“I hope the Russians love their children, too”

Brigitte Opel

Brigitte Opel

Alumni Staff Writer

Living in Europe, the military conflict in Ukraine is a lot closer to my home, to my family, and to my heart than I dare to admit. The fact that I can’t see the sense behind all this is keeping me restless and sleepless. An article about Russian mothers who were robbed of the opportunity to bid their sons farewell – thinking they were embarking on a military training – reminded me of a song that Sting released towards the end of the Cold War: “I hope the Russians love their children, too.”

I grew up in Western Germany, at a time that there was also an East Germany. In many ways, it felt like a country with a shared history and a shared language. But it was also divided by a wall, a fence, and a different ideology on a social and economic level. We knew that there were people on the other side of the fence, but we couldn’t get to them or talk to them. During the Cold War, the rhetoric on both sides seemed so harsh that it seemed very unlikely that the two parts of one country would ever move closer to each other, let alone be reunited. There were times that we felt we’d all be destroyed by the gunpowder on both sides before we even have a chance to get to know each other. During that time, Sting wrote the song. It made a big impression on me because he sings about people with lives and emotions that I can relate to. It was the first time that I saw the ‘Russians’ as normal people and not vicious people, armed to their teeth wanting to take over the world.

Since November 9, 1989, the day that wall came down, the military threat at our doorstep has made way to economic and political contest globally. On the playing field of Us versus Them, we have changed allies and colors on several occasions: We stand in different formations on questions of Tibet, Palestine, Taiwan, Mali, Afghanistan, and many more. We develop political and maybe economic reactions but think twice before getting actively involved in war. We find that often, we don’t understand the ethnic and cultural context sufficiently to find the best approach – also because they are so far away. 

A military conflict in Europe seemed unthinkable. Now it is here. And it is far away at the same time. It is so close that we can drive there within a day. Yet it is so far away that we don’t understand what triggered it and what they’re trying to achieve. We get statements from both sides and realize that they’re dripping with propaganda. Do we want to know more about the actions, motives, and results when it means we’re putting journalists’ lives at risk? Will our politicians find the right words to calm down both sides and bring this to a good end? I ask them: Make this soon, please! 

A statement attributed to Meryl Streep says that such a sudden and unbelievably destructive attack wouldn’t happen if women were in charge of leading countries. That is an easy statement when testosterone is so obviously influencing decisions towards power and influence. What if the mothers that were robbed of the opportunity to bid their soldier sons farewell start questioning the purpose and objective of this military maneuver?

Russians are normal people, with normal lives and emotions. Hopefully, they’ll realize soon that they’ve been misinformed and misled.  And bring a halt to this tragedy because “I hope the Russians love their children, too”! 

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