My friend and colleague Carl Trueman recently observed that “the West is no longer a consortium of serious cultures.” To which I am sorely tempted to add, “…or serious polities.” The two are connected, the cultural decay of the West being a not-insignificant factor in our descent into political infantilism. The exploration of that connection can be left for a later date. Here, let me simply assert that the political mindlessness currently on display in the West is threatening to unravel the victory of freedom in the Cold War: the victory of what were admittedly imperfect democracies over what were indisputably pluperfect tyrannies.
Who with a sense of history can deny that the current, gelatinous policy of the great Western powers toward Ukraine is ominously reminiscent of the errors the democracies made in the mid-1930s? Western dithering in providing the willing, courageous Ukrainians the wherewithal to defeat a Russia bent on destroying the Ukrainian nation inevitably recalls the fecklessness that led Great Britain and France to acquiesce to the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, to the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, and to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938-39. (And please do not talk to me about “tattered, old analogies to the 1930s;” they’re only tattered and old if they’re wrong, which they’re not.)
Today’s geopolitical blindness about Ukraine — this willful deconstruction of the Western capacity to deter aggressive authoritarian powers — is a failure of moral insight and moral nerve as well as a political failure. And those failures are having global effects that are likely to worsen in the year ahead, causing even more suffering and death.
What are French, German, and American political leaders thinking when they wring their hands and whine about being “tired” of the war in Ukraine? I’m quite sure that Ukrainians are also tired: tired of having their children kidnapped and taken to Russia for brainwashing; tired of burying their dead after Russian drone strikes on civilian targets; tired of being denied adequate arms and ammunition. Yet they carry on. How dare a comfortable French president, a comfortable German chancellor, and comfortable American congressmen and senators speak of “Ukraine-fatigue” when our ally is being bled white and yet fights on?
Fortunately, others with stronger moral fiber get it.
They include a coalition of Ukrainian Christian leaders, who on Jan. 11 issued a joint statement condemning the “aggressive ideology of the ‘Russian world,’” which underwrites Russia’s genocidal war in and on Ukraine. This ideology, promoted and blessed by the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, “has been claiming for years that Ukrainians, as a people, ‘do not exist.’” The statement continues: “Inciting hatred and waging war based on the ideology of the ‘Russian world’ violate Christian principles and contradict the spiritual norms that the Church is supposed to embody.” These betrayals of Christ undermine “the credibility of…Christian testimony…,” and not only in Eastern Europe.
Ukraine’s Christian leaders go on to thank those who have stood in solidarity with suffering Ukraine, including “humanitarian organizations [which] provide assistance to the needy in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.” The names of those organizations constitute a moral honor roll. High on that roster of the righteous will be found the Knights of Columbus.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Knights have raised $22.3 million from more than 67,500 donors. Those donations have helped the Knights serve 1.6 million Ukrainians by distributing, in Ukraine and among Ukrainian refugees in Poland, 7.7 million pounds of food and medical supplies, reached (in some cases at considerable risk) by KofC Charity Convoys; 250,000 individual care packages; over 4,000 coats to warm Ukrainian children; and hundreds of wheelchairs, generators and other technical essentials.
For months, the U.S. Congress has played games with Ukrainian military aid, holding it hostage to yet another mindless fracas between Democrats and Republicans over what every sane American citizen understands is a grave crisis of immigration policy. This is behavior unworthy of a great nation. It is past time for the citizenry to call those who represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to stop their childish caterwauling, to cease debasing our politics with social media snark, to behave in a manner befitting adults who have taken oaths to legislate responsibly — and to support a brave people who, against terrible odds and in the face of immense suffering, are defending our victory in the Cold War as well as their country.
Those who do not are going to face a harsh judgment at the bar of history.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.