It is written in the Talmud, that “when a man saves a life, it is as if he has saved the whole world.” The concept doesn’t transpose well into the political arena.
A society which lives in a state of war – as Ukrainians do both in the free and occupied areas of Ukraine – must prioritize the preservation of the state. The imposition of martial law becomes a comfort, as one can outsource the personal responsibility for what must be done to the nation. How else can one muster the strength to collectively sacrifice lives together with other compatriots?
For nearly two years, the Ukrainian Army has been hurling ordnance at its own land, which is now occupied by the Russian Army.
Meanwhile, in the Holy Land, Israel now embarks upon yet another effort to restore legitimacy and legality in Gaza at the cost of thousands of lives. The grumblings are starting in the West. The war-weary world wonders if a Carthaginian peace (Cartago delenda est – Carthage must be destroyed) might be a preferable compromise to upholding the principles of sovereign statehood in Ukraine and nationhood in the Middle East.
It’s a recusant thought which creeps into the air-raid shelters and the drinking dens and, gradually, the NGOs and the parliaments: How do we weigh the value of a state against the loss of human lives necessary to preserve it?
The weak men who struck compromises with the devil in the past – such as the likes of General Wojciech Jaruzelski and other communist apparatchiks in Poland after the Second World War, Gustáv Husák in Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring of 1968, and János Kádár in Hungary after the Revolution of 1956 – arguably preserved the peace. But it is sheer grandiosity to think that these quislings stood with justice or virtue while, under each and every one of their regimes, dissenters faced prison and even death in order to liberate their countries from occupation.
Such is also the case today in the five Ukrainian oblasts where millions of Ukrainians live under occupation. Members of various underground resistance groups, such as Atesh, continue to sabotage the invader, while other dissidents have either been arrested or killed by Vladimir Putin’s murderous troops.
Facing the choice between adopting the mentality of quislings or continuing the struggle for preserving the independence of states, either way, we will have to look these heroes in the face when it’s over and it won’t be good enough to tell them that we gave up the fight to protect them while they themselves were prepared to go on to the end. The shame will not be that of political humiliation, either – but of human failing.
By way of a non-political analogy, a Polish family has recently been beatified by the Catholic Church for sheltering Jews in their home during World War II. When their scheme was tragically discovered, Josef and Wiktoria Ulma were shot along with their seven children and all the Jews whom they were sheltering from almost certain death.
Arguably, the Ulma children were sacrificed to their parents’ Christian principles and the family’s act of resistance contributed nothing to the war effort. Not a single life was saved – let alone the entire world.
The Ulmas, of course, were guided by the ethic of a kingdom that was “not of this world” (according to Christ in the Gospel of John).
Yet for the doubters and secularists and atheists, judgment upon us on in this world will be brutal enough when we have to look the heroes of occupied Ukraine in the face and explain that we thought their plight to be futile. The Poles will certainly never agree to such a path.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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