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 we get her out?”
I started looking up rules on asylum visas to try to get them here because I have no idea how that works and no clue if it would apply in this situation. We started talking about going to an EU country with them. They have the needed biometric passports; they could stay there with us for up to 90 days without a visa. Maybe that’s all we’d need, but then again, only her immediate family has EU-approved passports. The rest don’t. So, how many do we try to get out? How many do we try to save? Are we selfish for only trying to get our family out and not try to save others? Should they stay and fight if they are able? Is that the right thing to do? We didn’t know.
These are questions I never thought I’d have to answer in my lifetime and the questions I read about others having to ask themselves in the 1930s-40s with another megalomaniac starting a war in Europe.
My wife’s family is safe as of this writing, but they can hear air raid sirens and gunshots where they are. Her aunt fled Kyiv in the night with her children, having to divert around bombed bridges to try to get to her family. What did any of them or any other Ukrainian do to deserve this? They dared to exist and border along Russia. They dared to say, “We want a free, democratic country.” They dared to say, “We want to be part of a modern world.” The people of Ukraine have spoken time and again, and in their sovereign borders, they have chosen democracy.
You’ve undoubtedly heard people say that this isn’t just an invasion of Ukraine. This is an invasion into the human psyche already made fragile by an American megalomaniac for 4 years, who still has supporters claiming the 2020 election was stolen from him. It wasn’t. Move the fuck on. It’s an invasion into democracy and freedom. Yes, it’s an invasion physically of one country, but what happens in the next few days will reverberate here in the States, in Europe, and everywhere around the world.
To these heroes in Ukraine right now, fighting in the streets for your land, your homes, your families, your way of life, your country, I say to you: Keep fighting! Do not listen to the lies he tells. If I could be there with you to fight alongside you, I would. My wife would. You are strong! You are brave! To those soldiers only trying to protect their country – you are heroes. To the mothers holding your babies in your arms while you’re forced to sleep in subway stations and underground parking garages – you are heroes. Hold those babies tight. One day, you will tell them about how you and your fellow citizens stood up to a man who craved power so much, he tried to take something that wasn’t his to begin with. Remember, he can’t EVER take your spirit. To the people lining up in bulk to voluntarily sign up to resist and fight – you are heroes. He can’t ever take Ukraine from you. To the territorial defenders and civilian people helping all around – you are heroes. Keep the people around you, who crave peace, safe.
To the guards on a tiny Ukrainian Snake Island in the Black Sea, who told “Russian warship” to go fuck yourself – you will be remembered. Your people will never forget your battle cry when you were doing your jobs and NOT asking for war. You knew what would happen, and you didn’t let them win. That’s a kind of bravery most of us will never truly understand. You are heroes, and your words and spirit are with every Ukrainian right now, keeping them in this fight.
To the media reporting facts, please keep doing this. The world (including those in Russia who didn’t vote or ask for this) needs to see what is really happening right now.
To my wife, who hasn’t slept in days, who has been glued to her phone and computer, reporting people who are spreading lies on social media and revealing materials on Ukrainian military positions, endangering the lives of soldiers and civilians alike – baby, I am so sorry you have to go through this and that your family is right in the middle of it. I wish there was more we could do. I wish I could just make this all go away, but I know you’ll keep fighting however you can, too, because you have that strong Ukrainian spirit inside you as well.
To the megalomaniac who has decided that now is his “time to shine,” this will be your long-awaited demise. The world sees you. It doesn’t fucking like you. Your people are using their voices. They’re on the streets risking beatings, jail, and death to stop you. Your athletes are saying no to war on camera, making their positions clear. People like my wife are fighting from afar. Lights in cities around the world are yellow and blue. Your legacy will be nothing but war and revolution to overtake you. Your power will be non-existent. To you, I also say, you clearly have no understanding of human behavior. When you come for someone like you’re coming for Ukraine right now – they don’t cower in fear. They get ANGRY. We’ve seen it time and again throughout the history you keep trying to rewrite. People sign up voluntarily to join the fight. They go to the factories and work to produce everything needed to win on the front lines and at home. They take to the streets to learn how to fire weapons. This really shouldn’t surprise you, but when you live in an alternate reality where you believe yourself to be a god, it does surprise you because you can’t understand what it’s like to have to fight for everything your whole life.
To that megalomaniac, I say, “Go fuck yourself.”
Now, let’s get back in the fight.