'What would we feel if we found the world behaving the way it has?'
'Forced to fight our own prolonged battle; nobody from outside really demanding that the war end or actively working to make it end, and above all, a completely toothless United Nations reduced to pleading for a halt to the violence,' notes Shyam G Menon, exactly a month after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
In February 2022, life imitated a video game.
When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the world strained to see some valid reason for the act.
The aggression wasn't entirely unexpected.
There was the Russian annexation of Crimea earlier and the ongoing troubles in Ukraine's eastern provinces.
But then, it was Russia, a major military power and in that context, one of the stabilising forces around; counterweight to the periodic excesses of the US.
Russia wouldn't act irresponsibly -- would it? Probably inspired so, many media commentators bend over backward to read logic in Russia's invasion.
We were told that Ukraine harboured Neo-Nazi elements although nobody asked how many other countries hosted similar right-wing extremists and whether all of them merited being invaded.
In due course, it was clear that the war in Ukraine wasn't restricted to the disputed regions.
But it had to be 'in due course' because in countries like India, obstacles to sound reasoning had to be got over and a provocation to see the world clearer had to sting.
The former involved dismantling the blinds past relationships and by extension, the government's foreign policy, had tied on one's eyes and recognising the merit in telling a valued, friendly nation committing a mistake (like Russia) that it is fundamentally wrong.
The latter was discovering afresh in globalised world that a war between two nations also witnesses many from other countries, caught in the middle as students, professionals and workers.
At that point, if not the government's voice (like Putin unable to reverse his way out from the tunnel of his making, governments too have difficulty admitting wrong assessments made), the people's voice began to change.
Still -- and tragically at that -- the overall video game-texture of the war in Ukraine, persists.
What does one mean by video game-texture?
Some years ago, following a breakdown of the home Wifi, I found myself working from a neighborhood cybercafe, whose main clientele was afficionados of gaming.
Given my presence had denied a computer to some of the youngsters, they stood around watching others play.
The ambiance was filled with shouts to kill, advice on what weapons to use and quips on how one would have slayed one's opponent provided the chance.
Simply put, it was war without actual hurt.
Done so, killing and the baying for blood, come easy.
Death tolls and the spectacle of destruction become competitive tallies vying for top honors.
Ukraine, to our 21st century-world is similar.
To begin with, the narrative remains stuck as Russia versus the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); a sort of post-Cold War game to reorder our world and produce a victor.
That there is Ukraine as physical battleground with damaged cities for proof, dead people and broken lives, still seems incidental.
Most commentators focused on two aspects -- which side is likely to win and for the commentator's own country, siding with which of the two parties would be advantageous.
The terrifying experience war is -- that appeared a minor detail.
Like jargon making a caricature of subjects (even hiding comprehension), this was a case of excess indulgence in strategy, competition and the day-to-day machinations of diplomacy blinding learned adults to fundamental wrongs.
Imagine if it wasn't Ukraine, but India that got invaded.
What would we feel if we found the world behaving the way it has?
Forced to fight our own prolonged battle; nobody from outside really demanding that the war end or actively working to make it end, some even cashing in on the changed global economic situation for their own profit and above all, a completely toothless United Nations -- founded as the guardian of post-World War II world -- reduced to pleading for a halt to the violence.
On the other hand, the game and video game analogy has strengthened with daily reports of what kind of weapons and armaments are being used.
It is marketing in times of war.
Russia's claimed precision bombing and use of hypersonic missiles becomes poster for its weapons industry.
The West's anti-tank missiles and the Ukrainians checking Russian advance with Western armaments work as marketing for the Western weapons complex.
The latest has been Turkey's armed drones.
It is actually an old pattern. We saw it in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkan wars, Vietnam -- the utility of conflict as operational track record for weapons.
Then, there is the business aspect. There is an element of Monopoly in how economic sanctions work; who is forced to sell out and who may buy, who will lose his millions and who will mint millions from the debris of war.
Not to mention, plenty of chess in what one side's strategy may be and how the other, may counter it.
There was even an element of the absolutely bizarre.
As was bound to happen, when Ukraine was invaded, there were Ukrainians residing elsewhere, who returned to defend their homeland.
Given the David versus Goliath scenario, there were volunteers from other countries, who pitched in to fight for Ukraine.
And then in all solemnity, Putin announced that he was open to volunteers fighting for his side! Fight for Russia, the aggressor?
It was one of those instances when you could be sure, the world had miserably lost its ability to distinguish right from wrong.
And through all this, Ukraine stays invaded.
But wait, that isn't the end of the story. Video games have tiers you graduate to.
If Ukraine doesn't satisfy, there is World War III for promised attraction; humanity has already sowed the seeds for it, just in case you know.
A bit of watering, some well-placed tensions here and there and it will sprout, a higher tier of adrenalin rush for those done with Ukraine and craving a new theatre of war to deploy their weapons.
As the computer screen would say at the end of a round of gaming: Congrats!!
The thing is, something in us -- sensitivity perhaps - has diminished significantly.
While it is true that the world was indifferent or worse, when countries in less developed (less European?) regions were brutalised, two trends make the invasion of Ukraine particularly telling as an example of altered human sensitivity.
First, Ukraine wasn't exporting terror or annoying anyone save Russia courtesy their problems in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
These issues and Ukraine's flirting with NATO -- none of them are of a league that warrants all out war. And yet we have one.
Second, the war in Ukraine, while restricted to Ukraine as regards physical damage, has sent economic shockwaves worldwide.
The timing couldn't have been worse.
We have a world not yet recovered from the economic reverses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; the impact of the Ukraine war is on top of that.
Further, the energy industry, which is the main pathway spreading inflationary impact is in a regressive grip.
After oil crashed to record low prices during the pandemic months, no oil producer wishes to risk relaxing prices especially since the commodity is in its sunset years.
Worse, the bulk of oil production is in autocracies that have an innate need to keep themselves important one way or the other (pricing of oil being one) as otherwise, the natural push to freedom and democracy could threaten their own rulers.
As a lobby, energy producers should be happy with the war given how it escalated oil prices.
Another inflation trigger is the transport and supply chain business, wherein already existing strains caused by pandemic and which were slowly getting eased, may have received an avoidable setback due to war and economic sanctions.
In some countries like China and India, the issue is also one of political dispensations of questionable popularity having a weakness for insecurity as tool for survival.
When the going gets tough, people look to powerful rulers to dispense clarity and offer shelter. Autocrats love this.
Many governments in the world, it would thus seem, have use for Ukraine-like developments.
No wonder, Putin bashed on regardless of consequences, regardless of the millions worldwide -- not just people in Ukraine and Russia -- he forced into tougher existence.
He must know he has friends at the helm of other governments.
Right now, in India, if hiked fuel prices have caused price rise in items at the local grocery store, you can be sure there's a bit of Putin in it.
But who will you complain to? What will you do?
Ukraine is actually a giant mirror showing us the nature of autocrats everywhere.
It is also a reflection of us; our world of massive militaries, weapons manufacturing complexes and their inability to exist without a self-fulfilling conflict, somewhere.
Additionally, it betrays modern human thinking addicted to strategy and reduction of people to data and statistics.
It is a thinking that is terribly impoverished as regards human emotions like tolerance and compassion.
No wonder, we have a war in Ukraine. One that we treat like a video game.
Shyam G Menon is a Mumbai-based columnist.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com