Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Don’t Look Away. Speak up.

Our earliest memories tend to the unusual. At nearly four years old, I asked my Mom, “Why are all the cars honking?” She explained, “Because the war is over and we won.” I was too young to understand, but from my Mom’s voice I knew that on this one day, honking at others was a good thing.

It’s considered a good thing to avoid politics or religion in conversation. Finding Meaning passes on the first, politics, but embraces the latter, religion. Recent events in Ukraine compel a reversal of that order. This column is about the ugliest of political acts, the strong bludgeoning the weak. First, a brief history of the Cold War.

The great fault of political leaders in the years leading to World War II was to look away when predatory nations invaded weaker neighbors. Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, and Benito Mussolini had an easy run until the world could no longer safely ignore them. Sadly, by the time the world awoke, the human cost of dealing with these despots was terribly multiplied.
Less than a year after World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., spoke of an “iron curtain” descending upon Europe—the beginning of the Cold War. The Cold War—seemingly a battle of ideologies but at its core a test of the human need for liberty—was a time of dark threats and sword rattling. It was the central political story for those of us who lived in that time; a common worry was our world ending under a radioactive cloud.

The most dramatic moment was Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to his native Poland. A crowd estimated at three million gathered in Warsaw to greet him; his mass at Victory Square inspired a nation to solidarity. It was a moment of inspired leadership that showed the power of religious faith. Joseph Stalin once cynically asked Churchill, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” At Victory Square, the world learned. The Cold War ended with a whimper, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The tanks of predatory nations are rolling again, this time in Ukraine. In the first days, the political leaders of the West were silent; from the United Nations, crickets. Politicians are what they are. But the people of Ukraine had seen such bullying before. In the 1930s, the Holodomor, a term for genocide by starvation, allowed the Soviets to crush the will of the Ukrainian people and collectivize their farms. Ten million are believed to have died; the West looked away.

Yes, the tanks are rolling again. As before, it’s tempting to look away. But the media images of courageous Ukrainian resistance against superior forces make it impossible. Their valor touches the common moral decency of the world. Good people everywhere are speaking up. And when people speak in solidarity, politicians listen. Don’t look away. Speak up. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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