Don’t hate me. In my semi-retired state, I elected to retreat from the ravages of our midwestern winter to go scuba diving on an island off the coast of Honduras for a few weeks. And, yes, as you imagine, it is a tropical paradise above the ocean and a magical “other worldly” scene of constant beauty under the waves.
My friends and I who have been diving together for several decades now concentrate on finding rare sightings of the most exotic marine life which becomes the bragging rights of divers at dinner, answering the ubiquitous question, “Did you see anything different today?” Weightlessly drifting above the reef, I realized what an absurd thing it is to keep looking inside of deep sponges and under coral shelves to find the rare fish when, in fact, the whole thing is an amazing work of art.
The common place is almost unbelievable as coral takes elaborate, symmetrical, and colorful patterns whose architecture and design surpasses almost any example of art in the world’s finest collections.
Whether you are in prayer in a Buddhist temple, a Trappist monastery, or just settling in for a yoga class, you are asked to become aware of your breath; to breath in deeply and to exhale entirely. This is especially true while diving, as you want your tank of air to last as long as possible, so with each giant step off of the back of the boat, I make the conscious decision to be aware of my breath, to breathe deeply and slowly and to allow the mysteries of the reef to invade my senses.
More than a week into this trip, I find that I still cannot sleep through the night. I wake every few minutes to check the news. Kiev, Ukraine is 12 hours ahead of we divers on Roatan, so I am checking to see if Russia has invaded Ukraine; if the dreaded land war that could result in millions of deaths might have started while most of the people around me are fast asleep.
Even a hundred feet under the water, I cannot shake the anxiety I feel for those on all sides of this complicated military showdown. I ask the heavily accented couple sitting next to me on the dive boat, “Bist du Deutscher oder Niederländer? (Are you German or Dutch?)” “No,” he replied, looking down at the bottom of the boat, “we are from Ukraine.” We exchanged a moment of tearful connection and talked in hushed tones about our fears for their homeland. They have moved to Canada but who can forget the country of their birth? How can any of us, even those of us who have never been to eastern Europe, forget the innocents whose lives now hang in the balance?
We are all connected. Even those who may think that the affairs of Russia and Ukraine are of no consequence to them personally, should check their retirement fund. The fear of a destabilizing war in Europe has driven our stock market down and down at a horrifying pace.
I think of children, single mothers, college students, and retired workers in eastern Ukraine who now live in fear, wondering what will happen to them if Russia invades.
It is too easy to say that Putin is crazy, or greedy, or simply nostalgic for the old days of the Soviet Union. NATO, which formed to stabilize Europe after WWII stands as a military threat to Russia. Arguably, a needed counterweight to cold war aspirations for global domination but, since we pledged in the Belfast Memorandum in 1994 that NATO would not move closer to Russia and we would defend Ukraine from Russian aggression if Ukraine would give up their nuclear arsenal (at the time, the third largest in the world). We should have kept our word.
Sure, Putin is an old KGB agent, but he is neither crazy nor paranoid. Our foreign policy has been too heavily influenced by the military industrial complex, selling arms to former Soviet satellites, undermining Russian security.
Diplomacy is complicated and it takes shape over decades, something that our 24-hour news cycle never fully appreciates. In the balance of profit vs peace, our diplomacy far too often favors short term profits from arms sales and gives too little consideration to where such arms races will lead.
Now, the encroachment of NATO has led to children, the elderly, and the innocent of Ukraine wondering if today might be their last. These are not problems that can be “fixed” in last minute negotiations. We cannot undo arms sales over 30 year’s time that should have never happened.
Say what you will about Putin’s devious plans, we have to soberly wonder what we would have done if Russia was militarizing the borders between the USA and Canada and Mexico. He is not crazy, and we are not innocent and neither party to this conflict is guilty of much genius of forethought.
If you pour water on sodium metal, it will explode, no matter how much you don’t want it to, in spite of your best negotiation skills, the prayers of your priests, or your hopes for peace. If you don’t want it to explode, don’t pour water on it. We are in an explosive situation in eastern Europe. It could have been avoided, years ago, if we would stop letting the people who manufacture arms to also be able to make political donations that drive our foreign policy.
Now, regardless of how bad this gets, we will all suffer from the greed of the military industrial complex, and we can only hope that both Republicans and Democrats can see how fatally stupid this has made us.
Human greed and fear disrupt the delicate beauty and connection of all of life, human, marine, and nature itself. The architecture of our foreign policy must not become the slave of empires, either of political power or corporate profit.
Dr. Roger Ray