90 Seconds to Midnight

In Norway, they said that the tactical nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation pose a serious threat
In Norway, they said that the tactical nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation pose a serious threat

How will Russia's war against Ukraine affect the world's future, and what does it mean for civilization?

Canadian historian and Oxford University professor Margaret Macmillan gave an excellent definition of civilization in her book How War Affected Civilization. According to her, civilization comes when a person with a broken leg has a chance to survive. Without civilization, they are doomed to death like every biological creature with a broken limb.

Civilization came to different peoples on different continents at different times. We know about its early appearance in Ancient Egypt, where local doctors could not only deal with fractures but also perform surgical operations. But access to more sophisticated medicine was a privilege for the wealthiest. Medicine itself was often a form of witchcraft and shamanism.

For most of human history, the average life expectancy for different peoples on different continents from the beginning of recorded history to the time of Napoleon was 25-30 years. This did not mean that everyone died at this age. The low average is the result of the fact that about a third of children did not live to be five years old, women often died during childbirth, and everyone died of diseases that are now treated with simple pills, as well as plagues that make the recent covid pandemic look like child's play.

The situation changed in the nineteenth century. During this century, the average life expectancy in the most developed countries doubled. In the twentieth century, it reached 80 years, and children born in the current century are said to have a biological maximum life expectancy of 120 years. In other countries, indicators are also growing, but slower. In this sense, and only in this sense, we can say that they are less civilized. Such an assessment would only mean a statement of fact, not an expression of superiority or a justification for their conquest and subjugation.

A New Turning Point

For lack of a better word, we refer to the changes of the last two centuries by the general term "modernization." The modern world is a world of universal mobility and access to civilizational benefits. In this world, we go to doctors instead of fortune tellers when we are sick, chemistry and astronomy have replaced alchemy and astrology, we have access to universities and banks, we elect our government, and even the most despotic countries like North Korea or Russia pretend to be democracies.

Ukraine is not only the problem, but Ukraine is also the solution

This world is not stable. Historical progress comes at a price and is not without disasters. At times, it has been questioned whether this progress has a future or if the wheel of history will not turn back. There were several turning points: 1789, 1848, 1914, 1939, and 1991. The decisive turns were associated with large-scale European or world wars and revolutions each time.

The full-scale war that began on February 24, 2022, is a new turning point that will undoubtedly determine the future of human civilization.

Ukraine and the Ukrainian question arose during each of these turning points. In the long nineteenth century, either in 1789 or in only one part of the Ukrainian lands in 1848 (the easternmost point of the "spring of nations" on the European continent was Lviv, which saw battles at the barricades).

In the twentieth century, the Ukrainian question became central. British historian Dominic Lieven said, "More than anything else, the First World War depended on the fate of Ukraine." In his book Black Earth and later in his speech to the Bundestag, Timothy Snyder emphasizes that Hitler and Stalin linked their plans for world domination to control Ukraine and its resources. After the first months of the current war, the UN World Food Program director, David Beazley, said that if the Ukrainian harvest is not resumed, the world faces hell on earth.

There is one fundamental difference between previous turning points and the current one. During the previous ones, the main question was, "How to change the world?" Now, it sounds different: "How to save the world?" Here is a simple but convincing statistic: this year's population will be 8 billion, twice as many as in 1975. As early as the early 2000s, experts warned that the next 30 years could be decisive for the continued existence of human civilization. The sharp growth of the world's population will lead to an acute shortage of food, energy, and water as early as 2030. The world will be on the verge of a "perfect storm."

All these forecasts were made, of course, without considering the Russian-Ukrainian war. With this war, the forecasts are becoming much more ominous. In 1947, a group of scientists participating in the Manhattan Project came up with the Apocalypse Clock as a reminder of how threateningly close the end of the world is. At the time, they set the clock at 7 minutes to midnight. They moved it to the critical 90-second mark in January of this year.

Save the World

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the world has never faced such a threat as it does now. The difference between 1962 and 2022 is that even Khrushchev could not make a single decision without his Politburo, while Putin has no limitations, and no one can guess what is happening in his sick head.

Many consider China's rise to global superpower status the main threat to the West, especially in the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is considered to be the second most significant threat. This is a mistake. China is not threatening the West with nuclear war. Russia is. Even if these threats are in vain and we manage to avoid a nuclear war, we have a perilous situation with the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

Russia is as significant a threat to the world's existence as global warming, the food crisis, or a new pandemic like COVID-19. Without exaggeration, salvation from Russia is salvation for the whole world. Those in the West who think they are helping Ukraine unselfishly, or worse, who question whether they should reduce or stop this aid altogether, should think differently: they are helping themselves.

As before, Ukrainian and world history are intertwined at a critical turning point. No one can guarantee that we will get out of this crisis.

We have had turning points in the past when, as the British historian A.G.P. Taylor ironically said, history failed to fit into the turn. An example is the European Revolution of 1848, which was defeated everywhere. Let's imagine what would happen to the world if Russia won. The Greco-Persian War of the fifth century BC comes to mind as the closest parallel to the current Russian-Ukrainian war. A small tribe of freedom-loving Greeks faced the great Persian Empire and defeated it after several decades of war. Historians ask: "What would have happened to world history if the Greeks had lost?" The answer is obvious. There would have been no Socrates, Plato, Herodotus, Aristotle, Hippocrates - no universities, no Descartes, no Newton - no democracy, no parliaments, no smartphones.

In addition to the fact that, compared to previous global crises, this crisis raises the question of the existence of modern civilization, there is another fundamental difference.

The Ukrainian issue was featured in each of them to one degree or another. But unlike the previous turning points, Ukraine is no longer an object; it has become a subject. A trend has been established: the whole world pays the price whenever the Ukrainian issue is resolved without Ukraine. Vice versa, when Ukrainians solve everything themselves with the support of the world, we see glimmers of hope. An example is 1991. With their decision to secede from the USSR and declare independence, Ukrainians ended the empire that emerged after World War I, became a superpower after World War II, and threatened to become a world power once again. A telling fact is that after the collapse of the USSR, the apocalypse clock started ticking in the other direction. Its hand was moved to 17 minutes to midnight, and that was the only time it was that far.

In other words, Ukraine is not only the problem, but Ukraine is also the solution. It depends on the realization of this fact and our will to act on this realization to a large extent on whether we can save the world from a seemingly inevitable end this time.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine