This IS WW3.
And it has been for a while, just playing out in slow motion. (More on that later.)
To start with, I want to address the most divisive issue
According the the Global Peace Index (which I don't think has actually been fully updated for the whole actively on-going nuclear-adjacent war thing), there's a solid 20 countries in the world worse off than Ukraine for active State violence and humanitarian horror stories. But Western Media doesn't seem to care.
What's happening with Israel and Palestine is particularly grievous, in my opinion, because the State's violence is essentially just endorsed by the EU and NATO (and near-explicitly encouraged by the US). That Irish MP had it absolutely right when he ranted about how utterly hypocritical it is to feel such overwhelming empathy for Ukrainian refugees and victims of violence while just condoning the horrific cruelty of Israeli treatment of Palestinian civilians. Aljazeera has several great articles on how this conflict has exposed a startling degree of straight up vile ethnocentrism (like this one, or this one), but I don't think it's really so simple as the West is hella racist.
I think it's very hard to talk about without sounding racist because most people, even educated people and journalists, have never had to sit down that think about why Ukraine and why not Palestine. I want to make it VERY clear that racism is a BIG part of it, but I also want to ensure that my fellow Westerner don't just succumb to defeatist thoughts like 'realizing' that they themselves are more racist than they thought.
Actually there's three.
Reason #1 : Shared Cultural Heritage.
This is the closest to just-plain-racist idea, but anthropologically, it bears out as legitimately non-racist and not simply ass-covering for a racist argument.
Western Media and Western nations have been invested in propagating the Western Canon of art, language, literature, music, architecture, etc for centuries. The West is the West because of an inflated and artificially reinforced self-assessment of being from a shared and glorious historio-cultural background. Beyond the fact that we do 'look like them', there's a shared religion that's either explicit the State religion or simply silently, but institutionally endorsed by the State (ie, all the US federal holidays being Christian). We value the art and buildings being destroyed in Ukraine because we've had 2 centuries of indoctrination that such buildings are Historical and Art and have Innate Cultural Value, in contrast to the Temples in Jordan and Turkey and Afghanistan (which we can logically conclude have value, but such hasn't been spoon-fed to us for generations).
We've been convincing ourselves that Europe is essentially composed of One People, a single large Family, with the US, Canada, and Australia as Europe's next door neighbors since about the 16th century. We've only been actively trying to start including the rest of the world in our estimate of that Family since like the late 1940's with the founding of the UN... And really, that wasn't an altruistic endeavor, it was a wow, WWII was bad and it was totally, obviously preventable, lets try to prevent the next one...
Anyway, back on point.
Why Ukraine and why not Yemen?
Because the West has over 4 centuries of institutionalized, pervasive, aggressively reinforced empathy with Ukraine and has maybe 20% of that time learning to empathize with Yemen--and that time has been spent under far less aggressive efforts, that do not include institutionalized doctrines of State-endorsed empathy. Acknowledging that is NOT racist, not inherently. In terms of neuropathy, watching a bomb hit Ukraine is like watching someone kick a dog--emotionally untenable. Whereas watch a bomb go off in Yemen is like watching someone kick a baby crocodile--Yes, we know, logically, that it's still animal abuse, and that technically crocodiles are more at risk for extinction than dogs, but that logical argument doesn't make and difference when the fact is that watching a dog be kicked just hurts more.
We ARE trying, as a human species to achieve universal empathy, but we aren't anywhere near actually accomplishing that yet, and that isn't a criminal offense. Hypocritcal? Yes. But worthy of such derision and venom as the Internet's dredged up? No.
- (Though, I totally understand where the fury is coming from, particularly as those with ties to places like Yemen and Syria and Palestine watch the world unite behind a cause that is not them and when their suffering is just as grievous as Ukraine's.)
So, that explains a bit of why the common western citizen care so much about Ukraine.
But why does it seem like governments also care so much more about Ukraine than about Palestine?
The reason for that is two-fold, one is pragmatic to the point of cringe-y and the other is only slightly less so...
Reason #2 : Resource Dependence.
We've all noticed the inflation, and the rising gas prices around the world. The governments of the world care more about Ukraine than about Yemen because Ukraine has stuff we want and is being invaded by a country that also has stuff that we want. In terms of resources that Europe and the US want, Israel and Palestine and Yemen and even Afghanistan are so low-stakes it's embarrassing. As an economic consideration, the most significant thing about that whole miserable Israeli conflict is how many of a given congressional district's constituents have ties to Israel and how likely are they to donate to a campaign that condemns Israeli actions... Israeli-linked constituents are more likely to donate (to even be able to donate) than any Palestinian connected citizen.
While still truly abhorrent to reduce a humanitarian crisis to 'the numbers', it IS just math.
US economic concerns favor Israel. And that's only true when directly confronted on the issue or during an election cycle. If there's no election cycle in play, the US basically doesn't care at all, economically speaking.
But Russia and Ukraine? Between the raw metals, the natural gas and oil, and the heavy machinery manufactured in both Ukraine and Russia (not to mention the Vodka and such smaller scale imports), the US and Europe are in deep with Russia and have been for decades. The governments of the world care a lot more about this conflict because it's a helluva lot more genuinely impactful to them.
Yemen's direct economic impact on Germany? *shrugs* It's barely a footnote, with Germany dropping an obligatory 100-something million dollars (approximately half of 1 percent the cost of just the NORD Stream Projects), given as humanitarian relief, with zero other economic connection between the two countries at all.
So, seriously. Tragic as that distinction is, it's not racist, it's evil, psychopathic capitalist.
World War Three.
If any of you reading this imagine for just one nanosecond that Putin's war is going to stop with conquering Ukraine, you might wanna sit down and grab a comfort blanket.
Putin has been trying to reestablish the old borders of the USSR (and the expand them) since before he officially came to power. Masha Gessen relates in clear, brutally straightforward terms how the Putin's 'Forever Wars' aren't going to stop and haven't been effectively thwarted by any Western power yet (appeasement is essentially permission, in his mind). From his early 2000's crackdown in Chechnya, and utter refusal to relinquish USSR control of the territory, to his 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and his 2016 string of war crimes in Syria, right up to this current nonsense ploy of 'denazification' in Ukraine, Putin wants to destroy the rest of the world.
NATO is on alert because NATO is under threat. If you notice, the West is not actually helping Ukraine. Not really. It's sending some money and a couple of weapons. And it's putting a couple of scary sanctions into play... But NATO's got 8,000 troops just chillen out in Poland right now (the 5,000 usually there plus 3k more from the US alone) while just over 100 miles away, civilians prepare to face Russian soldiers as Lviv burns...
[Do you have any idea how effectively Putin's war here could be STOPPED if Zelenskyy had 8,000 more troops to work with?]
If Putin eventually crushes Ukraine, he will move on to somewhere else. This is WW3 already in motion, just playing out more slowly than Hitler's version of the very same game. But Putin's not going to be distracted by ethno-cleansing. He's not going to devote resources to an organized removal of undesirables. He's just going to bomb all citizens unilaterally until he controls enough to the world to declare himself god.
Personally, I think NATO needs to intervene NOW.
Because we may as well help Ukraine instead of just watching it burn when it is inevitable that Putin will not stop there. Putin has already declared that the sanctions being levied on Russia count as declarations of War. HE already considers the West as active combat parties. Using NATO troops won't escalate it further than Putin already has.
But Putin has captured and is bombing THREE NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS (and counting) in Ukraine already, so we've kinda already hit that depressing mile marker.
We NEED to do more to intervene.
THAT is what makes this different than Yemen, than Palestine, than South Sudan...
None of the aggression in those places can spillover into world wide nuclear war. They just can't. The aggressors simply don't have the resources to truly threaten the current world order in any realistic, significant way.
Putin's Russia, however? THAT is WW3 already in motion.
BONUS: Reason 3.5... Hearts & Minds in a Modern World...
There IS one more crucial thing, arguably the MOST crucial thing, that makes world solidarity with Ukraine more straightforward in terms of empathy-mining than any connection to Yemen or North Korea ever could be:
This is a war of hearts and minds, and Zelenskyy is the hero such a story needs to truly hit home within a fully modern, Western mindset. His consistent, eloquent, coordinated use of social media and his multi-platform English-language outreach all being threaded through a unified focal point... It's Heroics 101, catered directly to Westernized story-telling tropes, and executed with a degree of genuine sincerity and heartfelt earnestness that we haven't seen in a politician... Honestly? Since like our O.G. Washington.
His role in making Ukraine a focal point of world sympathy cannot be overstated.
Zelenskyy IS Ukraine, and the fact that he humbly thanks every single citizen who's helping the fight, and that he expresses clear and genuine gratitude for every tiny shred of aid the rest of the world gives him... It just makes it that much easier for public sentiment to coalesce around him, his people, and their plight.
There's no one leader in the Palestinian struggle that has this kind of reach or charisma or this clear understanding of how to effectively utilize social media as a tool of the State to impact the citizens of the entire world. There's no single general leading a unified people in South Sudan who can be looked to as an unadulterated hero at a glance by anyone around the world. There's no President of the Resistance in North Korea who can use their personal Twitter to touch the hearts of kids in Cali with rescued cat photos and then formally thank the King of Denmark in the same hour.
It's not a criticism of those other movements. It's simply praise for the masterful demonstration of utilizing all possible resources Zelenskyy has available.
So, no. It's not just abjectly racist to empathize with Ukraine and not Palestine.
There are legitimate reasons why it just hurts more, why we can invest more in the observable heroics, and why governments are paying so much more attention (which, in turn, allows the average person to witness so much more empathy-inducing horror)...
Should we care about Palestine, and Yemen, and North Korea?
It's an utter travesty that we haven't gotten invested in stopping the evils of what inhuman violence is occurring.
But that does not detract from the reasons why Ukraine just matters so much more to us all right now. And we shouldn't make ourselves feel bad about the fact that we do care more about Ukraine than North Korea.
The people who want us to feel bad will achieve nothing but to render us ineffectual if we let them make it so. Instead, embrace the empathy and DO something.
And then hold onto that feeling and when Ukraine's crisis has resolves, DO SOMETHING ELSE. Do work to help Palestine, or Afghanistan, or Illegal Immigrants in your own town.
Selective empathy might still be a problem, but isn't it better to be selectively empathetic in a way that motivates real change than to be entirely uninvested and defeatist?
Instead of saying to yourself ' I don't care about XYZ ' and beating yourself up because you think you should care, tell yourself ' t's okay that I can't currently care about XZY ' and remember that it's okay to focus on one cause at a time.
As long as you hold onto the virtuous triumph inherent in that little bit of save the world oomph, it's okay if the only person you successfully do anything to save is yourself. You just gotta keep on going with that save the world vibe inside you. Individuals CAN change the world.
We just have to believe it can be done for it to work.