“…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation…” (Isaiah 2:4).
“Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.” (Joel 4:10)
“For everything there is a season … A time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
The pure savagery of Vladimir Putin’s murderous assault on Ukraine calls to mind these very contradictory Old Testament passages.
All of us are familiar with the one from Isaiah; we pray that it will one day come to pass.
I only recently became aware of the passage from Joel, much more obscure and seldom if ever invoked.
But for the people of Ukraine, that seems their only answer to Putin’s brutal, unprovoked aggression against them. Undesired by them, it is their time for war. They are fighting for their homeland, for their families, for their freedom—for their very survival. Who would judge against them for doing so?
Putin justifies his invasion by claiming Ukraine has historically been part of Russia. Even if true—and it is much disputed—that doesn’t justify the massive killing and destruction he has unleashed upon a people he claims really want to be governed by his authoritarian regime.
That hardly seems the case, given their heroic resistance in the face of overwhelming military might. And why would it be, given the Ukrainian people’s most recent experience with Russian rule: almost 4 million of them starved to death in Stalin’s unspeakably cruel planned famine, and the communist government’s brutal suppression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Why would they now want to be ruled by a former KGB henchman from that totalitarian regime, who is currently demonstrating a contempt for Ukrainian lives every bit as cruel and sadistic as was Stalin’s?
Putin wanted to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. He didn’t want a NATO member—and potentially NATO military installations—right on Russia’s border. Ukraine, on the other hand, feared being outside NATO’s protections with a potentially aggressive Russia right on its border. Putin has now justified that fear—while also affirming the wisdom of all the former Soviet satellites that did seek and obtain NATO membership.
The west’s response—providing arms to Ukraine and imposing what it hopes will be crippling economic sanctions against Russia—seems to me morally justified, but probably inadequate.
While we are unwilling to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the U.S. has now declined even Poland’s offer to deliver, through us, MiG-29 fighter planes so the Ukrainians can defend their skies themselves.
Yes, we have to be careful about not widening this war or escalating to a nuclear confrontation. But if those with the strength to call Putin’s bluff are instead cowed by his threats and nuclear saber rattling, how will his murderous rampage be stopped? Recall John F. Kennedy’s words about our (Russian) adversaries six decades ago: “We dare not tempt them with weakness.”
These are terrifying decisions, bearing on our very survival. I’m glad I don’t have to make them; but am I alone in lacking confidence in the man who does—President Biden?
Regarding sanctions, it seems clear they will not be fully effective—“crippling” —as long as western nations are still dependent on Russian oil. Recognizing this, President Biden has now banned U.S. importation of Russian oil. But European nations—whose energy needs are far more dependent on Russia than ours are —cannot ban Russian imports without harsh economic consequences for their own people.
Had we maintained the energy independence, and status as an oil exporter, we enjoyed prior to the Biden administration, we could now be supplying some of Europe’s imports, reducing their dependence on the Russian imports that fuel Putin’s war machine. Yet even now, the president refuses to lessen restrictions on domestic oil production.
Most disturbing to me is Biden’s attempt to use this grave crisis to deflect responsibility for the domestic problems that are damaging him politically. Inflation has been rising virtually non-stop since he took office, and gas prices since he began restricting domestic production. Of course the needed sanctions against Russia will exacerbate these problems. But they did not cause them. For the president to claim otherwise—exploiting the horrors happening to the Ukrainian people for his own political benefit—is unconscionable.
What can each of us do? First, we can contribute to those proving humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people. And yes, we should not just accept, but welcome, whatever deprivations we may experience because of our nation’s support of Ukraine—remembering that our sacrifices are as nothing compared with what these beleaguered but incredibly courageous people are suffering.
And finally, let us pray.
Let us pray long-term, for that time of peace when all nations will “beat their swords into plow shares” and make war no more.
And let us pray urgently that right now, Vladimir Putin will heed the impassioned plea of Pope Francis:
“In the name of God, I ask you, stop this massacre.”