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What do we care if Putin invades Ukraine? What if we don’t?

"War, children
It's just a shot away.
It's just a shot away."

— Rolling Stones

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the ensuing and needless slaughter of thousands of soldiers and civilians, seems all but inevitable now.

"So, what do I care?" some of us may be asking ourselves. "It's not our fight."

I get it. Maybe you don't follow a lot of news from overseas, or the machinations of global politics. You're not alone. Most Americans don't.

It's not as if we don't have enough to worry about here at home — a deadly pandemic, accelerating inflation, a rise in hate crimes, the right-wing war on women, the existential threat of climate change, and, not to mention, our daily struggle just to pay the bills, raise our kids, and keep food on the table.

So, why should we care if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders 150,000 troops to invade a much weaker neighbor that poses absolutely no threat to Russia or anyone else for that matter?

We should care because, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., an attack on democracy anywhere is an attack on democracy everywhere.

Even if we don't send American troops to fight and die in Ukraine — President Biden has pledged he won't — a fight to preserve Ukraine's democracy is our fight, too.

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Not that Ukraine is exactly a model for democracies around the world. The country has problems, like the outsized power of its oligarchs and rampant corruption.

Then again, we don't have a lot to crow about these days, either. The fascist attack at the Capitol on January 6 and the continuing push by Republicans to restrict voting rights, if nothing else, have proven how vulnerable our cherished system of government actually is.

Consider that one-third of Americans, without evidence, still believe President Biden stole the 202o election from former President Donald Trump. And tens of millions of the former president's followers probably wouldn't complain a whole helluva lot if he or one of his political clones were to break any number of election laws to return Republicans to power.

Nevertheless, I remain convinced that a strong majority of Americans still value the basic freedoms that most of us have come to enjoy and exercise, especially since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts more than 50 years ago.

You don't have to be an expert on the Bill of Rights to recognize and appreciate our most basic freedoms, all of which find their roots in the First Amendment.

It's because of the First Amendment that we have a right to freedom of speech and a free press; a right to practice our chosen religion or not practice a religion at all; and the right to "peaceably assemble" and criticize our government leaders when we think they're doing something wrong, like violating our rights.

Putin, of course, hates democracy, and especially American democracy, because he hates sharing power at home or anywhere on the planet for that matter. And he hates any claims to rights like free speech or assembly or religion or a right to bear arms or equal justice, because they all challenge the absolute power of dictators — like Putin, and his bestie-partner in anti-democratic crime, President Xi Jinping of China, who's busy these days crushing democracy in Hong Kong. But that's another story.

The fact is that invading Ukraine wouldn't make Russia richer. It wouldn't grow Russia's military might. And it wouldn't even come close to returning Russia to the purported grandeur of communist-era Soviet Union.

So, why bother to invade?

Never underestimate the capacity, whether for good or evil, of a single human being's thirst for the kind of power that changes the course of history.

Putin is a morally bankrupt evil genius, and he can't stand that Russia may never return to its glory days (certainly not in his lifetime), or that his legacy will pale in comparison to history's true giants.

Ultimately, Putin is a small and vindictive man, not unlike his favorite American puppet, Trump, who would love nothing more to return to his perch in the White House and rule, like Putin, unchallenged for the rest of his life.

The irony is that even as Biden and our NATO allies threaten to unleash massive economic sanctions against Russia if Putin follows through on its unspoken but very real threat to crush Ukraine's young democracy, Trump loyalists are plotting to take over ours.

It's telling, but unsurprising, that Trump has said nothing at all about the imminent threat that Putin could order his troops to invade Ukraine at any moment.

That's the thing about puppets: they only talk when the puppet master pulls their strings.

So, what do we care if Putin invades Ukraine?

The better question: What if we don't?

This opinion piece was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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