Where the old rhyme “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me” draws a true and useful distinction, it misses the reality that sticks and stones along with missiles and drones are wielded in the midst of our words’ sound and fury.

Just look at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There you will see much at stake, for instance, even over a single name.

Is it Kiev or Kyiv?

Practically speaking, it’s both.

Yet, the Russians say the former and the Ukrainians say the latter.

There you have one major reason for the war — not the literal issue of what to call a certain large city on the Dnieper River but everything that a Name implies for a people’s native soil today and tomorrow in the shadow of all their yesterdays.

When it comes to this question of claiming and naming native soil, I cannot help but think of what W.H. Auden said when he looked up to the heavens:

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

I know quite well the soil under my feet is utterly indifferent whether it is “native” to me or not.

I may give it a name, yet the soil does not care. I may grow food, plant flowers, trees, even an entire garden, yet the soil does not care. I may build a home for my family and raise up a church for my community, yet the soil does not care. I may even dig deep to erect flagpoles to march around with my fellow patriots while calling it a new nation, yet the soil does not care. I may even scorch the earth with torrents of missiles only to bury the exploded dead in her bosom soon after, yet the truth remains the soil does not care.

The truths and cares of life, especially our deepest held convictions and beliefs are first found not in the materialist world of land, borders, blood, and soil, but in the fabric of our all too real fictions about ourselves in relation to the ground below, the stars above, and bonds between one another. 

As Murray Rothbard rightfully recognized, individuals do not exist in a vacuum:

“Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one or several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. He is generally born into a ‘country.’ He is always born into a specific historical context of time and place, meaning neighborhood and land area.”

True enough, and given this context of birth, many people are proud of their history, nation, religion, etc — and even willing to shed their blood over it. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has especially reminded a decadent and cosmopolitan West of the fact that “indifference is the least we have to dread from man or beast,” and it is not difficult to see why the Russian bear pounced.

In short, this new war in the East is about much more than a cynical land grab. The people who have started this war, Putin and the Russian elite, have a much grander plot in mind to challenge the international world order itself — at first indirectly on the battlefield in Ukraine with the longer-term vision of creating a multipolar world absent Western hegemony. An independent Ukraine integrating into the West was always a threat to Russia and her Eurasianist project, militarily and culturally. But Putin’s aim is, again, much wider than Ukraine. If you would like to learn more, just search for the writings of Alexander Dugin, Putin’s spiritual advisor. But be careful, his writings are largely banned in the West - and for good reason.

Long story short, Putin and the team are betting the West cannot long survive an actual stress test.

Indeed, the West is not blameless for this crisis. In their own prideful sense of history’s inevitable march towards their ideals, Western leaders foolishly thought they could continue to go bear hunting without ever needing to fire a shot, let alone run the risk of actually upsetting the bear. These sheep in wolf's clothing continued to press their presumed advantages without a strong footing or long-term strategic plan. Such passive-aggressive weakness usually doesn’t end well in geopolitics, and it hasn’t ended well for Ukraine.

Beyond a wrecked Ukraine, the West can only win this new struggle by getting its own house in order and not taking its apparent strength for granted. The United States, in particular, is not as strong as it should be at this moment — financially, institutionally, or even spiritually — after years of growing flabby as a unipolar power and after many failed attempts to export democracy abroad through war and revolution.

Time to reassess our footing and foundations once again after years of neglect.

What story do we, the West, still have to offer the world?

In a word, the struggle for liberty.

But here’s the difficulty with spreading liberty to the world. Though liberty is a universal value, liberty cannot be universally imposed by great power alone. A leviathan built in the name of liberty will not long stand for liberty. Liberty, instead, must be freely chosen and fostered carefully over the generations by particular families, faiths, and nations. Liberty must be defended by each particular place in a slow and arduous process to allow roots to slowly take hold.

No doubt then, we are in this for the long haul. Patience and courage will be necessary. As many in America’s founding generation would have said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

So, while we trudge forward ever vigilantly — and as the idiot powers in Russia and China rise to strut upon the world stage in their attempt to reclaim their historic names — let us remember our own story of liberty and love for man’s freedom.

The soil may not care what we do in the end, but as the poet also said of the indifferent stars:

“If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.”

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12noon. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email newsandviews931@gmail.comThe views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.