Why do we still Tolerate War?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

We had our opportunity to be those blessed peacemakers – this war never needed to happen. As troops gathered on the border of Ukraine, we had the power to stop this war from ever happening. All trade with Russia should have stopped until the tanks pulled back. All Russian money in foreign banks seized until the troops immobilised. The oil pipelines which supply a third of Europe’s oil cut off until Putin promised never to attack. Even in little old New Zealand we should have seized the assets of Russian billionaires – just last year one Oligarch invested 100 million dollars in Kiwibuild! In just one day the west could have crippled Russia’s economy, brought the country to its knees and they could well have abandoned the idea of war. With close to zero foreign trade and foreign money Russia couldn’t function and they would have been forced to withdraw. We could have not tolerated this war.

We don’t tolerate sexism, we don’t tolerate racism, we don’t tolerate homophobia.

But yes, we still tolerate war.

Still more shocking is that  is that even after the war began, we didn’t cut Russia off fullstop. It’s bizarre that with all the useless rhetoric “condemning” Putin and Russia, oil still freely flows down a 1200km pipe from Russia to Europe. Money still flows between American and Russian banks. Russian ambassadors still sit happilyin plush offices around the world. It’s a sick joke that Commercial airlines avoid Ukraine, while they still fly in and out of Moscow.

From Flightradar24.com, today.

Even the stock markets were surprised by how pathetic we were. Only a day after the start of a war, most global stock exchanges ROSE yesterday because they were surprised how light global sanctions were. Even cynical inverstors thought that perhaps the developed world would do better than business as usual – they were wrong.

Why is this? Why do we do nothing when we have so much power?  

We are far, far more selfish than we think we are.

We pretend to care that tens of thousands of people will die in Ukraine but we don’t really. We aren’t willing to sacrifice anything in order to live in a world where one country invading another without even a humanitarian pretense isn’t an option. Our Democracies therefore are working perfectly, responding to our selfishness. Our pragmatic governments know their citizens are selfish, so they leave Ukraine to rot. They know we would rise against them if oil prices went up 30% after we turned off the Russian tap. Biden bizarrely reassured us that “Our sanctions package is specifically designed to allow energy payments to continue”. They know we would vote them out next election if the world went into recession as it recovered from zero Russian trade. Our leaders know that our primary drive is to maximise our own pleasure and minimise our pain. They know the terrible truth that we tolerate war more than we tolerate inflicting even a little suffering on ourselves.

In Canada tens of thousands of people are protesting the government’s response to covid. In New Zealand the biggest protest in my lifetime is on the doors of parliament, and it’s mostly a selfish one. We used to protest about big stuff on behalf of other people. Against the Vietnam war, against apartheid in South Africa. Now all we can muster a decent protest about is the loss of minor freedoms.Where are the thousands of New Zealanders and Canadians banging down the parliament doors on behalf of innocent Ukrainians getting slaughtered? Where is the viral hashtag “NoWar” covering our social media feeds? Where are the journalists condemning our governments for their fatal inaction?

Many of us have foooled our selves that at the we really are caring, peaceloving people who would sacrifice something when the need arose. Climate change inaction should have already exposed this lie. Our response to the Ukraine invasion has proved it beyond doubt.

The myth of a progressive democratic utopian world is dead. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

At least we can take this opportunity to look in the mirror. Why do we still tolerate war? How can we do better? I’ll share three ideas. Yes they are flawed and naïve but perhaps someone will find them useful

1. Realise our own complicity. There are important societal awakenings of our complicity as individuals in issues like racial injustice and the climate crisis. The Ukraine war is no exception – we are part of what has allowed this to happen. Once we realise the ways our selfishness and greed play into the problem, we can find ways to be part of the solution. Am I willing to pay a price? Could I suffer higher petrol prices and inflation to make war less tolerable?

2. Bring the discussion home. It’s easy but perhaps not useful to obsess over the state of the war in Russia and muse about what might happen next. More useful would be to discuss what our own country could to do make the war end more quickly. Are there any Russian investments in our own country which could be targeted? Do our banks have interests in Russian oil? If we move the social and mainstream media discussion away from things we can’t change, and towards things we can then perhaps our politicians and government will feel more obliged to do more.

3. Revive the art of unselfish protest. Our current generation has become complacent in the art of peaceful, unselfish protest. We know from past efforts such as the global anti-Vietnam war protest and civil rights movements that when a significant minority rise up against complacent government, change can happen. If groups around the world protested against their government’s tolerance of war, then our democracy might be swayed away from complacency and towards action. Maybe oil pipelines could be cut. Maybe bank transfers could be stopped. Maybe we could move a step closer towards a world where war was finally intolerable.  

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

N.B: Here’s a couple more great suggestions from Dr. Peter Hill’s comment below

– For the prayers amongst us, we can ask for forgiveness where we are complicit, and pray that those in power would do the right thing, including or own leaders and the young president of Ukraine.

– Write to your local Member of parliament. If they know that we care, they might be more inclined to act.

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8 Responses to Why do we still Tolerate War?

  1. Sharyn says:

    Brilliant Nick couldn’t agree more. We have forgotten what happened when the world let Hitler invade Austria…

  2. Peter Hill says:

    Thanks Nick

    For this powerful piece. In it, you not only asked the question but also gave the answer.

    Around 40 years ago, ex neurologist Dr David Owen, when foreign secretary defended the British government’s poor overseas aid record by saying it was, “a democratic imperative.“ He wanted to do more but as a member of a government constrained by the people’s will, he was (if we believe in democracy) rightly unable to do more.

    The situation is probably more challenging now. Not only are most people unwilling to pay the price of doing the right things, even more people are ill informed. Even tertiary educated millennials who I know, never listen to the news but will get snippets of current affairs from social media and chat shows. Laura Kuenssberg, BBC chief political correspondent recently commented that Boris Johnson was facing real trouble because his challenges had made it onto the Ant and Dec Saturday TV show which has a greater audience than both ITV and BBC news channels put together.

    So what can we or more importantly I, do? First pray. I really don’t have it within me to pray for a nation but I can pray specifically for the young president of Ukraine. Folk who are better on their knees, will follow prompts of some powerful YouTube videos and pray for the whole nation. Second, we could write to our local MP. This would only help if we were in a Conservative held constituency. Where I live it is very red. Third. those of us who have means can make financial contributions to those who are providing humanitarian assistance. Finally, we can express the “why do we tolerate war“ view on our social media platforms.

    In reality, we are pretty powerless. It is an example of the biblical truth of “Original Sin.“ These lessons are never learnt corporately. I can remember watching a very powerful documentary on the Hiroshima bomb which ended with the statement that from this awful experience mankind will learn. I watched this the same week as when the war crime of the second Iraq war was launched. Mankind never learns.

    Thanks Nick for the reminder that we are all complicit.


    • ntlaing says:

      Thanks Pete, those are great insights and especially great suggestions – I’m going to add them to the article above as well.

      I wasn’t aware that the mainstream news had been so sidelined in England as well, that’s not good at all. And I agree that our generation is probably worse at paying a price to do the right thing, although that’s hard to quantify. I have more hope in the generation below us actually but we’ll see!

  3. Kaye says:

    Such a well written article Nick and, a reminder to us all that we must change our attitudes and actions in order to achieve peace in our world.🕊
    Thanks 🙏

  4. Myriam Cooke says:

    Feeling your heartache in this Nick. I’m feeling it too. Isn’t it crazy that I’d get put in jail if I killed someone, yet a leader like him can “plead guilty” publicly and nothing happens.
    Always appreciate your thoughts and political challenges as they get me thinking.

  5. ntlaing says:

    Thanks Myriam! Yes it’s a bizzare world where you get put in jail for shoplifting, but large scale fraud leading to financial crisis and murderous political decisions go unpunished. Ain’t a new problem either. From Jeremiah “They have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.”

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