family.

“I need ammunition, not a ride.”

This is the stuff of which legends are made, and if we were watching Ukraine versus Russia on streaming video at home, we’d be expecting a dramatic finish with the good guys winning and a ticker parade at the end.

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to occur. Ukraine is the equivalent of the 90-pound weakling being beaten up by the school bully while the rest of us stand around, watching in horror and hoping that screaming at the bully will make him stop.

We don’t want World War III, and we’re all very aware that a cornered animal is a very dangerous one. Thus, we’re responding with economic sanctions, not military action, and yes, this appears to be the wisest and safest course of action.

But gas prices soared, and we can expect more price gouging and shortages as the conflict continues. When it ends – presumably much the same way it ended in Georgia in 2008 and the Crimea in 2014 – we will be faced with an old problem.

Tyrants never have “enough.”

We’ve had this wake-up call before. How are we going to answer it this time?

A lifelong resident of Hancock County, Linda Dunn is an author and retired Department of Defense employee. Send comments to [email protected]