The Systemic Failure of Our World Leaders
The audacious cruelty of Putin’s assault on the Ukraine beggars description. Journalists attempt to talk about terrible days, the shelling of civilian targets, surgical patients forced to leave their beds to clamber through rubble before the next hit. A photo shows a mother hugging her sole surviving child within the ruins of a demolished hospital. We see women and boys practicing with blocks of wood shaped to feel like rifles, determined to stand against imminent military onslaught. No account can touch their suffering, no observer can fathom their courage in the face of this gratuitous nightmare, and no one can do anything to avert the approach of disaster and annihilation. We simply read on, aghast, sickened, and helpless. How did it come to this?
Putin used the N-word.
The leaders of the western world exploit photo opts to stand shoulder to shoulder, looking grim indeed, as well they should. The tragedy facing us today, Putin’s war, is a result of their failure. Yet, it’s not just these grim-faced individuals who have failed us. They are today’s representatives of a long line of leaders who have failed us. But in accepting their roles to perpetuate systemic failure, our leaders bear the full guilt of the catastrophe upon us now.
They have been aware for decades that, if used, nuclear weapons would destroy civilization. Talks and treaties, pacts and agreements, astronomically costly luncheons and weekends devoted to discussing the matter resulted in nothing. And here we are today, watching Putin kick a weaker kid to a bloody pulp in a public display of manic sadism. And why? Because Putin threatened to use any number of his 1,456 deployed nuclear weapons if anyone interferes.
Had our world leaders eliminated nuclear weapons instead of talking about it, we would not be at this tragic pass. The fact that they squandered decades talking about, but failed to take action steeps them in Ukraine’s spilled blood now. The rest of us, who share responsibility in this crisis, must wake up to three hard truths:
Collateral damage?: The human suffering in any war today, as in Putin’s war, is not incidental. The bully on the playground gets nowhere trashing the swing set. What’s effective is kicking in the head of his captive, which is not collateral damage. It is the bully’s tactic of choice.
Complicit hostages: As long as we countenance the existence of nuclear weapons, we will be complicit – as we are now – in the ambitions of exactly those mad potentates ready to sacrifice all to get their way. Rid the world of nuclear weapons and sadistic thugs like Putin will never again be able to force the world to watch as he kicks the living shit out of someone we love.
It’s our fault: We the people, the citizens, the engine of civilizations, hesitate to embrace our civic duty until it is too late. With things going tolerably well, we can’t believe our active involvement is required. We excuse our indolence by doubting anything we do can be effective. We generalize our lack of confidence to our fellow citizens, blighting the chance for the 1% solidarity Ralph Nader says it takes to get change legislated.
Our civic impotence is the fallout of our delusion, implanted in us by others, that because we are so privileged, we have no need to organize. The very notion makes us think of corrupt labor unions, another programmed response. Besides lacking confidence in ourselves and trust in our fellow citizens, we wouldn’t know what to do, or how, if we decided to take action. Our affluence has kept us green and made us flabby. We are schooled in no civic method or technique. We don’t know how to inform ourselves on issues in such a way as to form a conviction that would persuade us to add our voice to a movement. Only now as we see the world collapsing in on us, do we ask, “How to begin?”
That question is the beginning. And the answer is simple: we must find out. And we can find out. We can learn to focus on essentials and act together. If we do, nothing will stop us, but we will be no mob. We will be, finally, a democracy that says no to nuclear weapons.