By the time this column is in print, I have no idea what will have happened in Ukraine.
What has happened is that we have been thrust into a new, strange version of the Cold War.
Most Boomers and Gen Xers grew up with the threat of nuclear war defining our youths. I was lucky enough to be born at the tail end of that era – my first political memory is the fall of the Berlin Wall when I was 11.
It was a hopeful era. We were swept along by the jubilant scenes of people dancing on the wall, attacking it with hammers, sweeping through suddenly empty border posts. There were awful atrocities over the following years – the Tienanmen Square massacre, the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia, and a few years later, another in Rwanda.
But there were also hopes that, broadly, things were getting better. Nelson Mandela went from prisoner of conscience to president of his country. Democracies sprang up across Eastern Europe. Germany re-united. The Czech Republic and Slovakia separated into peaceful neighbours. The threat of nuclear war abated, even if the missiles were still there, slumbering in their silos.
In retrospect, a lot of that optimism was naive.
One of the defining features of that era was a widespread belief that the democracy and capitalism had won, and that their victory was permanent.
Columnist Thomas Friedman epitomized this with his Golden Arches theory, the idea that no two countries with a McDonalds had ever, or would ever, fight a war.
This was the idea that national policy would be guided by enlightened self-interest. Countries that were deeply plugged into the worldwide network of exchange and trade – countries stable and prosperous enough to have McDonalds outlets, for example – would have every reason not to invade one another.
It would be too disruptive to prosperity.
There are, of course, plenty of McDonalds restaurants in both Russia and Ukraine.
Some people held to a version of this belief for 25 years, despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those didn’t count, somehow. Industrialized European countries just didn’t go to war with their neighbours. It couldn’t happen.
So right up until the moment the first Russian tanks rolled across the border, many thought that Putin wouldn’t do it.
Surely, he understood there would be sanctions and economic consequences!
There were economic consequences, far beyond what Putin probably expected. And yet, as of this writing, the tanks are rolling onward, and the bombs and shells are falling on Ukrainians.
I hope the war ends, soon. I hope the new Cold War thaws. I hope another generation doesn’t have to grow up worrying about nuclear war.
And I hope we remember next time that the world doesn’t get more peaceful on its own. Peace takes hard work, not just hope and some golden arches.
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