We can’t Let it Go

We can’t Let it Go

Ukraine

This morning I watched a short clip of a young Ukrainian girl, Ankita Jain, singing Let it Go, from Frozen.  She sang to her family and companions in an underground bomb shelter.  It was heartbreaking, as I thought of my granddaughters, and other children around the world, singing this same song in the safety of their homes.  I am sure parents and grandparents of small children everywhere will be as moved by this as I was. 

There are common threads with children throughout the world nowadays that didn’t exist in the same way when we were young.  The Harry Potter books, Disney movies and songs transcend language, place, and culture.  We can be brought together through the childish delight of story, imagination, and dreams.  And, of course, Russian children love these too, I am sure.  But to see the fear and sadness on the faces of the Ukrainian children sheltering or running from Russian bombs is heartbreaking, and makes it very difficult to feel we can continue to sit and watch this war, without somehow taking more action.  But how to do this without triggering something far worse?

In our creative writing courses, we are reflecting on the middle of things, on how beginnings, whether of events, stories, relationships, can be dramatic, full of hope, or, alternatively, as in Ukraine, dramatic but shocking.  Endings bring things to a conclusion, either a happy one, disappointing maybe, or tragic.  But the middle is where the uncertainty lies, where there are more questions than answers, where one doesn’t know whether the decisions and actions one is taking are the right ones or the wrong ones, whether they will lead one towards that happy conclusion or towards something one can’t even begin to imagine.  And right now we are in the middle of things.

It made me think about how we can become desensitised to information when we watch it endlessly on television screens, and how important it is not to allow this to happen.  We cannot let this war go into some kind of normality, because to be invaded and bombed by an aggressive neighbour with an occupying force is not something anybody deserves.  We have become too complacent over recent decades, imagining, or not even bothering to think hard enough, about the fact that the world does throw up dictators from time to time and we need to be awake to that fact.  Perhaps we were too comfortable, having reached a place in the free world where life is fairly easy for the majority, despite inequalities.  Putin has never truly masked his intentions, for anybody looking.

It is important, of course, to give ourselves some respite from the ghastliness of this war, of watching the suffering of the Ukrainian people, the ruthlessness of Putin.  It is important to enjoy the day we have been given ourselves, to be grateful for a home, a comfortable bed, hot running water, drinking water, working drains and food.  Yet not to forget about what is happening in this not-so-distant country where people were enjoying all those same simple needs themselves only a short time ago.  We cannot allow ourselves to be anesthetised to unfolding events.  We must keep watching.

I hope that those who develop the legal and political structures and requirements of the institutions of government learn, yet again too late, that dictators should not be allowed to change a constitution to enable them to rule for long periods without a democratic vote.  Francis Fukuyama wrote that the end of history might be said to have been reached by liberal democracy, but the reality is that we cannot ignore psychology or the human condition.  To do so is both ignorant and naïve.  There are bad people in this world, as has been witnessed in many different areas of the globe throughout history, for whom power is the goal.  Yet again, government officials should review the checks and balances of their institutional systems to ensure that these people do not get into powerful positions where we end up in a state where one ruthless man paralyses the rest of the world into a position where they do not know what to do.  I have written before about how wrong it is, in my opinion, that people can rise in politics without all the psychological profiling, qualifications and references that one needs to prove when applying for a job in business.  There seems to be extraordinarily little professional development, 360 degree-feedback systems, or challenges to prevent the people who lead the countries of the world becoming bullies and dictators.

In this war, it is so difficult to know where there is a compromise to be had in this situation.  As a Ukrainian said on the radio last week, if an invasion force came into the UK would you be happy just to give away Wales or Scotland?  Of course not.  So, the Russians should not be allowed to annex the Eastern areas without a democratic vote on the subject.  Sanctions and actions against oligarchs may make an impact in the longer term though the oligarchs can be prey to the Kremlin’s henchmen too, of course, so may not have as much influence as is imagined.

A week ago, I was fretting about whether I could write certain things about free speech in my blogs.  Today this seems petty, and yet it isn’t because what happens in our personal everyday lives remains important.  But now the priority has changed, and I feel so helpless as I watch this young child sing in her bomb shelter, watch families run from the bombs.  We give money, we sanction, we pray, but, in this middle part of this war, where we know not its outcome, we cannot let it go.

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  • Harriet Grace on Mar 09, 2022 Reply

    Great blog, Helen, eloquently expressed. I’m glad staying with the middle of things in our class, as we did on Monday, and will do next time, has resonated on a bigger scale to where we are in this awful war. We are in a maelstrom of uncertainty of how to proceed, of how to stop the terrible humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, of how to make Putin go away and leave Ukraine to live its own, independent, democratic, national life. And now I shall watch that video of the little girl singing ‘Let it go.’

  • Ginny Lewis on Mar 08, 2022 Reply

    I too would have had a similar Western response that you so eloquently describe had I not chanced upon Professor John J. Mearsheimer’s overview of this war Why is Ukraine the West’s fault? Feb. 2020. I listened at first disbelievingly, but in the spirit of The Truth is only revealed by hearing both sides of a story, I stuck with it for the whole hour and a half.

    • Helen Whitten on Mar 08, 2022 Reply

      Thanks Ginny. Yes, I have read these theories but am not totally swayed. I don’t consider my piece necessarily a ‘Western’ response, more of a humanitarian one. Have there been mistakes, absolutely, but on all sides. From 1989 onwards there has been an assumption, perhaps naive, rather as in Fukuyama’s book, that people prefer to live in a democracy and enjoy the Western style of living. Indeed, I don’t read that these countries who have joined NATO or the EU were bullied into it, they requested it. So would it have been right to deny them this, when much of Russia’s history has demonstrated that they end up with authoritarian rule, and many citizens do not wish to be ruled in this way. I think it is hardly surprising that mixed messages were picked up on all sides and it only took a character like Putin, who has shown his colours in Syria, towards his own people, and elsewhere, to escalate the situation. There was appalling corruption after the end of the Soviet Union and many countries around the world, including ours, have enjoyed the spoils with too much greed and too little analysis, but I think there was, in the main, a major misconception that we could do business with Russia and that they would, as Gorbachev had mooted, integrate into a mixed enterprise culture. But Putin has always wanted the Soviet Union to re-integrate and has made that goal clear so in many ways NATO and the EU were being asked to protect those states who had declared independence back in 1990-1. Mearsheimer makes some legitimate points but there are, I think, always alternative voices, see https://www.e-ir.info/2014/08/27/rapid-fire-is-the-ukraine-crisis-the-wests-fault-part-3/