Last week’s news was dominated by the crash of Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752 shortly after it left Tehran airport in Iran headed for Kyiv. After the expected initial denials by the Iranian government, they eventually admitted in the face of incontrovertible evidence that the plane had been shot down by two Iranian anti-aircraft missiles, in what they claimed was a tragic mistake. Iranian defense systems had been on high alert, expecting missile attacks by the Americans in retaliation for Iranian missile strikes on American positions in Syria, which strikes in turn had been in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the notorious leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Mistake or not, the crash claimed 176 victims, of whom 11 were Ukrainian nationals, and 57 were Canadian citizens.There is a lesson to be learned in all this about how seemingly unconnected events can have tragic consequences for victims unconnected and far removed from hostile events. In this case, the decision by President Trump to assassinate a terrorist Iranian leader caused the deaths of many innocent Canadians and Ukrainians who had nothing to do with the current Mid-East conflict at the root of this tragedy. They were, in popular journalistic parlance “collateral damage”.
All this speaks volumes about the nature of modern conflict and warfare in an age of global interconnectedness. In the world of science, there is a phenomenon in Chaos Theory called the “butterfly effect”, wherein a seemingly small innocuous event may lead to major dire consequences. This is illustrated by the example of the beat of a butterfly’s wings setting off a chain of events that ends with a hurricane on the other side of the planet. In the case of Flight PS752, the assassination of a terrorist leader in Baghdad caused the deaths of many Canadian citizens from Toronto and Edmonton, as well as a Ukrainian flight crew from Kyiv.
The reality is that in our day and age, there is no such thing as a local conflict or crisis. Violence or other undesirable events in any part of the world, can, and often do get amplified and can result in unpredictable collateral damage to people and places far removed from the original source. Riots in Hong Kong, new viruses discovered in China, Ebola outbreaks and tribal conflicts in Africa, drug wars in Mexico, political crackdowns in Turkey, melting glaciers in Greenland, massive fires in Australia or California, the rise in ultra-nationalism in Europe – all these are capable of creating ripples in global ecological, political, societal and economic structures that can grow strong enough to cause significant disruption and damage far beyond their point of origin.
We must face the fact that we have become inextricably connected and dependent on each other, regardless of our ethnicity, citizenship, religion or place of residence. Because of exponential advances and progress in science, technology, communications, transportation and business, we have become in practice one global economy, society and ecosystem. We can no longer hide behind the attitude of “It’s not my problem!” A serious problem anywhere on this shrinking planet that is not addressed will inevitably become “our” problem if we do not cooperate and help in finding a solution.
The old biblical exhortation about being “my brother’s keeper” takes on new meaning in the twenty first century. We no longer have the luxury of choice. We either address the problems of world peace, economic inequality and climate change as shared, collective issues, or our civilization may not survive to have a twenty second century. Our major global challenges have become existential issues that affect us all, if not now, then in the not too distant future. Beliefs and political ideologies that are rooted in tribalism, isolationism, ultra-nationalism, racism or intolerance have become a recipe for self-destruction.
We are all vulnerable. We have all become potential victims of collateral damage. There are no more walls that we can hide behind that will protect us. No amount of policing or imprisonment will save us from the wrath of the oppressed and dispossessed. No arsenal of guns or tanks or missiles can be big enough to shield us from the determined fanatical terrorist. No amount of precautions will save us from the use of biological weapons. No amount of survivalist preparations will shield us from the destruction resulting from climate change.
Our only recourse is to put all our energies and efforts into fostering international co-operation and accepting that we have a joint responsibility to tackle all the major issues as one world, and not as a bunch of self-interested warring states.