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September 1, 2014

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In this case it’s Ukraine, but it could be anywhere

So, why should we care about Ukraine?

It’s one of the key questions of our time.

To the point: Millennials wonder why it is in our national interest to worry about what Vladimir Putin wants to do in countries that have nothing to do with us anyway.

Their questions are evidence that younger generations are concerned about events in Ukraine and want to square them with their natural inclination to worry more about themselves, here at home.

And therein lies the hope for tomorrow.

Millennials, by definition, were born or came of age after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And given the state of our public education system, it is not unreasonable to conclude that world history and even current events were not hot topics in the classroom. Therefore, there is little reason to believe that the younger generation has a clue what it was like to live during the Cold War.

But I am heartened that they are at least asking whether the United States has a role in international affairs, and I hope they’ll conclude that it does. How we play our part may determine the world these young people will live in when they reach my ripe young age.

If we are to live in a world in which treaties and agreements govern our conduct, we have to expect that when we give our word, we should keep it. To do less is to promote more contentiousness, less trust and, therefore, more war.

We would all like to believe we have had enough of that kind of behavior.

The problem is there are still people around the globe for whom violence, bullying and power-mongering are a way of life. They haven’t learned the lessons of history. I can think of a few right off the bat: Iran, Syria, al-Qaida, North Korea, Putin. One country that is not and should never be on the list is the United States. With a notable exception or two, we react to violence, we do not start it.

And that is why we must remain vigilant throughout the world. If we turn our backs on places like Ukraine, where a power-hungry Russia wants to force its will, where will it stop? Why should a Putin be satisfied with just Crimea? Why not reassemble the entire Soviet Union? And why shouldn’t we allow Iran to have nuclear weapons? And North Korea, too?

Previous generations have answered these questions. In 1917, when a revolutionary Russia made peace with Germany, allowing the Germans to focus their war machine on Western Europe and Great Britain, the risk to Europe was apparent. So the United States rightly acted, the war was won and the world was “safe for democracy.”

Unfortunately, it happened again 24 years later with pretty much the same players. The United States acted, we won and the world was, once again, “safe for democracy.”

Making our world safe is an ongoing, expensive and ever-diligent process. But it is cheaper, saner and safer to stay involved in a proactive way than to wait until the world founders.

And that is why we care about Ukraine — and any country that is put upon by those who would bully their way to a territorial takeover.

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