What should your neighbors do if a bully breaks into your home in broad daylight, begins killing members of your family, and publicly announces that the killing will continue until you surrender or abandon your home?
Should the neighbors send thoughts and prayers?
Should they wear the favorite colors of your family?
Should they stop doing business with the bully?
Should they seize property and bank accounts owned by the bully? If neighbors welcomed you and your family into their homes, would that alter the reality that they refused to help you and your family fight the bully?
How would those responses make your neighborhood safer?
How are they consistent with the moral duty to value the lives and peace of neighbors as highly as we value our own lives and peace?
These questions have troubled me since Russian military forces invaded Ukraine on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thoughts, prayers, economic sanctions and other acts of sympathy for Ukraine have been expressed and invoked with much fanfare by political leaders. Humanitarian aid has been promised and is being provided for Ukrainians who fled their homeland since the invasion began.
Those things will not stop the invasion. They will not prevent Putin from invading other nations. They will not discourage other would-be bullies.
Ukrainians do not need a global sympathy exercise. Threats from capitalist politicians that their nations will quit doing business with Putin’s Russia do not help Ukrainians fight Russian invaders. Thoughts and prayers do not prevent Ukrainian men, women and children from being terrorized. Sports boycotts of Russian teams and athletes will not protect Ukrainian women and girls from being sexually assaulted and raped.
“Ukrainians do not need a global sympathy exercise.”
Ukrainians know this is true. So does Vladimir Putin.
Putin, like all sociopaths, is not deterred by expressions of condemnation and sympathy. He invaded Ukraine despite numerous appeals from political leaders in the European Union and NATO and warnings that invading Ukraine would result in severe economic responses.
Putin invaded Ukraine despite those appeals and warnings because no national leader promised to help Ukraine defend itself against his planned invasion. No nation sent military personnel to help Ukraine defend itself. The invasion has gone on for nearly two weeks. Ukrainian President Victor Zelensky has been begging the world for military help as his people are being bombed, shot and terrorized. His pleas have resulted in the moral and military equivalent of a global sympathy card.
President Zelensky and President Putin know the difference between a sympathy card and the help Ukraine needs. They also know that world leaders have the weapons, warriors and other resources needed by Ukraine.
What perturbs Zelensky and delights Putin is the knowledge that world leaders lack the will to bring their arsenals, warriors and other war-fighting resources to bear against Putin.
Otherwise, they would have done so before now. Ukrainians would be joined by warriors from other Eastern Europe nations and warriors from the European Union and NATO to repel the Russian invasion on the terms that bullies understand and fear, namely, armed defeat by a committed military force.
That military resistance to Russian aggression — coupled with economic and diplomatic isolation — would show Putin, the Russian population and other would-be bullies such as China, Israel, Iran and India that the term “global neighborhood” means more than stock exchanges and commercial ventures for profit-taking.
“Good neighbors do more than bring meals and sympathy cards when death-dealing bullies attack others.”
Good neighbors do more than bring meals and sympathy cards when death-dealing bullies attack others. Good neighbors help one another fight off bullies.
Perversely, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed the moral and ethical incompetence of capitalism to the world (not that the proof has been unavailable or inconspicuous before now). Having a neighborhood where bullies are not free to victimize people is always a “vital strategic interest.”
However, the capitalist nations that make up the G7 have a notion of neighborhood that is no bigger than their collective wealth and comfort. They do not include Ukraine, Palestine, South Africa and other places where state-sponsored violence is happening to people because those places are not part of their notion of “neighborhood.”
Hence, people send “thoughts and prayers” as Putin’s Russian soldiers murder people in Ukraine with impunity.
Hence, people send “thoughts and prayers” as Israel murders Palestinians and steals Palestinian land and water with impunity.
Hence, people send “thoughts and prayers” as the wealth, health and other inequities that defined the apartheid regime of South Africa continue with impunity.
Hence, people send “thoughts and prayers” as police officers kill and terrorize people and communities of color with impunity.
People who send “thoughts and prayers” when bullies attack their neighbors are not courageous. They are not loyal. They are not helpful. “Thoughts and prayers” do not stop bullies. Bullies know that is true. People attacked by bullies know that is true.
“Thoughts and prayers” from dithering capitalists are expressions of sympathy, not support for oppressed people. As such, “thoughts and prayers” merely mark the people who send them rather than use their power to help oppressed people fight bullies as cowards and hypocrites.
History will show that capitalist nations with plenty of troops, tanks and attack helicopters did not send them to help Ukraine. Hence, Putin’s invasion will succeed.
The world will never forget that rich nations refused to help Ukraine defend itself. Also, bullies will not forget.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
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