Understanding War Makes Ignoring Its Ugliness Impossible, Even Among the Grandest of Distractions
The conflict in Ukraine should incite a real, human response on behalf of those without the means to act, writes Marine veteran J.D. Simkins.
Sunset staff writer J.D. Simkins writes our WildLands newsletter every other Monday to give you an inside look at our adventures across the West. J.D. spent four years in the Marine Corps as a scout observer, deploying to Iraq three times. We are publishing this week’s dispatch in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Subscribe to J.D.’s newsletter here.
This WildLands newsletter has often diverged into a lane of personal expression on topics that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the outdoors or the sensations such theaters elicit.
In that vein, this iteration comes on the tail end of a trip to the Grand Canyon, where, despite being surrounded by its infinite wonder and inspiration for existential gratitude, emotions remained tethered to the treacherousness unfolding thousands of miles away.
What’s happening in Ukraine—the largest, unprovoked invasion of a European state since World War II—is a horrific reminder of how privileged I am to even have the option of writing about things that, right now, feel unbelievably trivial in comparison.
Keeping abreast of the rapidly evolving conflict, meanwhile, has revealed a familiar disconnect between the public and the horrors on the ground, which, over the course of 20 years of our own conflicts in which I was a participant, often manifested through memes and political hot takes instead of the human toll, through graphs and numbers instead of the physical and mental trauma that persists long after these conflicts draw to an unceremonious end.
Addressing this dynamic and the escalating combat in Ukraine, biosecurity analyst Conor Browne wrote, “War is brutal, and squalid, and terrifying. Tweet your maps, and your force analysis, and your flags, but never forget the core of war is shattered human beings bleeding out into the dirt.”
Casual dismissal of war’s brutalities is a good method of ensuring events like those unfolding in Kyiv happen ad infinitum. Will this particular conflict—along with its apocalyptic imagery, grisly audio, and heartbreaking human emotion—incite a stern look instead of predictable indifference? I genuinely hope so. As one authoritative voice on relative matters noted, “any symptom of indifference is a sign of complicity.”
As such, while physically present in one of our world’s most spectacular natural wonders, current thoughts rest on the other side of the globe with the brave Ukrainian soldiers who, in the face of certain annihilation by a Russian warship, dispatched one of the most heroically defiant (and, fair warning, profane) messages ever recorded; with evacuating families and young children who have had to say tearful goodbyes to loved ones remaining behind to take up arms; with Russian protestors risking arrest and safety in defiance of a dictator; with Russian soldiers and parents who had no desireto be sacrificial pawns for the fragile ego of a desperate madman; and with a Ukrainian president who, when offered evacuation, responded, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
This conflict may never come to our direct doorstep, but it should nevertheless serve as a reminder of the opulent luxuries we have been afforded—writing a bi-weekly newsletter about travel and adventure, for example. Most importantly, it should incite a real, human response on behalf of those without the means to act. As of Sunday, an estimated 368,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes. If you’re interested in offering humanitarian assistance via donations, organizations such as Nova Ukraine, Doctors Without Borders, or Voices of Children are great places to start.
I hope this conflict, unlike innumerable examples throughout our species’ flawed history, resonates. Write a friend today to tell them you care about them. Raise a glass to someone. Hug a parent or child. And remember how fortunate we are to even have that option.