A storm of thoughts and emotions is swirling inside me as I take in the news from Ukraine. Somewhere in my family history, on my mom’s side, we have roots in Ukraine—not a strong or deep connection, but it’s there.
Stronger is the pull from the four years I invested in the U.S. Air Force, fighting the Cold War that helped buy Ukraine’s freedom and independence from the oppression of the Soviet Union. Stationed in England, I took the Soviet threat seriously: we knew their missiles were pointed at us; a U.S. missile base was both built and decommissioned in the space of those four years, just eight miles from where I was stationed; F-5E fighter jets, painted and trained as Soviet fighters, were among the aircraft assigned to my base, flying to train western air forces in air-to-air combat. (The 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron was the Air Force’s version of the Navy’s better-known Top Gun Fighter Weapons School.)
Some say the Cold War was a war of words—but they were words backed up by very real weapons, many of them nuclear. Those were scary times. Between the rhetoric and the propaganda (on both sides) and the missiles, life—particularly in Europe—was lived under a threatening cloud known as MAD: “mutually-assured destruction.” Our hope was vested in leaders on both sides who were reasonable enough to long for, and work for, a greater peace.
We won that war, that Cold War. Reason prevailed. Treaties were signed. Missiles dismantled. Oppressed citizens were empowered to rise against their oppressors to demand freedoms they’d never known. It wasn’t easy; change … transformation … never is. The pull back to what is known, what is comfortable—even oppression—is great. (I think of the ancient Israelites who, in the heat of the wilderness, yearned to go back to the familiar slavery in Egypt.) But the pull to something better won out, and throughout Eastern Europe, men and women endured the discomfort of change for the sake of their children and grandchildren.
Yet always there is someone who wants to go back, who misses the power that would have been, could have been, theirs under the old regime. They proclaim strength and freedom and prosperity. They decry the hard work of real freedom, they bemoan the discomfort of real transformation, they blame the present sufferings on the future hope. And their sweet words entice even reasonable men and women to offer up even their own power and freedom on an altar to evil.
History is repeating itself. Again. At what cost? Will Ukraine become the first casualty of a war for a new Soviet Union or will the invasion be crushed by a global coalition as happened in Kuwait in 1991? Will the world be drawn into a third Great War or is this, as some suggest, the biblical Armageddon—truly the War to end all wars?
Pray for peace. Fight for freedom. Silence the evil