What happens in the Ukraine matters

Here is a list of relatively unimportant matters: immigration, gun control, climate change, childhood hunger and obesity, energy conservation, the national debt, economic growth, and Obamacare. They are unimportant because individuals and governments can do something about them. Governmental policies can be changed to develop solutions. Individuals can vote and lobby for what they perceive to be superior leaders and better policies.

What happens in Ukraine is more important than those issues. Why? In a choice between a president who can solve all domestic problems, but blunders horribly in foreign affairs, and one who is successful in foreign matters but makes mistakes in domestic areas, we are better off with the latter and not the former. Foreign policy mistakes can lead to the end of our nation. Domestic mistakes only cause hardship.

Over the last several months I have had many conversations with different people about foreign policy. They have all reflected a perfect isolationist view of the world. Their beliefs can be summed up as follows: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes. We are not the world’s policeman. They don’t care about Syria or Ukraine.

This is a shortsighted position because it reflects a lack of historical knowledge. The philosopher George Santayana wrote “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” International aggression should not be ignored or appeased. That would lead to a future world war.

The spirit of Britain’s late 1930s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, lives again in the minds of people I know. The 1930s was a period where three nations — Germany, Italy and Japan — engaged in aggression. Chamberlain believed in appeasement. Nothing was done to stop Germany when it violated the Versailles Treaty by militarizing, taking over Austria, the Sudetenland, and in 1939 by destroying Czechoslovakia, in violation of the Munich Agreement, by seizing Bohemia and Moravia. Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, and Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1936. The Soviet Union also engaged in aggression by invading Finland and Poland in 1939 and the three Baltic nations in 1940.

Neville Chamberlain was a man of peace. He believed in diplomatic solutions to conflicts. He even referred to the dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia as a quarrel in a distant land “between people we know nothing about.”

Finally, poor Mr. Chamberlain realized he was wrong in appeasing Hitler and brought Britain into war against Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, two days after the Nazis invaded Poland. Chamberlain sadly said then, ” Everything that I have worked for, that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins.”

The Second World War led to 60 million dead, but Winston Churchill said “There is something worse than war and that is slavery.”

Since 7:55 in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, until only a few weeks ago, we have been the world’s policeman, resisting aggressive nations, defeating Nazism and Japanese militarism, and supporting the United Nation in its mission to respect the territorial integrity of nations. Article 1 of the U.N. Charter forbids aggression and Article 2 (4) forbids…”the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity, or political independence of any state.” However, we have not responded in any meaningful manner to Russia’s action in engaging in aggression against Ukraine. This will only encourage further aggression.

At Nuremberg we and our allies hanged Nazis guilty of aggression. We have protected vulnerable nations: the Truman Doctrine (1947) to protect Greece and Turkey, NATO (1949) to protect Western Europe from communism, South Korea (1950), and even when we were unsuccessful as in Vietnam, America’s containment policy against communism led to freedom for Eastern Europe and the end of the Soviet Union.

The Russian novelist Tolstoy wrote, “That if you are not interested in war, war is interested in you.” This means we should not be isolationist and ignore Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

I suppose we could have ignored Japan’s aggression in China by not imposing an embargo of scrap metal and oil on Japan. Then Pearl Harbor would not have been attacked, and we could have let Japan conquer China. We did not have to support Britain in 1940 and 1941 with Lend Lease military supplies. Hitler would then have had no reason to declare war on America on Dec. 11, 1941. The only negative consequence would have been a Nazi domination of Europe. Some people today would be happy because there would be no Jews left in Europe or the Middle East.

We will pay a heavy price for isolationism. It is a dishonorable action not to honor our 1994 treaty with Ukraine guaranteeing its territorial integrity. If Americans are unwilling to take military action to defend 50 million Ukrainians, do you think we will go to war against China to defend uninhabited atolls, rocks, and shoals in the Pacific or South China Sea?

Finally, if Russia, “the prison of nations,” invades our NATO ally, Estonia (population 25 percent Russian speaking), and we do not invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty to militarily defend them, then we are finished as an independent nation capable of protecting our ideals and allies.

We would then be reduced to the level of Vichy France, a government and country incapable of influencing events. At that dreadful point in time, we should remove “land of the free and home of the brave” from our national anthem, because we would be neither.

Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.

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