The War in Ukraine: The Dilemma, Danger, and Heartbreak


Wesley Smith

March 16

5 min read

Foreign Policy



The unwarranted, diabolical Russian attack on Ukraine continues.  It is the worst transgression of a nation’s safety and sovereignty in over half a century, since World War II.  While Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have died, unnecessarily and regrettably, what is most troubling is the intentional attacks by Russian forces on innocent civilians.  The world has witnessed Russians attacking civilians as they flee the war zone on supposedly safe routes agreed upon by Russia.  We watched in horror as a maternity hospital was bombed with mass casualties.  Apartment buildings have been targeted.  Most recently, Russian troops have killed two U.S. members of the media and wounded another.

It seems no one in Ukraine is safe.  No civilian target is off limits to Vladimir Putin.  No international law is respected.  The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is ignored by Russia, as are the Geneva Conventions generally.  It has also been years since an autocratic ruler has so flagrantly ignored the norms of human decency.  What we are witnessing is undisguised war crimes.

All of this is thrown in the face of people worldwide.  The 24-hour news cycle and social media give people a view of these atrocities that is up close and personal.  In a new and graphic way, the violence and human suffering is brought into the living rooms of people.  And the world is indignant.  Vladimir Putin may or may not care, but he is the most universally loathed human being since Adolf Hitler.  When all this ends—and it will end at some point—he must be held accountable.

The question for the United States, NATO, and our allies is what shall we do?  The condemnation and rhetoric directed at Putin and the Russian government is mounting, as are sanctions.  The courage and leadership of Ukraine’s President Zelensky inspire the world.  But what else can be done?  What are the next steps?

The case for supporting Ukraine is multi-faceted.  There are numerous reasons why most of the world has risen and spoken out considering all that is ongoing.  The Biden Administration and some member-nations of NATO fear that a wrong response by the West will result in a wider conflict—even a possible World War III.  That is a prudent and legitimate concern.

However, what guides our reactions to Putin and the invasion of Ukraine must be more than fear of war.  Fear of a wider conflict and appeasement of the aggressors is what led to World War II and the unspeakable deeds committed by the Axis powers.  While an attempt to avoid war is warranted—that cannot be the only criteria on which our responses are based.  In any decision regarding war, remember:  The enemy gets a vote.  One can seriously desire for there to be no war and yet still go to war because of the actions of the adversary.

In the reactions to Putin and the war in Ukraine, a military response must be carefully evaluated.  While we prefer not to use them, there are military options. The geo-politics of Europe (as a whole) must also be considered.  World stability and respect for the freedom and independence of all nations comes into play.  Putin is not the only malevolent megalomaniac.  China, Iran, and North Korea are watching the reactions of the U.S. and our allies.  There are evil people leading nations who are not shocked by what the Russians are doing in Ukraine.  Weakness only invites aggression.  Even a perception of weak or feckless leadership can impact world events in the future.  The actions of the U.S. and Europe must be weighed.  And, as far as Putin knows, all options must be on the table.  We must stop telegraphing to the Russian leader what we may, or may not, do.

Volodymyr Zelensky will address a joint session of Congress.  Zelensky already addressed the House of Commons in Britain and the Canadian Parliament.  He has done a masterful job of addressing the world as to the hopes, needs, and bravery of the Ukrainian people.  He is changing hearts and minds.  He has gained the empathy of much of the world.

For citizens of the United States, the hearts of virtually everyone is with the president and people of Ukraine.  The American people will only take the photos of wounded and dead civilians for so long.  We have a history of being the champions of the oppressed and the downtrodden.  It is in the DNA of America.  It is literally not only what we do—it is who we are. Whatever decisions are made, however we shape our ongoing response to Ukraine, it must be done from a position of strength.  Our leaders must exhibit conviction and clarity.  That is the order of the day.

Peace at any price is very expensive.  Perhaps it is no peace at all. Life at any price loses its value.  Wisdom and courage are needed.  One without the other will not work.

The poem of Josiah Gilbert Holland comes to mind.  Written in a different day before inclusive language was used, its message is needed more than ever.

God, give us men!  A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands.
Men whom the lust of office does not kill.
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy.
Men who possess opinions and a will.
Men who have honor; men who will not lie.
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking.

For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, Lo!  Freedom weeps.
Wrong rules the land and waiting justice sleeps.

We pray earnestly for the people of Ukraine, for our world leaders, and for peace.

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