It’s anecdote time. But first, a few words from Nicholas Kristof:
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Many Americans and Europeans flatter themselves by seeing the war in Ukraine through a false prism.
Too often, we think we have sacrificed for the Ukrainians. We pat ourselves on the back for providing expensive weapons and paying higher heating bills to help Ukrainians win their freedom — and we wish they’d get on with it.
In fact, what’s clear here in the Baltic countries is that it’s the other way around: The Ukrainians are sacrificing for us. They’re the ones doing us a favor, by degrading the Russian military and reducing the risk of a war in Europe that would cost the lives of our troops…
The whole piece is worth reading, but only those first three grafs are relevant to the memory that they stimulated…
It was a few months ago, maybe even in 2022. It’s hard to pin down, because it happened at Lowe’s, and I go there a lot.
This time, I wanted to copy some keys, and was using the self-serve machine devoted to that purpose. So for a minute or two, I was standing there, unable to easily evade folks who come up to strangers and initiate conversation.
There are a lot of people like that. And seriously, I try to go along and be nice to these folks. I get the impression sometimes that they are lonely. Maybe they live alone, and only get to speak to other people when they are out and about. And this is bad for everyone — but (or so I understand intellectually) especially painful for extraverts. (Although it would be great if some of them would stop whining about it! Oh, wait — I’d better add one of these… 🙂 )
This guy, whom I’ll describe as an older (as in, near my age) white guy, was at least topical. He comes up and without prelude (although maybe I’m just forgetting the prelude), he asks me who I thought would end up paying for all this aid we send Ukraine — us, or the Ukrainians.
I simply said, well, I assume we will, since we are the ones with the money as well as the goods. At that point, I could have gone on at length about how important it was for us to do so, and to keep doing so.
But I didn’t, because I sensed I was standing at the precipice, and one more step would take me into a spontaneous, fruitless argument with another isolationist. And I get into enough of those.
The conversation ended at that point. I don’t recall whether he just had no rejoinder — he may have been hoping to connect with someone who would say “It’ll be US, dammit! AGAIN! Those damn’ foreigners!” and didn’t know how to respond to my more neutral response — or I found some easy way of extricating myself.
Anyway, I now regret that I didn’t wait to see what was going on. It would only have taken a moment to find out whether I was in “America First” territory (in either the Trumpian or Lindbergh sense). I could have extricated myself at that point. Or perhaps I could have gotten him to see a broader picture (OK, everybody, stop laughing hysterically).
Or maybe he would have responded by saying “Hallelujah! Finally, somebody who’s not an isolationist!” And we could have had a high old time slapping each other on the back in mutual congratulation. That probably wasn’t where we were going, but let’s admit the possibility.
I think what chased me away was the thought that here’s a guy who comes up to busy strangers and starts conversations with something as likely to lead to acrimony as that. Made me wonder whether it was wise to stick around. Although I appreciated that he wanted to talk global affairs, rather than the weather or the Gamecocks.
But rather than keep kicking myself, I’ll close with Kristof’s words:
We’re right to celebrate a successful NATO summit. But especially if Ukraine struggles to recover large swaths of territory in this counteroffensive, there’ll be feckless grumbling in Western capitals about the price we’re paying and the favors we’re doing Ukraine. Anyone tempted to think that way should listen to the Baltic leaders, because they’ve learned the hard way how best to manage unruly bears.