I am glad that I don’t live in a war-zone. I’m glad that I cannot hear shelling outside of my home. I’m grateful that I am not packing up my family and having to travel across the border of my home nation to venture into a future that is completely uncertain, relying upon strangers for kindness and for life-giving aid.
It is my privilege to live in such a place: to be born into a insulated world in which war happens “somewhere else.”
Within that privilege, I have two options:
- To act as if everyone has my experience, as if the war either doesn’t exist or at the very least will not impact me directly. I can choose to turn away and ignore the war that has made millions of refugees and killed thousands of soldiers and civilians alike. I can choose, in my privilege, to devalue those lives and inflate my own worth as a result.
- I can look right into the heart of war and see my fellow humans being killed, understanding that I am them and they are me. I can make it known to others that I believe in solidarity and in the global community. I can choose, in my privilege, to use the power that has been given to me as a white, male, American to demand change, for justice in the face of war-crimes, and for peace for my family in Ukraine (whether a blood relation exists or not).
It may be rather obvious which one I would like to choose (hint: it is #2).
And yet, I find myself gravitating toward #1 throughout the day. I forget for whole minutes at a time that people are being killed around the clock. I find myself ignoring the full scope of the war and its immediate implications for whole continents of people. This is when my privilege shows most clearly, across my unbloodied clothes and powered and heated home.
So, how do I remind myself of the ongoing tragedy that must be grappled with? I look to those who are closest to the war, and I try to see what they see.
The best way I have found to do this is by following the Associated Press photography collections, which are now a daily set of the most important and powerful vignettes on the war and its immediate impacts upon the environment and the people of Ukraine.
While I am not entirely sure of the right way to cite these images (I’m linking and providing attribution), I will state from the outset that I am in no way claiming that they are mine. Rather, I am using them in order to not “look away.” I want to face these atrocities and use the power of these images to galvanize support for those uprooted by an unjust war.
Infrastructure is incredibly difficult to create, as it is a public good that can only be carried out by having the support the populace. And yet, anyone can destroy Infrastructure. You can take a country back to the 19th century in a hurry. Getting them to the 21st, is far harder
Death is inevitable. And yet, not like this. Watching the smoke billowing from someone else’s death (likely, many others) as you watch your own loved one be buried is an unfathomable reality.
All artifice is gone. These lives are laid bare, their appliances hanging on by their power cords. When Ginsberg wrote, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs,” he did not mean for them to be blown apart by bombs. He was asking for us to open ourselves up to what happens when we get rid of these barriers between us. And yet, all that I see when we blow up these barriers is that we are all vulnerable and lost. That is the difference between the empowerment Ginsburg spoke of and the oppression that Putin offers.
This life matters, too. She isn’t just a casualty of war. She had a whole other life, one filled with purpose. And now, it has been cut short. But, that is too passive to describe the tragedy of her death. She was killed by men who believe she is the price to pay for conquest.
The price is too high.
Formal education stops in a war-zone. Kids still learn things (see below), but they do not learn what their teachers intended or even what they wanted. Children want safety and to be nurtured in their curiosity. These children will receive neither. They are not less deserving than your children.
This is the first war for which I have seen cell phone videos and photos. Clearly, other wars have featured these pervasive devices, but I have not been privy to them. The juxtaposition of the modern technology in the palm of your hand while the whole world is crumbling around you is astounding.
Steve Jobs famously said that computers are like a “Bicycle for the mind.” And yet, when all you have left is a bicycle and riding has become treacherous, you walk beside it or carry it along. It is no longer a means of conveyance when the world has crashed down around you. We should be able to ride our bicycles down the street. We should be able to put our “bicycles for the mind” to the collective effort of ensuring that everyone can do just that.
Children will sleep through pretty much anything, including war. We, however, cannot sleep through this.
I hate guns. I hate what they can do and I hate what they represent. And yet, in this environment, guns are a practical tool for survival. This child is learning that first-hand. It isn’t okay.
You can hold a portal to the world in your hands. You can grasp freedom through the screen. You can connect with those who want to help, and those who wish you harm. These tools have made the war possible. These tools are the ones that will end the war too.
We haven’t figure out how to use our phones yet, at least not really. We haven’t figured out how the internet will bring us back from this, but I trust that the medium that let’s us share the truth in black and white and lies in technicolor will be the same one that holds a mirror up to ourselves. We will see who we are, and whether or not we are worth saving.
What did he die for? What will his death mean to us?
I hope it will mean not looking away. I hope it will mean that we will amplify his death until it is a cacophony of pain and righteous anger, too loud to ignore. I hope it will mean we stop allowing power-hungry leaders to dictate the terms of survival and society. I hope it means we are all going to choose option #2.