Doesn’t it always seem to begin with a megalomaniac’s quest for power and desire to have statues made in his likeness? If we go back in time and think about all the wars that have ever been, I wonder what the percentage would be. A man wants more land, more power, to claim something over another man, to take, to take, to take, and to make false claims and reinvent history along the way.
If you’ve read my blog on book banning or subscribed to my newsletter and heard me tell the story of how "Around the World" came from my studying of the Holocaust since I was a little kid, you already know how I feel about what’s going on in Ukraine. But let me tell you a little more of the story.
My wife is Ukrainian. We met online years ago, and when neither of us thought it would be possible to be together due to the distance, we managed to make it work. At the end of 2016, I went to visit her in Ukraine. We spent time in Lviv, the capital Kyiv (not Kiev), and the small village she grew up in with her family. She grew up in the post-Soviet era and in a free Ukraine. Her parents hadn’t. They all desired a free Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine, and NO war.
When I was in Kyiv, my wife showed me Maidan Square and told me of the non-violent protests that had been held there in 2014 that turned violent because of a pro-Russia regime that was later ousted. That “president” fled his golden palace and the people re-took their country. My future wife, whom I hadn’t met yet at that point, was walking home in Kyiv when this was going on. Over here in America, I saw the news but had only tangentially paid attention. I didn’t know anyone in Ukraine. It was such a far-off place that it didn’t register to me to pay attention, because that’s who we are as humans; all of us. The closer it is to us, the more we pay attention.
We also walked the World War II Museum, which is partially outdoors there, and the events that feel so long ago became suddenly present-day to me as I saw the old tanks and heavy machinery existing there to be a reminder to all of us of wars past and telling us, “Never Again.” But we never listen. We forget. Something new happens that shifts our attention. COVID this time, or maybe the election in the US. There’s smoke. There are mirrors. We fall for it every time. A megalomaniac takes advantage of these moments. Some of us remember, though. Some of us pay attention.
There’s a playbook for war. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice it. Perhaps, you did. Perhaps, you saw what the megalomaniac did in Georgia in 2008, or what he did to annex parts of sovereign Ukraine in 2014. Does that remind you of Hitler taking Czechoslovakia and Poland? Maybe you remember the word appeasement from your grade school history class, like I do, where your teacher said, “We kept appeasing him. We kept giving him what he wanted.” Maybe you didn’t quite understand that word back then, but it stuck out to you. It did to me.
I’ve been to the Babi Yar in Kyiv, where einzatzgruppen killed over 30,000 Jews/Ukrainians over two days. Just the fact that I know how to spell the word einzatzgruppen without having to look it up should tell you something – I’ve read this playbook before. We all have. There’s a reason the megalomaniac is called Little Hitler now. But please, Little Hitler, tell more of your impossible lies about how Ukraine is a Nazi-state. No one believes you.
Over the past several months, my wife has been living in fear. Her entire family is in Ukraine. We’ve not stopped watching the news, scrolling endlessly to try to find out what people in the intelligence community were saying about the likelihood of an invasion. Every night at dinner, we’d talk about this. One night, we’d talk about when he’d actually do it. The next night, we’d talk about how we could possibly get her family to safety if we had to. It’s been going on like that for me for months, but for my wife and her family, this has been going on for years. That’s why you’ve heard Ukrainians on the news saying they weren’t scared – they were exhausted. This has been their life because megalomaniacs love fear. They love that exhaustion. They thrive on it. Over the past few weeks, the fear and the anger has intensified.
We were supposed to finally visit her family this year, and we’d been putting off buying tickets because of this. My wife hasn’t seen her family in years due to COVID, and when we were finally feeling like we could take the trip somewhat safely, we couldn’t because things slowly began to shut down. I told my wife we didn’t need to go crazy with worry until the US Embassy started evacuating. Then, that happened. Airlines stopped flying there. We couldn’t get to them if we wanted to or needed to. I started asking questions like, “Does your dad know anyone in Poland? He has a friend there, right? Can we at least get your little sister out? What about your aunt? She’s in Kyiv. Will she leave? Can