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What the History of Ukraine Teaches us About the Risks of Mismanaging Climate Crisis

Ukraine has a long history of finding itself at the intersection of political violence — among them genocide inflicted by Joseph Stalin, joined later by German occupiers. This tragic history helps explain why Ukrainians have the will to sacrifice everything for their land, despite the odds, to fend off Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Sandwiched between German imperialism/Fascism and the Marxist/Leninist movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries, modern Ukraine continues to exist between a proverbial rock and a hard place. Consequently, it is unsurprising that the seeds of conflict still lie in this region to the present day.

If these historical undercurrents are acknowledged at all, it is to point out that President Putin engages in propaganda when he rationalizes his warpath to the Russian people as a purging of Nazis from Ukraine. Nevertheless, there is a kernel of truth to this history. An Israeli paper covered an “Embroidery March” last year in Kiev — one of several to commemorate Nazi collaborators — which some Ukrainians remember as allies against the Soviet Empire during World War II.

While it is tempting to compartmentalize the COVID-19 pandemic, the costly aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, a 40-year high in inflation and the war in Ukraine as a series of random events, an uneasy sense that something more is afoot is widespread. Pundits, for example, have attempted to attribute these early 21st Century upheavals to Marxists. Still others have drawn attention to the World Economic Forum’s so-called Great Reset, to argue that “Stakeholder Capitalism” is the new face of fascism.

Whatever this is, we can no longer afford to remain passive observers.

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What the Ukraine/Russia, US/Mexico & Israel/Palestine Conflicts Have in Common

Some years after the G. W. Bush administration’s entry into the Iraq war, American news outlets admitted to dropping the ball. Mainstream media acknowledged they did too little to question the purported evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereas challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq and the 9/11 tragedy were linked aired only belatedly. Over a decade later, the U.S. media has again dropped the ball. This time, though, the actors are different: Ukraine vs. Russia.

To hear mainstream U.S. media tell it, one could be forgiven for the belief that any and all claims of a Neo Nazi presence in Ukraine are propagandist fragments of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imagination. The tragic shoot-down of Malaysian flight MH 17 — on the anniversary of World War I — has only added to the pressure that the West intervene. Still, media fails to recognize its role in perpetuating conflict.

Shortly before the U.S. began trotting out the interim Ukrainian prime minister following the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president earlier this year, The Guardian published profiles of Ukrainian parliament members. Putin, it turns out, was not lying. Historically, elements within the region sympathized with fascist Germany and some fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, prompting animosities that exist to this day.

Why does this matter? Because failure to appreciate our present — and to grasp our past — may doom us to repeat history.

In an apparent effort to turn down the heat, journalist and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication dean, DeWayne Wickham, argues in a March USA Today piece that U.S. hegemony in the creation of Panama and Russia’s hegemony with respect to Ukraine are not terribly different.

Judging from the response the piece drew, Wickham’s point was lost on many readers. Accusations mounted: Wickham had attempted to excuse Putin’s audacity in Crimea. Wickham had cited an passé example, irrelevant because the creation of Panama took place over 100 years ago.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the events of the past — or, conversely, latch onto the tragedy of the moment (flight MH 17) — to justify an existing conclusion. But this time getting the facts right matters because the wrong response may very well provoke another Great War.

Wickham concludes that neither the U.S. or Russia has the moral high ground within a historic context. So what’s the point in comparing U.S. and Russian hegemony if it is not for the purpose of excusing anyone? Perhaps this: As Americans better appreciate our role in history, it becomes apparent that escalating international tensions often travel a well-worn path. If keeping history alive to tell the tale of hubris past gives pause to the drums of war, so be it. The alternative is to take two, three, four, even five geopolitical wrongs and to make-believe might makes right.

Haven’t we been down this road before?

 

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