Ukraine and its people, military and civilian, are fighting for their lives. Clearly, Ukraine posed no threat to Russia. This irrefutable fact has led to countless “What does Putin want with Ukraine?” opinion pieces. Is it their iron ore, their titanium and other natural resources? 

The usual answer, and it basically channels the history of the world, international conflicts-wise, is: “They have it, we want it, and we’re going to take it.” If you believe that, then you need to brush up on 20th-century history.

As I write this, the day after President Biden’s State of the Union address, I’d say that Ukraine has pretty much been told (implicitly), you’re astounding defiance and bravery against a much larger, more well equipped army, while inspirational, will play out absent any direct military combat support from the U.S., or the rest of the subscribed NATO nations (in which you have no standing). 

Oh, there are sanctions that will damage Russia and its oligarchs, but we, the West, cannot literally commit troops to bolster your defenses. You’re not entitled to be served or saved by anything more than proscribed sanctions and harsh words read off of teleprompters, especially by the country with the most sophisticated and well-financed army in world, the country that was, during the Cold War and is now, the one country that Russia need fear the most.

So why can’t NATO simply make Ukraine an overnight member of its organization? Oh, right, because if that were the case, then those Ukrainian men, women and children would get the military backup that is both militarily and morally demanded. Ah, but the U.S., for the first time since World War II, would deploy its military to truly fight for democracy, rather than as a sickening proxy-program that enriches the military-industrial complex (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).

But right now, that’s a ballistic bridge too far. All those nukes on their and our side. It’s not really our fight.

Or is it? Ukraine is now the proxy country. But it’s Russia doing the direct damage, not Vietnam, et al. Putin wants his Soviet Union back. If we let him destroy Ukraine (an inevitability given the David vs Goliath matchup), he won’t stop there. Why would he since his threat to use a nuke clearly has the West on its heels? It’s the Cold War redux, folks. We stopped Russia when they put missiles in Cuba in 1962 (and nuclear war hung in the balance). Ukraine is a long way from Cuba, but it may as well also be just 90 miles offshore. This is a turning and tipping point in history. Nukes (we and Russia each have over 5,000 of them) are forevermore going to be a clear and present danger. The world has to live with that fact. 

Regardless, Putin must be stopped right now. The people of Ukraine cannot be used as pawns in some cynical game of appeasement and military magical thinking. Sorry, they’re not a member of NATO? So what! Ukraine needs help.

Recall FDR invoking, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Are we going to let Putin count on his fear-mongering threats to ensure a virtual repeat of Hitler’s monstrous ambitions? This is the U.S.’s fight, whether or not anyone wants to admit it. If not now, then it definitely will be eventually, but only after the brave people of Ukraine are sacrificed on the altar of empty rhetoric and stale platitudes.

Joe Harrington, an Oak Park resident, lived through the Cold War and served in Vietnam.

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