National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

It’s hard, not knowing what comes next.  Experts and seasoned minds make their best predictions, but everybody knows nothing is certain.  And it’s not just about how the Ukraine-Russia war turns out. Significant uncertainty still exists about the future of Covid or other possible pandemics, the true health of the global economy, the increasing intensity of climate change, or the growing dysfunction of politics across the board.  The future seems more precarious than we even imagined amid the pandemic.

Watching the onslaught by Russian forces against Ukraine, we increasingly find ourselves considering the challenging observation Canadian journalist Michael Harris put out last week: “The soul of the West hangs in the balance.”  It’s a fair assumption.  The sight of urban ruin, waves of refugees on a World War Two scale, the drawing in of other nations – these were the realities that faced our parents and grandparents, and they were what prompted them to forge a global architecture designed to hold the likes of another Hitler at bay.  The emerging calamity of a nuclear encounter added a decades-long determination to fund the vast array of security measures to keep that architecture in place.

And now, suddenly, here we are watching the same images again and sensing that in all our affluence and distraction, we lost the realistic view of the world that the older generations possessed and guarded. History is returning, and we don’t like its look or how it makes us feel.  When left with only two options – lose thousands of Ukrainians by refusing to act; or lose even more through tactical nuclear attack – we feel out of our depth against the designs of a madman.

We have traditionally looked to our politicians to guide us shrewdly through troubled waters at such times.  But we are actually less inclined to do so than our predecessors were.  Faced with a barrage of global challenges requiring their best, many of our elected representatives find it easier to start up their senseless battles with the other parties.  Instead of collaborating, we are alarmed to discover more extreme political elements successfully preoccupying the attention of policymakers.  Ironically, Boris Johnson in the UK and France’s Emanuel Macron are seeing their chances for re-election revived through the Ukraine-Russia war. They will inevitably bend all the optics to win.  Given the dark days we encounter, such political manipulations merely prompt increased skepticism.

Despite the odds, numerous observers, myself included, believe new possibilities for a strengthened world order are in the offing.  Sadly, most of the same group thought the same of our Covid trial.  “Build Back Better” ended up being more of a fairy tale, as the hopes of a better world dissipated in all that turbulence, faux revolutions and, now, war – leaving us all with the question: Why aren’t progressives progressing?

Building a better world turned out to be a massively complex undertaking.  Political parties, including those of conservative temperament, tolerated extreme fringes that quickly undercut any ability to advance.   The greatest failure of all was the lack of clarity.  So many ideas and agendas but no overarching plan.  A multitude of voices but no voice.  Dreams galore, but no collective vision.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has provided a focus that even the Covid virus failed to induce.  Europe’s largest invasion since 1939-45 has provided us with an alpha villain, one capable of obliterating innocents the way someone else did in that earlier conflict.  Is the world capable of watching Ukraine descend into the hellish void?  Our parents and grandparents gave Hitler a hard “no,” and it took six years to finalize.  Do we carry that same resolve?  If not, much blame will go around, and no one will be spared.

Alice Walker, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple, noted in her recognition of the award:

“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before. ”

It is time to summon up historic resolve.  And in our politicians and our civil society, we require leaders to call us to sacrifice to keep the best of civilization moving forward for those who will follow us.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.
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