Our Best Stuff From a Grim Week

Happy Saturday, or, as we’re calling it in Ohio, February 68th. When I sent my newsletter last weekend, we were seeing only the first glimpses of the horrors that had been taking place in Bucha, Ukraine. Russian troops had withdrawn, and the arrival of Ukrainian forces and media outlets made it possible for the atrocities to be revealed.

As contributor Andrew Fink noted in a piece we published Tuesday, “We already knew, intellectually, that the Russian army was committing atrocities in Ukraine. We already knew that they were shooting civilians, attacking residential areas with cluster munitions, kidnapping people, and so on.” But because so many of the images we had seen previously were of burned out Russian tanks and defiant Ukrainians standing up to the invaders, it was easy to put it out of our minds.

Not so much now. And we’re seeing even more evidence. The Guardian has a heartbreaking story on the Russian occupation of Novyi and Staryi Bykiv, about 50 miles east of Kyiv. When I was searching for photos for another piece this morning, I saw images of protesters holding up placards featuring quotes from girls and women describing horrific crimes perpetrated by Russian soldiers. (I would call them unimaginable tragedies, but I suspect it’s only too easy to imagine.)

These revelations create new challenges for the West. How will the U.S. respond? Will the countries that have presented a largely unified front for the last six weeks stick together, or will there be cracks in the facade? 

As for the first question: Congress got its act together this week and passed legislation ending normal trade relations with Russia and banning its oil imports. We’re sending newer and better drones to Ukraine. The administration implemented more sanctions against Russians, including Vladimir Putin’s daughters.

As for the larger Western response, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Kyiv to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky and the EU imposed sanctions similar to the U.S. The EU is also pledging to fast-track Ukraine’s application for membership. We detailed the challenges of Ukraine joining the EU in a previous piece, but the effort is at least a sign of the West’s continued resolve and unity.

And that has me thinking about Jonah’s most recent G-File (which we sent just this morning instead of Friday because of some logistical challenges). It’s not specifically about Ukraine, but his larger message applies: “A lot of people are so addicted to narratives of despair … that we tend to blind ourselves to positive trends or downplay more encouraging developments. And if you blind yourself to the good stuff, it will make it that much harder to build on it.” 

It’s hard to be hopeful when reading about Ukrainian civilians being executed, mothers mourning sons lost in battle, or seeing images of a child’s mitten or shoe poking out of a mass grave. But we’ve also witnessed accounts of remarkable bravery, and those should serve to keep us focused and unified.

Given Jonah’s call for us to be purposefully hopeful, I’m going to close by suggesting you watch this brief clip from CNN, featuring an interview with an elderly woman who stood up to the Russian troops who came to her village. I’m linking instead of embedding because the translation and closed captions reveal some rather colorful language, but if that doesn’t bother you, it’s well worth your time.

Thanks as always for reading. 

Against the ‘Groomer’ Smear

Between the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings—where Ted Cruz grilled the nominee over what he deemed to be lenient sentences in child pornography cases—and the debate over Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which forbids schools from providing instruction on sexuality and gender identity to kindergarten through third graders, pedophilia is much on the minds of some conservatives. And they have taken to calling anyone who didn’t oppose KBJ’s nomination or  criticizes Florida’s law “pro-pedophile” or  “groomers.” Grooming is a series of behaviors that predators use in targeting their victims, especially children. It’s a terrible thing—and also a terrible accusation to throw around lightly. David takes aim at those who’ve been using it too loosely, as when Marjorie Taylor Greene referred to Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins as “pro-pedophile” for voting in favor of Jackson’s nomination. “Throwing around accusations of pedophilia, sympathy for pedophilia, grooming, or sympathy for grooming is a recipe for threats and violence,” he writes. “It connects with the vicious and deranged QAnon conspiracy, and it tells the public that you believe your political opponents are among the most vile people on the planet, the scum of the earth.“

Defining ‘Retaliation’ Down

Speaking of the Florida Parental Rights in Education law … Andrew dives into the battle between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has suggested that he might reevaluate the sweetheart deal that gives Disney quasi-governmental status in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which Andrew says “blurs the line between public and private like perhaps no other place in America.” The district is comparable to a county, and is run by a board of supervisors. “District landowners get one vote per acre, and Disney owns two thirds of the land,” he writes. “The arrangement gives Disney carte blanche to build and maintain its resort without having to constantly seek permission from local governments to, for instance, put down roads or put up buildings. In exchange, Disney foots the bill for municipal services like power, water, and waste management.

Lessons From the Winter War

A dictator, citing security concerns, invaded a smaller country and planned to overrun it within weeks. But that small country, fueled by gutsy soldiers who loved their country, overcame the odds and fought back successfully. Ukraine? Yes. But also Finland. In 1939, Stalin invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War. Andrew Fink interviewed Dr. Tomas Ries, a retired lecturer at the National Defence College in Sweden, about the Winter War and its parallels to the Ukraine conflict. They discuss Stalin’s motives, how the Finns fought back, and the state of Finnish-Soviet relations after World War II. One fun detail Ries shared: The Finns discovered that the Soviets had packed marching band instruments and dress uniforms for an anticipated parade in Helsinki after conquering the country.

When History Is Lost in the Ether

Readers of a certain age might remember spending hours at the library pouring over microfiche or microfilm of old newspapers for history homework or to write research papers. It could be a slow and tedious process, especially by today’s standards: A whole world of information is available with just a few keystrokes typed into a search engine. But digital publishing creates problems with archiving. Technologies change and publications go out of business, leaving old links broken or some content unreadable. That’s a big enough issue for our present moment, but an even bigger problem for tomorrow’s historians. Christian Schneider has an in-depth piece on what we’re losing, and details the efforts of those who are trying their best to save what they can.

And now the best of the rest:

  • As Western nations ponder their next steps to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, one thing under consideration is “secondary sanctions.” Charlotte explains what they are and how they work.

  • Congress finally passed legislation this week to end normal trade relations with Russia and ban oil imports. In the Friday edition of Uphill, Haley walks readers through the monthlong process. 

  • In the G-File, Jonah ponders the meaning of the word genocide, looks back at the negotiations over the U.N. resolution that defined it legally, and considers whether the atrocities happening in Ukraine rise to that level.

  • Scott Lincicome pushes back against the idea that we are in a period of “deglobalization” by looking at the many trade deals countries use to liberalize trade. If you missed last week’s entry on how we’re in what he calls a period of “reglobalization,” check it out.

  • On the pods: Jonah welcomes the great Megan McArdle to The Remnant to discuss public sector unions, student loan forgiveness, and—most importantly—dingos and Very Large Dogs. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah talk about race-based admissions at a school in Virginia and Oberlin College having to cough up millions after losing their appeal in a big defamation case. Can people become fundamentalists without knowing it? David and Curtis Chang discuss on Good Faith. And on The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah interviews Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos.

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