Posturing over downing of MH17 risks more suffering

By Jay Kuten

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Truth of the human loss is powerful, devastatingly strong, and enduring. PHOTO/AP
Truth of the human loss is powerful, devastatingly strong, and enduring. PHOTO/AP

A study published in May in the journal Psychological Science seeks to define as a separate category "pre-crastinators", those who hurry to complete tasks - even trivial tasks - sometimes at great cost, in order to dispel the possibility of forgetting to do them. I was taken aback as I am, by nature and nurture, a serious procrastinator. At an early age, to curb impulsivity, my mother taught that my watchword should be "wait". It's a lesson I've taken to heart and it's a fitting one for development of critical thinking and skepticism. The truth takes its time and sometimes comes too late. When it comes to war, it's especially true that we get to learn the truth from the rear-view mirror.

The disastrous shooting down of flight MH17 has brought us once again to the clich of the truth being the first casualty of war. The fact of the plane's flight plan over a war zone permits an extension of finger pointing which seems to preoccupy the reportage. All one hears and reads is the question of who is responsible. The US-influenced media have concluded that this was a criminal act perpetrated by the "rebels" using the complicated BUK SA-11 anti-aircraft missiles that could only have been supplied by the Russians, along with the extensive training required to operate it.

Hilary Clinton, erstwhile Democratic candidate for President, has hurriedly concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "directly or indirectly to blame [for this crime] for his support of the insurgents".

The contrasting narrative on the Russian side casts blame on the Malaysians first for their ill-fated judgment in flying over the established war zone. Russian experts point to the Ukrainian arm, which also possesses the same BUK SA-11 missile system once jointly developed and controlled under the old Soviet Union before Ukraine became independent. Russian media not only hold the Ukrainian army responsible but point to the Ukrainians taking the opportunity under cover of the international furor over the plane to intensify their attacks on Donetsk and other cities held by the pro-separatist militias.

The 360-degree finger pointing is unlikely to lead to any real answers as to who did this and why. Moreover, in the whirlwind created by the blame gaming there are two real dangers. The first is that the posturing and threats may, by miscalculation, lead to real and serious consequences. Exactly one hundred years ago such miscalculation led to the folly of World War I. Today's war is economic. Mutual economic retaliation could tilt a weak recovery from 2008 to severe recession both in Russia and the EU. The collateral damage would come to those innocents least able to bear it - the poor and the under employed in this economically interconnected world.

The other danger is that in all the expansive posturing on both sides little room is left for appreciation of the human dimension of the suffering incurred. The photos of the homecoming of the bodies to the Netherlands were moving. At the same time footage emerged of Ukrainians from the area local to the crash site, which has been described as separatist-held, coming to mourn the victims and offer their respect for the dead. Dressed in traditional garb and accompanied by their Orthodox Christian clergy the women wept openly. In response to reporters, one woman spoke out. "All of us have lost so much ... they have lost their lives and we have all lost in this ... their families ... and we, too."

Political point scoring and the media focus can create the instant din of banging on the drums of war, but it is the cries from the hearts of the mourners that truly overwhelm. As in many acts of war, the truth of responsibility remains elusive and will likely be retrospectively uncertain. But the truth of the human toll is powerful, devastatingly strong, and enduring. That truth will last for a long time, I fear.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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