Lesson from Ukraine

After Pablo Picasso received word that Nazi dive bombers, flying on behalf of Franco’s Nationalist forces, had destroyed a city in the Basque country of his native Spain, he was inspired to memorialize the devastation. 

The result, a huge mural on canvas, would become a commemoration of the horror of modern warfare.  

He called his work “Guernica.”

Today we see the equivalent of Guernica live on round-the-clock news. So our challenge becomes how we should react.

Our response

The human reaction, of course, is to sympathize with the Ukrainians whose worlds have been turned upside down. When we see footage of this disruption, we empathize. The video of the little boy walking all by himself into Poland is etched in our hearts. His tears may have moved us to tears. 

How we mobilize can take many different forms. First, it will be to stay vigilant and keep abreast of the news for some. Others will want to donate to reputable organizations that are actively using their funds to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the Ukrainians, both inside and outside of their homeland.

The Polish people have been exceptionally generous. They, whose people have known centuries of war, are opening their borders to Ukrainians. The refugees are given food, water, and toiletries at the train stations. At one point, authorities said they did not need shelters for the newcomers because many Poles were opening their homes to Ukrainians.

And it’s not just the Poles. One news report show told the story of a 75-year old widower who resided in a border town in Moldova. He had taken in a mother, her pregnant daughter, and two children. He told the reporter that these refugees could stay as long as they wanted.

It should be noted that few, if any of these Ukrainians, are seeking a better life outside of their country. They have been displaced, but they are not seeking a replacement country. Their loyalty, commitment, and love of country are something to admire.

Sacrifice writ large

Reflecting on the trauma overseas gives us a window into a fortitude. Ukrainian men are staying to fight; in fact, all men between 18 and 60 must remain in-country if they are needed for national service.

Service to the nation is the highest calling of a patriot. Flying a flag may make us feel good. However, lifting a weapon in defiance is an act of resistance with life and death consequences.

As we in the West look at the unfolding catastrophe, we are wise to consider what we would do in similar circumstances. Sacrifice for the greater good is heroic. It requires bravery.

“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency,” wrote the poet Maya Angelou. “We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” And the people of Ukraine—and their neighbors–are giving us an example of what it means to live these words.

First posted on Forbes.com 3/10/2022