In the last edition of The Charger Bulletin Magazine, I wrote about the history of the conflict in Ukraine and predicted that it would become violent and involve military action. Well, that prediction was correct, as Russia has been invading Ukraine for 14 days now.
Government officials and journalists around the world have been trying to analyze this conflict and its potential outcome一based on military spending as well as the number of weapons, troops and casualties. In 2021, Russia spent an estimated $45.8 billion on its military, compared to Ukraine’s $4.7 billion. Russia has a combined active and reserve military personnel of 2,900,000, versus Ukraine’s 1,096,000. Russia also has more than five times the number of armored vehicles, and ten times the number of aircrafts.
Based on the numbers, it would make sense to predict that Russia will emerge victorious, and achieve their goal of establishing a puppet state in Ukraine. But these numbers only tell half the story. Consequently, I argue that wars are fought by the people and that public perception can lead to one’s triumph or defeat.
Public support can drastically improve a side’s chances of winning a war. For example, during the first two years of World War II, the United States was extremely hesitant to join. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed the tide, and the public perception, of the war.
For the first time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the support of the nation in joining the fight against Hitler and Nazi Germany. Americans from around the country worked to further the war effort by making bandages, buying war bonds, joining the workforce and rationing.
American patriotism encouraged our soldiers to fight and win. The allies would not have been able to win without the support of the United States, and therefore the American people.
Alternatively, the lack of public support can have catastrophic effects on a war effort. The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. While the effort to eliminate terrorism was initially well received and supported, American interest eventually faded.
Eventually, public opinion turned against the American presence in Afghanistan, and it was no longer justifiable or sustainable. After 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, the United States pulled out their troops in August 2021. The Afghani government fell to the Taliban shortly after, leaving the country no better off than when we entered. Had there been continued public support, both in the United States and Afghanistan, I believe this conflict would have gone much differently.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Russian troops bombed cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv, killing both Ukrainian troops and civilians. Initial reports believed that Ukraine would fall in less than 48 hours, but the Ukrainian people proved them wrong.
They did not capitulate or surrender. Instead, the country rallied around the leadership of Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and they fought back. Everyday people left their normal lives behind and stepped up to fight for their country and freedom. Men and women across the country have taken up arms and joined the armed forces. Those who couldn’t fight started helping in other ways, such as tending to the wounded or creating Molotov cocktails.
Instead of giving up, the people stood up against Putin’s troops and proved the world wrong. The Ukrainian people may have not started this conflict, but they will fight until it is finished. Just as wars before this, it has become a war of the people and the public. The people believe and so mountains are being moved, the impossible is being done. The will is here, so they will find a way.
The conflict in Ukraine has piqued international interest; social media is filled with words of support for Ukraine, diplomats are condemning Russian actions and countries have come together to provide material support to Ukraine and have placed the harshest sanctions on the Russian government. Certain Russian banks have been cut off from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (an international bank transfer system) and banned from the airspace of dozens of countries around the world. International corporations are halting all operations in Russia. Even the people of Russia are protesting in the streets. By March 7, more than 10,000 Russians had already been arrested for supporting Ukraine.
International support for Ukraine has been overwhelming, but support is not the same as winning; there is still an ongoing conflict regardless of the amount of international support. Public support is a fickle thing, one wrong move and it can dissipate just as quickly as it was mustered.
After World War II, the international community said “never again.” Never again would the world stand by and watch one country invade another. Never again would the world allow the senseless deaths of civilians and the separation of families. But over time, we have seen the world drop its guard. Genocides have occured in Rwanda, Armenia and Darfur and little action has been taken. Conflicts have continued in Israel, Syria and Sudan. Millions of people have died, and we have seen public support wane. But at some point we need to draw the line and say no more. Don’t let public support fade this time. Don’t let the world become complacent.
To those in Russia, I urge you to raise your voice in whatever way you can. I know that many of you do not agree with Putin’s actions, but may not feel safe speaking out. But change is not instantaneous. It is the result of single raindrops falling one after another after another until it is a hurricane. The storm has to start somewhere, with someone. It’s never easy, but the biggest and most impactful changes come from within.
We must continue to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom and sovereignty. We must denounce the illegal actions of the Russian government. We must condemn the war crimes occurring with every passing day. So, raise your voice to amplify theirs. Tell their story, don’t let these horrors go unseen. Democracy dies when the world goes silent. Freedom dies when the world looks away.