Life During Wartime

Screengrab of a video of Ukrainians taking shelter in a Kharkiv subway as Russian bombs fall on the city.

The attack on Ukraine has begun, and it is definitely a time of uncertainty and fear. A good look at what it is like inside is here:

This is a combination of heartbreaking and surreal. Some people going to work, some people bugging out. I thought, of course, some people would go to work if America is attacked, for the combination of necessary services still needed and, well, think about some aspects of American business leadership. The heartbreaking ranges from just the general feeling of terrified humanity that you always find in war, to a reservist on his way to report for duty worried about his pets.

There are, of course, those on the left who refused to see what was happening, denied an invasion was going to happen for whatever reason. And still don’t. There really is this bizarre impulse to defend Putin, a man who oversees a fossil-fuel economy, has a long history as a climate-change denier, and a terrible record on LGBTQ rights, among other things. It also raises questions about how one can be anti-war but blame Ukraine for this. But I think this is overblown, as these misguided people have no real power in the United States and to say they all represent “the left” is nonsense hippie punching.

There are, however, people with power on the right who are all-in with the entire thing. This, for example, is quite a statement by an ex-president. Steve Bannon, who is basically cosplaying Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch’s version of “Dune,” and War Profiteer Erik Prince say we should support Russia because they are anti-woke. They are much closer to the GOP mainstream than say Jill Stein is to the Democrats. Republicans politicians, for the most part, seem to be saying the right things this morning but they also did so on January 7, 2021.

Putin made it clear that this isn’t just about eastern Ukraine (they’ve already broken that promise by attacking almost the entire country) nor is it really about Ukraine and NATO. In a bizarre speech Monday, he seemed to indicate he wants to return to not the Cold War era, but the Tsarist era. In one speech, he pretty much blew up any defense of him as a man put out by the threat to his west. Of course, he knows there will be people won’t hear that part of it, because he’s a man who will say anything because he knows, in a deep way, that it won’t matter because of the era we’re currently in.

We are in an era where truth and reality are negotiable. We’ve seen plenty of New York Times headlines that are so focused on “BOTH SIDES” that there are multiple versions of “Experts say the Earth is round. But some disagree.” We have freedom of speech, but these people take advantage of that, forcing us to do some hard thinking, from Joe Rogan and pandemic misinformation to banning Donald Trump from Twitter. What happens when a freedom becomes a club wielded by bad actors? It’s a frightening thought that I don’t think all that many people considered.

This is driven by social media, of course. Social media enables bots and regular people to share misinformation faster than pre-social media, constantly proving that giving humanity social media was like giving excitable toddlers a can of gas and a book of matches. Plus, thanks to webcams, you can watch the events unfold in real-time while a constant stream of complete insanity (the comments) scroll by to the right.

Who knows where we go next with this. It ranges from bad to unthinkable. But here we are, a war in Europe with scenes that look depressingly and strangely like what we saw in WWII.

The last word goes to Talking Heads, a sadly appropriate song for the moment.



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