War and the power of stories

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War and the power of stories

The author is the head of the global cooperation team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Internationally-renowned Israeli writer Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens and Homo Deus,” is busy these days. Not because he is writing a new book but because he is contributing articles and making appearances on television about the war in Ukraine. Since early February, he has been writing for major media outlets such as The Economist and the Guardian and speaking with various media, strongly condemning Russia’s threats and the Ukraine invasion.

The world hasn’t witnessed a major war for nearly 70 years since World War II, and now people are listening to Harari’s macroscopic and humanistic insights, shocked by Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainians. His conclusion is simple. By going to war, Russian President Vladimir Putin may win individual battles, but he is already walking a path of historical defeat in the war.

Historian and storyteller, Harari firmly asserts that Ukrainians’ rage will accumulate for Putin’s every attack order. As attacks continue, the stories of resistance of the civilians will build up and grow stronger, he says. Their stories will continue while the war is in progress and be passed down to future generations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turned down U.S. President Joe Biden’s offer to escape to the U.S. and said what sounds like a line from an action flick: “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Brave unarmed citizens blocked the path of Russian tanks, and a couple hurriedly got married to join the military together.

Harari believes that Putin surely comprehends the power of stories. As Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, was under siege by Nazi Germany for more than two years from 1941, 1 million Russian soldiers and civilians died. Born in 1952, Putin would have grown up hearing those stories and encountering heroic stories of Russians. It’s ironic that today’s Putin is posing as a villain like Hitler, leaving a bloody legacy.

As the Ukrainian proverb goes, “The fear of death takes away the joy of living.” Perhaps inspired by this proverb, Ukrainians’ spirit and courage are supported and respected by people around the world. Is there any way the international community can help before the Ukrainian women and children, who became refugees overnight, and Ukrainian fathers, husbands and sons, who remained in the midst of bombing to defend their homeland, suffer irreversible loss and pain? We desperately need stories of people from all over the world who go beyond empty encouragement to stop the war and help Ukrainians recover their daily lives.
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