How many children must die?
Refugee children and babies in a basement in Kiev, March 1.

How many children must die?

We must show the kind of morality, courage, and strength Ukrainians have demonstrated

SAXTONS RIVER — It is surreal. For weeks now I've been watching a war in Europe in the 21st century in real time.

It's an utterly dystopian experience to witness the destruction of a modern, democratic country with more than 40 million people who simply want to live their lives, raise their children, do their jobs, love their families.

A month ago, they were sitting in cafés, walking their dogs, hugging their kids, sleeping next to their partners, caring for their parents and elders, happy to be alive.

Now they are fleeing, fighting, starving, cold, hoping to stay alive.

* * *

Photos of train stations filled with evacuees desperate to escape evil and violence look exactly like the photos of World War II refugees trying to escape the terrorizing events in their countries.

Underground subway bunkers are no different from those in 1940s London. The debris and detritus of war is unchanged from the pictures we saw of Dresden and other destroyed cities and villages.

Mothers and children are saying goodbye to their husband and fathers, not knowing if they will see them again. Children hug a favorite blanket or toy, tags with phone numbers and blood types hanging from their coats.

I keep thinking it could be Paris, London, New York or any other capital city in the world - Kabul, Damascus, Sanaa, Beirut, Asmara.

What would it be like if it were us, I wonder, to grab a few items, lock the door (if your house still has one), leave loved ones behind, endure endless hunger, thirst, exhaustion, fear? To give birth on the way to the unknown or to be separated from your children?

* * *

As a child, I heard about terrible travesties that had taken place in various countries and learned to duck under my desk during the Cuban missile crisis, but even then, the thought that something could happen in my country seemed remote.

Now it seems entirely possible that we could be drawn into a third world war with a nuclear armed country. It's a staggering and terrifying thing to contemplate.

Now I ponder how it is that madmen and megalomaniacs like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ceaușescu, and more like them make it to the top so often.

How does a country spawn such monsters? Why don't their followers recognize the narcissism and sadism associated with them?

How can such evil exist?

* * *

British scholar David Hulme analyzed the common traits found in totalitarian leaders and dictators in 2019. He identifies a set of traits that included extreme violence, the cult of personality, a grandiose self-image, and the desire for world domination.

“It was Lenin's dictum that terror legitimized the state,” he writes, and Mao, he says, “terrorized the countryside.”

Dictators like them also want all attention centered on themselves, he noted, to the extreme in Lenin's and Stalin's case. They “were presented like saints in Russian iconic art.” And “delusions of grandeur were never far from the surface in these men's minds,” writes Hulme.

Each of the dictators he discusses sought world domination and would do anything to achieve it. Sadly, we can recognize those traits in Vladimir Putin, and indeed, in Donald Trump.

* * *

What keeps me from total despair is seeing the incredible courage and bravery the Ukrainian people and their leader have shown the world, along with the remarkable generosity of those in Poland, Romania, and elsewhere who have demonstrated such extraordinary compassion and magnificent efficiency in bringing comfort to the exhausted refugees fleeing Ukraine.

From the man who passed out flowers to arriving women on International Women's Day to the women who left their baby strollers at the train station for arriving mothers, to strangers who embrace the weary and offer them a place to lay their heads down, these people have restored my faith in the goodness of humankind.

They have reminded me what sustains us in times of need - and of what really matters.

* * *

I have called my Congresspeople, pleading for more help for Ukraine, as it battles, basically alone, the evil encroaching upon it and upon all of us.

We must show the kind of morality, courage, and strength Ukrainians have demonstrated - a courage that is called for when babies are bombed in hospitals, when civilians are fired upon, when heat, water and safe passage are no longer available, and when people will starve as their towns and cities are leveled.

How many children must die before we send the aircraft Ukraine's president is begging for, I asked?

How can we call ourselves a country that believes in human rights in the face of war crimes and not do more?

I realize the risks, and I'm not a warmonger. I believe war is the ultimate obscenity, I told them.

Two of them still say no planes.

Then I read a Twitter post by filmmaker and actor Rob Reiner. “Children are being slaughtered. Innocent people are dying,” he wrote. “We are in a battle for the soul of the world. We must do whatever it takes to allow democracy to survive.”

Ukraine and the world deserve at least that much.

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