Be The Change You Want to See

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” – Ariel Durant.

1965 Soviet Union 12 kopeks stamp. Cosmonautics Day.

A year ago, I wrote enthusiastically about Yuri’s Night, on what was the sixtieth anniversary of the first man in space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s brief jaunt into the cosmos represented the technological achievement of a now-fallen empire, the Soviet Union, but more than that – he represented the hopes and dreams and imaginings of humans since time immemorial.

And now, like the explosion of the N1 rocket that destroyed the Soviet Union’s ambitions of landing a man on the Moon, the glories of that fallen empire are now in ashes.

Eyewitness to History

Some decades ago, I visited the remains of a Roman villa that lay in a field in southern Britain. The story of the villa was that it had provided opulent shelter to its occupants until the withdrawal of the Romans in 410 CE. I stood there, admiring the colour and vibrancy of floor mosaics after two millennia, and gazed distantly towards the horizon, trying to imagine myself as an inhabitant of this building watching the departing Romans and wondering about the fall of the empire across those distant shores, and how that collapse would affect everyone in my known world. Those last British Romans had stood at a turning point in history as their civilisation crumbled around them.

Today, I recall that awe inspiring moment of reflection, and I realise that I am indeed standing on a distant shore and watching the collapse of an empire which ruled the world in the twentieth century: the colossus that launched the first space-faring life into the cosmos.

I do not mean that they have suffered a catastrophic failure of their economy or political system or society. As far as I can tell – and I certainly hope so – their people in the streets are, on the whole, still safe and healthy and not in immediate danger. They have suffered no natural disaster; indeed, they are enduring a most unnatural one.

The grandchildren of those who successfully repelled Hitler have themselves become victims of a dictator who is dragging their civilisation towards possible self-destruction. They are consequently using their technology – which previously soared into the heavens and held the world in awe – and have perverted it so that their rockets are visiting death and destruction upon Ukraine. They have taken the flower of their future – their youth – and instead of directing them towards futuristic visions of humanity aspiring to the heavens, are using their children as cannon fodder. They have perverted their political ideology – one that that promotes equality and solidarity – to revisit the horrors of invasion and ethnic cleansing.

I do not blame ordinary Russians for this terrible carnage, and I suspect they are victims (in their own way) as much as their Ukrainian brethren. Life under a dictatorship cannot be easy. But I also see this war as exposing the faults, deficiencies and corruption in political and diplomatic systems around the world.

I have seen commentaries that assert that certain other parties should equally be held answerable for invasions in other countries – and I agree. But in the current context of Russia invading the Ukraine, such arguments are irrelevant. Our global attention must concentrate on stopping this particular descent into genocide and possible world war. Let us deal with each case in turn.

Calling International Rescue

We are all humans, and it behoves us to use our talents and resources to embiggen the world, not to diminish it. Let us try to find ways to stop war, injustice and bloodshed wherever they may occur; let us learn to demonstrate lives of generosity and benevolence to our entire human family.

International diplomacy is one possibility – and maybe it is time to reform and rebuild the United Nations, which, for all its inaction and deficiencies, may still be the world’s best opportunity for building a united, international community.

National morality may be another possibility – if affluent, privileged nations like Australia can agree to shoulder their fair share of the burden in accommodating refugees, sharing resources, and putting in genuine efforts to build a fairer world.

As one example, might Australian politicians be compelled to take some needy refugees from Kenya and Uganda and help save the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – who have endured living conditions akin to war every day for years?

Perhaps – but only if sufficient numbers of Australians are prepared to sign this petition as a demonstration that we also care.

The Perspective from Space

This week also marks the anniversary of the return to Earth of the Apollo 13 mission, a space mission that very nearly led to the death of its crew following an explosion in the spacecraft on the way to the Moon. Their return was a triumph of technical prowess and human ingenuity.

As they limped back towards Earth, not knowing if they would survive the journey, I wonder if they pondered their view of our planet in the vastness of space? Did they wonder if their own lives – or the lives and civilisations that were encompassed by the blue dot they observed – might rise or fall according to the whims of dictators or the nobility of human aspirations? Did they have a numinous experience like I did, as I stood aside those ancient Roman mosaics in 1988?

Or one day in the far future, will our distant descendants look up into the night-time skies and ponder their place at the edge of some galactic empire where divisions like Russian, Ukrainian or Australian mean nothing?

Perhaps – but only if we all work to build a better future for our species. That starts today.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

One thought on “Be The Change You Want to See”

  1. I doubt whether either of the main Australian parties will be swayed by petitions.
    And I am frightened and depressed by the money both main parties (one more than the other) aim to allocate to “defence”.

    It would be great if there was a big grassroots movement to reform the UN, but will it ever happen?

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