I guess for Ukrainians it had been happening for many years pretty continuously but for me and most of my neighbours it only burst into being when the Russians invaded it. Suddenly there it was with its splendid President, its effective army, its population of men, women and children made of vulnerable flesh like ours, its quite handsome cities and quaint villages, doomed to be pulped by the superior firepower of a force directed by a dull and brutal thug who began his career killing people on behalf of a dull and brutal government.
So yes, by all means praise the valour of the Ukrainians, their refusal to kow-tow to Putin and his vast army of well-deceived lunkheads, and their humanity never more evident than in face of the utter inhumanity of the invaders, but let’s note that none of these qualities persuaded our government to intervene on their behalf, a decision which has left us feeling obscurely guilty as an atrocity unfolds itself before our eyes.
Our and other governments took this decision because although they believe in the efficacy of force and have spent millions providing themselves with armaments and armies, they feared that intervention would lead to a war whose dangers were incalculable and whose benefits were doubtful. They saw indeed that in this instance, violence was not the way to peace or justice. It is also true that they were scared of a conflict they might lose and thought Ukraine an acceptable price to pay for peace.
I say that we feel guilty but we did not feel any guilt when the same Russians invaded Syria on behalf of a government even more loathsome that its own, murdering thousands of innocent people and destroying the means of life for thousands more. Somehow Syrians were not as photogenic as Ukrainians. Nor did we feel guilty when it became clear that the Chinese government was killing, torturing and re-educating millions of Uighurs in a remote area of their own country. In fact, we have worked hard at forgetting this fact while we continue to do civilised business and cultural exchanges with people who may yet invade Taiwan. Our horror, it seems, owes more to press coverage than we like to think.
It seems likely now that whether the fighting lasts a shorter or longer time, it will end with Ukraine having to accept some measure of Russian domination. As one who has argued the wisdom of Jesus’ non- violence, I take no pleasure now in pointing out that Ukraine could have obtained this same result without war, without the death and maiming of its soldiers, without the wholesale destruction of its cities and the lives of many of its civilians. Yes, they would have to have endured Russian domination, trying to protect themselves against the abuse of their democracy, but now, after all their courageous fighting, they will still have to do that.
The story of Jesus, we often forget, is set in an occupied nation, dominated by a world superpower, whose people ultimately took to armed rebellion against their overlords, and were viciously defeated and destroyed. The assemblies of followers of the non-violent Jesus, on the other hand, expanded throughout the empire by peaceful means and cunning. Ukraine may yet do the same, with the support of other nations.
That support, as the economic, commercial and cultural isolation of Russia, constituting a powerful persuasion against injustice, may yet do more to control Putin than any armed intervention. If so, it may reveal the efficacy of well-devised persuasion as an alternative to war. That in turn would suggest that what has been recognised as Jesus’ sacrificial ethic, is in fact a profound and practical wisdom.