David versus Goliath — A history yet to be written

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It’s one thing to learn about history by reading books, watching documentaries, and sitting down with those who created that history in their time. It’s quite another to watch history unfold daily before our very eyes.

One of the differences in the two is that in one we know the outcome, consequences, and results of that historical event. In the other, the end has not been decided and one can only speculate where we will be taken and what the outcome, consequences, and results will be.

When I was a kid, I grew up on World War II documentaries. These black and white television productions, such as “Victory at Sea,” featured real films of men fighting each other on the land, in the seas, and in the air. Later, I would watch documentaries about the Korean conflict and, much later, the TV stations would be filled with programs about the War Between the States and the Vietnam War. I watched them all. And I knew how it would all turn out before the last program was aired.

As of this writing, the history of the Ukraine/Russian war is still ongoing. We are seeing near real time broadcasts of exploding tanks, missile attacks, bombs taking out residences, hospitals, schools, and other targets. We are watching cities being reduced to rubble and the desperate flight of some three million women and children fleeing Ukraine without their men who are compelled to stay and fight. We are watching people die right before our eyes.

But truly, it is not history. Not yet. Right now, it is a humanitarian tragedy. The history will be written later. Scholars and historians will pore over the documents, photos, films, and statistics and write their books.

At this moment life on earth itself is uncertain. Russia has hinted at a nuclear response if nations get involved in the conflict. Those allied or in sympathy with Ukraine are sending money, humanitarian aid, and weapons to the Ukrainians in the hope that David will stop Goliath. But they are stopping short of doing anything that might provoke Russia into following through on the threat to go nuclear.

Vladimir Putin, 69, whom many U.S. politicians saw as a potential friend, has taken off the mask and revealed himself as a global threat. Even tens of thousands of Russian citizens have protested Putin’s war, and, after the first thirteen days of the war, 12,700 Russians had been arrested and detained. It has been revealed that many of the Russian soldiers who were conscripts were unaware that they would be invading a nation. They thought the build-up was a part of war games. Even most Western analysts, and the Ukrainians themselves, thought it wouldn’t happen. But it did. And the outcomes are unknown.

China has been strangely silent but has been eyeing Taiwan for decades. The Chinese have made it clear they believe the island nation belongs to them. Will they use this opportunity, while the Western powers who are focused on Ukraine, to invade? If they do, what will be the U.S. response?

What if Ukraine falls? Will it be over? Or will Putin invade other former USSR territories, including those now members of NATO? Will there be a wider conflict? Are we witnessing the opening salvo of World War III? Those questions are, as yet, unanswered.

Religiously, the people of Ukraine and Russia have much in common. Over 67% of Ukrainians are members of the Orthodox Church. In Russia, over 87% of the population are Orthodox (only 13% are self-described atheists). So, members of the same faith are killing and maiming each other. It is not a religious war but the fact that most of the combatants share the same religious heritage is a profound tragedy. Putin himself identifies as a member of the Orthodox Church.

In the Ukraine, an unlikely hero and role model has emerged. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 44, is a former comedian and actor. Since May 20, 2019, he has been the President of Ukraine. Until a few months ago, he was an unknown figure to most people. He has now become a symbol of Ukrainian resolve and resistance.

He has refused offers to be evacuated to safety and has determined to lead the nation in the fight. He has become a global symbol of courage in the face of daunting odds. Will he prevail as did David over Goliath or will his stand go down in history as the Ukrainian version of the Alamo? Zelenskyy is a Jew whose grandfather fought against the Nazis in World War II. He is the first Jewish head of state and head of government in a country other than Israel.

One commentator said, “Zelenskyy has already obtained immortality.” Writing of Zelenskyy in the Toronto Star, Vinay Menon said, “He could have fled this conflict and attempted to lead a government in exile. He turned down offers by the United States and others to send in special forces and extract him from the madness. He wanted to be with his people. He may well die among his people. But as he said this weekend in another inspiring dispatch: ‘I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state because our weapons are our truth.’”

In the old Westerns, one could easily tell the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys wore the white hats, and the bad guys wore the black hats. The outcome of each movie was predictable. The good guys would win. Most of the world now sees Putin as the wearer of the black hat. But movies are not real life and sometimes the good guys do not win. This current drama has yet to play out.

In both Russia and in Ukraine, mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, and children of the same Christian faith, are praying to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, for the war to end and for their loved ones to be safe and to come home. I join my prayers with theirs.

Let the historians write about this war in the days ahead. I just hope and pray that their writings will not be about World War III and a thermonuclear global holocaust. If that happens, there may not be any historians left to write about anything at all.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]