President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points set forth a vision of a WWI peace treaty based not on total victory for any one country but a permanent peace for all countries founded on generous terms of self-determination and economic recovery. Germany sued for peace thinking it would be treated fairly, but mainly France and Great Britain joined by several other countries demanded Draconian subjugation of Germany including ruinous reparations. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was a testament to vengeance, not peace. It also led directly to WWII.
If there is no war like a civil war for hatred and carnage, there is no dispute like a conflict between neighbors for animosity. Ukraine and Russia have had a common but transitioning border for many years. Millions of people in both countries can speak both Ukrainian and Russian. The two cultures are deeply intertwined even though there have been several border conflicts between the countries. Much as next door neighbors may fall out over property line disagreements countries with a common border may fall victim to the old axiom, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In like manner, when there is a breach in the “fence”, repairing good relations may require a generosity of spirit on both sides and perhaps on the part of third parties seeking to become involved.
My good friend, Judge D. Neil Harris of Mississippi, serves on the faculty of the National Judicial College. He teaches other judges about courthouse security. Judge Harris has found that the type of court cases that are most likely to result in outbreaks of courtroom violence are property line disputes. He advises judges to be particularly alert when disputes between neighbors must be resolved in court. There is something visceral about such personal matters that makes forgiveness more difficult. As the world found to its chagrin after Versailles and WWI, even when wise people know that “Blessed are the peacemakers”, stiff necks are often the approach when neighbors must negotiate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has been negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin for two years and is eager to negotiate a cessation of the current hostilities if Putin agrees. The rest of the world should allow Ukraine and Russia autonomy for their efforts to achieve a permanent peace. Such countries as the United States, Poland, China or Belarus may confuse their own agendas with those of Ukraine and Russia and, just as at Versailles in 1919, peace may be only temporary when the neighbors make up under false pretenses or when pressured to do so by outside forces. Perhaps the rest of the world should bite its collective tongues as Ukraine and Russia, hopefully, apply Wilson’s Fourteen Point type wisdom that was so tragically ignored at the catastrophic ending of WWI.