Harari on Ukraine

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Having read with great interest international bestsellers “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the books of Israeli historian and professor Yuval Noah Harari, I had to listen to what he had to say. He made for a very impressive resource on the lamentable invasion of Ukraine. It was difficult not to pay close attention to the opinions he expressed.

Speaking on an emergency Ted Talk on Day 6 of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 (we are now on Day 29), he warned the world of how the repercussions from the Ukraine attacks will spare no one, destabilizing the whole world. Entitled “The war in Ukraine could change everything,” he repeatedly said how all of the world would suffer the effects of this. “Planting seeds of hatred will not go away for generations, that is Putin’s legacy.” These seeds of hatred, fear, misery, he adds, will certainly bear terrible fruits. It is unimaginable the hatred this has further engendered between the Ukrainians and the Russians.

Harari describes as nothing but sheer fantasy for Putin: that Ukrainians want to be Russians and are blocked only by a Nazi minority; that upon invasion, Zelensky will flee, Ukrainians will lay down their arms and throw flowers at the tanks out of sheer gratitude. It was never factored in that Ukraine is a fiercely independent nation and will fight for its survival, despite Russia’s superior resources to conquer Ukraine. It may be able to conquer, but can it hold power over it?

A major lament of Harari’s is that because of Russia’s unwarranted attack on Ukraine, countries in support of Ukraine have had to increase their defense budgets. Funds that were needed for more urgent concerns like health care, education, climate change were instead directed towards artillery and military tanks.

In an article in The Guardian entitled “Why Vladimir Putin has already lost this war,” Harari reminds the world that Ukraine is a nation with more than a thousand years of history. Its capital Kyiv was already a major metropolis when Moscow was not even a village.

Another stark reminder from the writer who predicted a frightening world of tomorrow: “Nations are ultimately built on stories. Each passing day adds more stories that Ukrainians will tell not only in the dark days ahead, but in the decades and generations to come. The president who refused to flee the capital, telling the US that he needs ammunition, not a ride; the soldiers from Snake Island who told a Russian warship to ‘go fxxx yourself’; the civilians who tried to stop Russian tanks by sitting in their path. This is the stuff nations are built from. In the long run, these stories count for more than tanks.”

How will today’s precarious world situation alter what Harari had written that over the past century, humankind has managed to do the impossible, turning forces of nature – namely, famine, plague and war – into manageable challenges? More people are said to have died of old age rather than from infectious diseases. More have committed suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists, criminals combined.

What about today’s growing statistics of the Ukrainian civilians killed as they tried to flee to safer countries and all the lives shattered since Feb. 24? How to comment on 44 million people terrorized by a dictator?  How to quantify the assistance of nations the world over in support of Ukraine, knowing what fate meets Ukraine will be felt by all of them? A country that is mentioned is Switzerland, which departed from its traditional stance of neutrality to make a statement.

The images of war in Ukraine are poignant, haunting and maddening – are all these happening in a world that dreams of global order and world peace? A father recognizing the family of three he had lost through a familiar-looking piece of luggage beside bodies since covered up, the elderly and the children all bundled up in freezing weather in shelters depending on limited food rations, the empty bottles being gathered for Molotovs, the boy who walked himself to the country’s border, the buildings marked “Children” which were nevertheless not spared the attacks, the 109 empty strollers placed by Ukrainians on a public square to symbolize children lost in the Russian bombardments. The refugees may be safe temporarily, but what does the future hold for them?

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, often described as playing the most critical role in his life as an actor, inspires the world with his courage and determination to protect his country and its citizens.

In his recent speech to the US Congress, he said, “Remember Pearl Harbor... Remember Sept. 11… Every night for three weeks in various Ukrainian cities, Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death.”  He was not pleading for pity, but for a no-fly zone or arms.

And quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream.  I have a need. I need to protect our skies.” (The Economist, March 19-25, 2022.)

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Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom on March 26, 2-3 pm, with Natasha Vizcarra who is zooming from Colorado! Our six-day summer workshop “Writefest” on May 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, 27 is now open for registration.

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