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Mammoth Times for Feb

By Tim Willoughby

It'll take a long, long time

You may be familiar with a 1972 song by Sandy Denny with the following lyrics: “Oh it's like a storm at sea
And everything is lost, And the fretful sailors calling out their woes, As to the waves they're tossed. It’ll take a long, long time. It’ll take such a long, long time.” Her passionate mournful voice and phrasing on the ‘long, long time’ part matched my somber mood as I contemplated the crisis in Ukraine.

 We all have limits to our emotionally bandwidth. The most destructive are situations we have little control over. Global warming sends us reminders like the reality that last year was the driest in 1,200 years that we should be individually doing something, if nothing else for our descendants .Covid tests our patience. We know what we can do individually to stem its progress, but we view every drop in case numbers as a sign we can put it on the back burner. 


 As a nation we tend to ignore international problems until they involve Americans directly. When we finally take notice we do so only through our American perspective.

 Seeing tens of thousands of Russian troops and tanks surrounding Ukraine, ( at the time of this writing they have not invaded)and knowing the autocrat and former KGB agent wants to fulfill his dream or reinstating the Soviet empire forces us to contemplate the thousands, likely tens of thousands, who will needlessly die- one more war we will have to witness that could result in our own military casualties.


How long will the cold war with Russia continue? Why does it persist? How long is ‘take a long, long time’? Most of the conflicts in the world in our lifetimes are a consequence of the end of World War II arbitrary drawing of boundaries of countries by Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt. Ethnic, religious and historic realities were not given priority. Our experience in Kosovo, Iraq, Syria, much of the Middle East, and colonial African nations reflects that reality. 


Ukraine is just one more example with sections of very differing populations speaking different languages trying to form a unified nation at the same time an egotistical Russian leader wants to use them for his 15 minutes of fame. There has been progress, the corrupt Russian puppet leader was ousted, the economy is improving, and a sense of inclusive nationalism initiated. But it is in its infancy. How long is a very long time?  Longer than our patience.


We waged war in Afghanistan for twenty years even though the military knew in the early years that it could never overcome a divided population with a large proportion not yet entering modernity and their economy having been based for decades on poppy production. Three presidents talked about bringing the troops home. Thank you, President Biden, for not just talking about it. Hundreds of thousands of U.S .troops, two generations of them, tried to accomplish what was not possible. It will take a long, long time to solve Afghanistan’s problems, with or without us.  Will it take a long, long time for us to learn the lessons of that war? Yes, a long, long time.


There are no easy answers to the world’s problems and there will not be one for Ukraine, with or without us. The good news is that those studying world conflicts that end in violence have documented, over the centuries, a steady, but slow progress. None of us will see the day when war is not an existential problem. To cope we will have to sing along with Sandy Denny commiserating together but believing that maybe in a  long, long, time………………

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