The Allure of the Distant Battle
A perceived enemy afar can cause us to lose sight of the battles that must be waged close to home.
At a few social gatherings of late, whenever the topic should meander towards politics, the issue of the Ukraine-Russia saga emerges, in which all of those who utter comment decide to re-invent themselves with surprising confidence as experts in the foreign policy of the region. One thing that I have noticed with fascination is how upbeat the conversation becomes. The topic seems to release an energy from within the speakers.
It’s generally the norm that politics will appear in group conversations sooner or later, at least because my career choice as a cultural commentator is inevitably raised. The modern topics of our age are generally negative, so people don’t like to discuss them for long. For example: There’s a genuine fear of food shortages, which has been confirmed rather than assuaged by our President, a sense of loss in regards to the Christian faith that once undergirded the West, and some degree of helplessness about the inability to steer the culture back onto the right course. Then the Russia-Ukrainian War emerges as a conversation fixture, and suddenly, the room brightens. People are uplifted. But why?
I don’t think the story that we discuss at such gatherings is reflective of the one that is taking place, but rather a simplified story that people believe because it makes their little corner of the world make sense: the big country is a bully who is attacking the little country, and we, like the noble people we are, are rushing to help the vulnerable innocent country. There’s a unifying force in facing a common enemy. Moreover, the war is on the other side of the world. Few think that they will experience its effects outside of an increase in gas prices, or a few empty shelves, which they became accustomed to during the widespread covid mismanagement. Nobody expects bombs to strike their cities, and for those and similar reasons, they’re all in favor of this war being fought in the faraway world.
The support is almost nationalistic in feel. We’re the “good guys”, acting as big brother to the videos of Ukraine’s victims. Anyone attempting to provide more even-handed coverage is silenced. On the Internet, the place we once saw two decades ago as a safety net from the overseers who wish to control our news, the overlords of the popular narrative have shown their modern power and made their pronouncements clear. Those who defend Russia in any regard (or who are even inclined to give Russia a fair hearing) will be banned as dupes of propaganda or hucksters of misinformation. Those who seek an infantile view of the war, with Ukraine as an idealized victim, must do so at the expense of the free expression of anyone else. If your position demands the silencing of your detractors, then you stand on an unsteady foundation. Nobody asks why we don’t have a shared sense of outrage when Yemen is attacked, or when Christians in China are used as forced organ donors.
Ultimately, most of us play no real role in the Russia-Ukraine war, aside from acting as morally indignant cheerleaders. It seems that’s what everyone wants to do. It’s the modern version of fighting for justice. If you can’t be a victim, stand in support of one, as if you yourself were aggrieved to the same degree, but don’t actually do anything to merit sympathy or accolades.
The trouble with all of this is that we have battles closer to home. People are right to feel a bit melancholy about the situation we’re in on the home front, but some indignation would be helpful too, at least if it could rouse people into action. With the issues that are close to home though, we feel a sense of futility, or even guilt, about what needs to be done; about which duties we have shirked; we may even recoil when we see the resistance we’d face if we actually took a stand against people who could see us. If the battle is far away, our duty is accomplished with indignation alone, but that’s not going to win the culture war.
Your quiet indignation isn’t enough to save the kids who are now on hormone replacement drugs because they’ve been convinced by those bound to educate them that they’re fundamentally broken. It isn’t enough to protect the graves that are under attack by anti-Christians who are offended by the very notion of a cross in a public graveyard. It won’t be enough to defend the Christian-owned businesses throughout America and the West who are facing lawsuits and potential shutdown for their faith, leaving us all with no parallel economy at all. It’s certainly not enough to defend the unborn.
There is, however, an uplifting side to all of this. These things are close enough to us that we can, in fact, make an impact, most especially if we target these problems on a local level rather than a national one. A teacher who is exposing kids to degenerate materials probably won’t care about what’s being said on the national stage or even in the Washington Post, but he can be made to care about the picketing parents outside the school, or those who show up at school board meetings, or those who distribute information about what he’s teaching in the classroom amongst other parents and local lawyers. The same can be said for local elected representatives, who know just how easily they can be replaced, because every vote matters in a small town.
Our efforts need not be limited to fighting against causes that we oppose. We can help each other too, and support local businesses that are starting up, considering starting, or which have been standing their ground through turbulent times. We can produce co-ops, fellowship groups, and volunteer networks that take action and which lift each other during times of darkness.
Keeping our eyes affixed on the battles on the other side of the world is a tempting proposition, for dangerously nurtured, it strokes a nationalistic pride while causing undeserved contentment, but more importantly, it blinds us to what is happening right before us, as police departments are given training on critical race theory and kids are set on paths that will lead to isolation and despair. Let’s not abandon our communities while we cheer for distant war.