Ukraine Deserves American Support
By David DemingThere’s a video currently circulating on social media that has been the subject of much discussion. In it, a 27-year-old “mixed martial artist” named Bryce Mitchell who competes in a sporting event called the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” asserts loudly and clearly that he doesn’t support US intervention in the Russia-Ukraine war because “I don’t know what’s going on over there.” This viewpoint seems to have resonated with a lot of people, people understandably sick and weary of the US wasting lives and money in what seems like an endless chain of fruitless foreign wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
If you don’t understand the situation, I agree: you should suspend judgment. But I can’t do that, because I have a pretty good idea of “what’s going on.” I was born in 1954. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. And I know some of the history of Russian aggression.
At the end of WW2, the US and its allies rebuilt the defeated countries of Japan and Germany. We blessed them with self-governing representative democracies that allowed their people to have as much personal freedom as was compatible with their culture and traditions. In contrast, Russia occupied the countries of Eastern Europe, enslaved their peoples, and formed a totalitarian empire, the Soviet Union.
The Russians have a long history of sending in tanks to crush rebellions. In 1956, the people of Hungary revolted against their communist occupiers. Soviet troops invaded and put down the rebellion. Twenty-five hundred Hungarians were killed. Two-hundred thousand people fled as refugees. I personally know two Hungarian refugees, one a freedom fighter, another who dodged landmines to cross a snow-covered border in winter as a teenager. In 1968, the citizens of Czechoslovakia instituted reforms granting their citizens greater freedoms of expression and travel. The Russians responded by sending in 250,000 troops and 2,000 tanks. Czechoslovakian freedom was throttled and the communist dictatorship reinstated. The most infamous example of the Iron Curtain was the Berlin Wall. At least a hundred people were murdered by East German communists because they attempted to cross the wall to freedom in West Berlin. The Russians build walls to keep people in. Americans build walls to keep people out. There’s a big difference.
The Ukrainian government has claimed that Russia is intentionally bombing non-military structures such as hospitals and schools and killing civilians. Some Americans are skeptical, regarding this claim as wartime propaganda. But history tells us otherwise. In Budapest in 1956, Russian tanks went up and down streets, destroying civilian housing and murdering innocent people to punish them for rebelling against communist tyranny. Killing civilians is standard practice for the Russian army.
Russian atrocities did not begin with WW2. In 1932-33, Josef Stalin intentionally killed millions of Ukrainians by starving them to death in the Holodomor. The brutality of the Russian government extends to its own citizens. As famously documented by Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, political dissidents were interned in forced labor camps known as gulags. By 1940, the number of people imprisoned in gulags was 1.5 million. Many of them were literally worked to death.
Bryce Mitchell also stated that we shouldn’t fight wars for the benefit of politicians. I agree with that. But this war isn’t about that. It’s about liberty. It’s about a people fighting for freedom, the same way we did more than two hundred years ago. Liberty is an inalienable human right. It’s not just the exclusive right of Americans. There can be no doubt that corruption exists in Ukraine, it’s a cultural norm that pervades the entire society. But the existence of corruption doesn’t invalidate a people’s right to liberty. This right is inalienable, and cannot be lost or waived for any reason. And Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is indisputably incorruptible. Given the opportunity to flee, he instead chose to stay and fight to the death.
Putin has declared that Ukraine has no historical existence separate from Russia. This absurd claim is refuted by the existence of the Ukrainian language. Putin further claims that he’s invading Ukraine to “deNazifi” it. Are there Nazis in Ukraine? Of course there are. There are Nazis in every country, including the US. It is irrational to characterize an entire nation by a miniscule segment of the population. If Nazis had any influence in Ukraine, Ukraine would not have a Jewish President.
Every nation, including Russia, has a right to be concerned about its security. But Russia doesn’t need to invade Ukraine to secure their sovereignty. Russia’s security is guaranteed beyond all doubt by its vast nuclear arsenal. Putin professes a concern that Russia is becoming encircled by NATO. But the invasion of Ukraine has only succeeded in strengthening NATO. Germany is increasing its military budget, and public opinion in both Finland and Sweden is shifting to favor membership in NATO.
If Ukraine continues to fight and receive support from NATO, it cannot lose. As of 2020, the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of thirty NATO countries was 44.5 trillion US dollars. Russia’s GDP was $1.6 trillion, 27 times smaller. Russia is weak. Should Russia choose to fight NATO, they would squashed like a bug. So long as the Ukrainians are resolved to resist, and are supplied by NATO, they cannot lose. The fighting in Ukraine may continue for years, but Russian defeat is inevitable. And once Ukraine is victorious, not one iota of economic sanctions should be lifted until Russia surrenders its entire nuclear arsenal. Russia does not deserve to have, and cannot be trusted with, nuclear weapons. It’s a totalitarian state ruled by a tyrant.
Dr. Deming is professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma.