Historian Studs Terkel wrote an oral history of World War II entitled The Good War. He called it this, not because he believed it was “good” in a traditional sense. Almost a hundred million people were killed, either from the war itself or the disease and famine that followed. No. Terkel gave his work this title because WW2 was clearly a righteous cause if there ever was one. The naked aggression of Axis powers along with the horrific slaughter of Jews in Europe, painted the whole conflict as one between good and evil. Admittedly, if you push into this, any historian will tell you that none of the Allied armies fought purely out of self disinterest. Regardless, even if the Allies didn’t begin the war with altruistic motives other than survival, by the end it was universally agreed they did indeed fight the “good fight.”
I would argue that what we see in Ukraine today is as close as we have come to a clear-cut “good vs. evil” conflict in the last 70 years. Undoubtedly, there are other contenders, but I don’t have the space here to explore these. With most of these others, however, there is much more complexity, with multiple parties with a slew of motives. In other words, most are messy and unlikely to be considered by St. Augustine, one of our earliest church fathers, as a “righteous war.” But here, as with Poland in 1939, there is a clear aggressor and innocent nation-state. On top of that, you have Putin’s almost laughably bizarre justification: the “de-nazifying” of a country led not only a Jew, but one who lost family members in the Holocaust. In no way or fashion have the Ukrainians provoked the Russian Federation, other than seeking an alliance to prevent the very situation they are now in.
I realize that I am not telling you anything new. I am just reminding us of the absolute injustice of this conflict and that I believe it is our moral duty to do whatever necessary to defend the innocent and help the hurting. James, Jesus’ brother, in his letter, puts it like this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress:” (James 1:27a). In this context, James is essentially saying we are to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, the Ukrainians are defending themselves in ways that our Western intelligence agencies never predicted in their wildest dreams. It is truly a Goliath vs. David scenario, and one where David, if not outright trouncing the giant, is giving him the fight of his life. But with the resources that the Russians have at their disposal, this cannot continue indefinitely, unless the Western powers remain steadfast in supporting our Ukrainian democratic brethren.
So, what do Christians do? There are a multitude of ministries and churches that are helping in the relief effort. Do some online research and give to one where the bulk of the money goes directly to the victims of this war. Call your congressmen and -women and senators to express our nation’s need to keep the support up. And if some of the hundred thousand refugees our government has agreed to take in find their way to our city, welcome them with open arms.
In general, Americans have big hearts, but short attention spans. As long as this war continues and even beyond, let’s not forget the people of Ukraine. Putin’s war of aggression is the “Good War” of our age. Let’s fight it by our prayers, our gifts, and, if necessary, our presence.