Opinion: We must maintain our humanity while fighting Russia | The mail

By Robert Pawlicki InsideSources.com

It has been two decades since we had Ukrainian guests in our house. My wife and I hosted many former guests from the Soviet Union as part of a State Department program to enhance understanding and nation building. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought these visitors back.

Our impression was that our visitors from Russia and Ukraine were like us — white, with a Christian history. Their clothes may have been in different styles, but most were educated, cordial, and sought similar life goals. We had no hesitation in having them stay with us for several weeks while they met business counterparts during the day. Our dinner conversations flowed easily and were interesting. We saw no impediment to having them as friends.

The dominant themes were concerns about employment, family and the future of their children. Our curiosity about politics was obvious but no more prevalent than discussing just navigating life’s hardships and inconveniences.

Ukrainians were among the many visitors from the former Soviet Union. Most of our guests turned into a similarity in our memories except for one notable feature. Every non-Russian categorically wanted to differentiate their country from the former Soviet Union. Home loyalty was local and robust, whether in Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and other countries. Confusing them with Russians was met with a vigorous negative response.

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We have lost contact with our Ukrainian friends, but they are in our hearts. We hope they will remember us, the stories, the laughter and the food we shared. We also hope they will remember our decency and the principles we shared as Americans who believed in freedom and the rights of all.

Our Russian guests are also out of contact. We hope that they too will remember our faith in freedom and in the rights of all. We hope these memories deflect the lies and propaganda they are most likely to hear and share with others what they saw face to face when they were with us.

We believe this is Vladimir Putin’s war, not the war of all Russian people. There is no doubt that a significant number (probably an overwhelming majority by now) have bought into Putin’s lies, and we must temporarily consider those who act aggressively as our enemies. In a sense, they too are victims.

Yet it is often difficult to have opposing thoughts. One thought is to believe that all Russians are our enemies since Russia invaded Ukraine. Alternatively, we can assume that under Putin’s leadership, the Russians are both victims and aggressors. This last point of view is more difficult to accept, but it is more correct than to view all Russians gloomily.

It is difficult to separate the people of a nation from its leaders in times of war. We hated the Germans in WWII (Krauts) and the Japanese (Japs), demonizing them in every way possible. More than 70 years later, we now visit their countries, admire their culture, and welcome their citizens as immigrants to the United States.

We understand that the atrocities they committed were not innate but were the result of despicable and evil rulers who rose up to dominate other countries for their benefit. They manipulated their citizens by suppressing information and distorting reality, the same traits evident in Putin.

Confronting aggression with force is wise. But it is important not to become barbaric in our attitude towards people who, in time, will again be perceived as human.

There are reasons why we are a member of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. They commit us to respecting standards of behavior that we aspire to respect. Our goal is to tend towards the best angels of our nature and to act with humanity in the face of cruelty and barbarism. It is these intentions that we hope will differentiate us from Vladimir Putin.

The idealized vision of our country is civilized, just and benevolent. An attitude separating Putin’s war from all Russian citizens is a worthy goal to advance towards this ideal.

Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and frequent contributor to the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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