In 1981 I was enrolled as a second year student at King’s College of the University of Western Ontario in the Sociology program. Several of my professors were left-wing matching my own political leanings so I was invited to participate in a Marxist reading group. Students and faculty would gather at one professors home each week to discuss a pre-assigned reading about, for example, the plight of El Salvador, a Central American country ravaged economically by multi-national corporations, its people tortured by a brutal dictatorship propped up by the United States government. The words and the wine would flow, people largely agreeing on the circumstances, arguing about the theoretical underpinnings, bemoaning the general apathy amongst fellow students, faculty, and citizens.
Fast forward to 1987; married, a Masters degree, two children, a mortgage, I was a faculty member on contract at Seneca College, attempting to become full time, teaching whatever course was offered because I needed the work. I had befriended several colleagues, most full time, all on the left hand side of the political spectrum. A number of us could be found in the Liberal Studies lounge, debating the plight of workers, the ineptitude of our provincial and national governments, and the state of contract negotiations between our union brethren and the scurrilous college management.
Economic and military imperialism was also on the menu of topics, parceled with a debate on the merits of the Frankfurt School. Salvatore Torres* , a fellow contract faculty with a young family, was particularly engaged in the discussion, trained in political economy and having lived in Colombia. He could banter the theory and the ideology with the most learned of the group and he brought a dose of reality to the conversation. I will never forget the description of his lived experience, where the best protection for his family against the roving hit squads wasn’t the eloquent words he learned at university but the unmistakable persuasion of his AK47.
On February 24, 2022, diplomacy failed to stem the demonic aspirations of Vladimir Putin and the Russian army began their invasion of Ukraine.
I attended the March for Ukrainians in downtown Toronto with Olga, our daughter and her partner’s family, along with 30,000 people. The crowd listened to predictable speeches from politicians and Ukrainian organizations as people chanted and sang and cheered. Amongst the rhetoric was a plea for money, apart from a donation for humanitarian aid, specifically for the purchase of combat equipment. The Ukrainian government had issued rifles and automatic weapons to every citizen of Kyiv willing to take up arms in defense of their country against the invaders. The march attendees were urged to dig deep because the collection would be to purchase protective vests at a cost of $500 each for these brave men and women fighting along side soldiers but without the equipment.
At home, I caught up on the latest news and watched an interview with a Ukrainian member of parliament. Kira Rudik was articulate and resolute, armed and ready to exchange fire with Russian troops.
She described long queues of people, men and women, lined up waiting to acquire their weapon; others were making their own molotov cocktails to thwart the Russian army. Ukrainians living abroad were urged to return home and join the fight. Countries around the world were united in imposing sanctions but would not join in the battle; Ukrainians would be on their own.
Salvatore Torres’ story became Ukraine’s.
“Those of us already living in free societies owe Ukrainians a great debt of gratitude. Their courage has reminded us of the nobility of sacrifice for just causes. … What Ukrainians have done is inspire [the West] to shake ourselves out of our torpor and create policies of assistance to them, in the hopes that we might one day prove worthy of becoming their ally.” ( Putin Accidently Revitalized the West’s Liberal Order. Kori Schake. The Atlantic. ) https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/02/vladimir-putin-ukraine-invasion-liberal-order/622950/
When Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the President of Ukraine, was offered evacuation by the Americans, he vowed to remain in Kyiv and responded, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”
The West has begun to supply. Canada announced the provision of anti-tank missiles. Germany, reversing it’s own ban on the distribution of weapons, will be providing Ukrainian troops with 1,000 anti-tank weapons as well as 500 Stinger missiles from its own military reserves. Sweden broke with it’s policy of not selling arms to any side during a military conflict and will be sending missile systems. Not the specific armaments requested but ones more accessible to fighting civilians: “easy to operate, doesn’t require training and can be handled by a single soldier.” https://www.thelocal.se/20220227/sweden-to-send-bofors-anti-tank-weapons-to-ukraine-in-break-with-doctrine/
And still every hour brings more images of destruction, of human suffering, of desperation.
If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die.
* The story is true although Salvatore Torres is a pseudonym.