We hear from time to time about horrific incidents where someone on a subway train, or walking home alone in Philadelphia or New York has been attacked — severely beaten and/or stabbed. The neighbors or the passers-by observe her plight and just walk by or sometimes even hang around and watch. They do not help or even call the cops. Up close, as in that subway car, they shrink away or just pretend that it’s not happening. They do not want to get involved. This fascinates psychologists. Are people so unfeeling, or have we just been desensitized by all the violence we’ve seen, in life and on TV?

The name of Neville Chamberlain remains a dismal joke. Prime Minister of The U.K. in 1938, old Neville flew to Munich to confer with Mister Hitler, only weeks before the Nazis conquered the Sudetenland. Old Chamberpot came home victorious, displaying a treaty that bore both his and Hitler’s signatures. It stated, unequivocally, that Germany and England would go on being friends, with neither doing anything to threaten or disturb the other nation’s sovereignty. His famous wishful utterance, back then, declared that we would have “PEACE IN OUR TIME.” That phrase still lives in infamy, an emblem of refusal to confront reality. In 18 months, as London writhed beneath an endless rain of German bombs, it was clear that The Munich Accords were a farce. (What’s the German for “DUH?”) 

Wishful thinking’s always tempting when the caca hits the fan, but wishful thinking doesn’t pay the bills. It takes real courage and resolve to move against a hooligan who clearly will not hesitate to turn his rage on you. Those photographs and news reports from the Ukraine are completely atrocious and shocking and sad: whole neighborhoods reduced to ash, and normal folks like you and me who were walking to work or attempting to flee, lie shrapnel-shredded in the street, dressed just like you and me. A mother lying dead with a live baby in her arms. A roller suitcase standing near its owner’s lifeless corpse, like a loyal, inanimate dog whose master will not make it to the train today, or any other day. And, just as well, as it turns out: with special vengeance against refugees, the Russians target transportation hubs along with hospitals and schools, without pretending to eschew civilian casualties. 

They say “All’s fair in love and war,” as if we should accept it all. Not so. Barbaric evil never ends unless it is opposed. To let monstrosity prevail without forceful response will murder not just you and me but, also, self-respect and hope. The war we are afraid to start has already begun, and will not, on its own, just go away. (What message are we sending other bullies, by the way?) 

The USA and NATO wring their hands and cluck their tongues — contributing weapons and money but not personnel. They watch the news, afraid to act because involvement might result in a much wider war, almost surely involving a nuclear threat, and, thus, perhaps, apocalypse. So, here we stand not knowing what to do. You’d have to be crazy to risk it; less than human if you don’t. The gauntlet’s down, the line is drawn, and the aptly-named die has been cast. It’s not the first time. Will it be the last?