The Bystander Effect is Alive and Well
The first time I heard of the “bystander effect,” I was a child listening to adults talk about the Kitty Genovese murder in Queens, New York. Apparently bystanders heard the screams for help of 28-year old Kitty Genovese as she was being stabbed to death outside her apartment building but didn’t come to her aid, out of fear. The phrase was coined to shame those who were complicit or didn’t come to the aid of a victim in need out of fear for their own personal safety. Nearly 60 years later – thanks to social media – the world is now “watching” human beings being murdered and a country – Ukraine – be destroyed in what could be collectively called the NATO Bystander Effect: 30 countries afraid to really help out of fear of a madman.
Why is this happening? At a very basic level, most of the world agrees that Putin sent in the Russian army to invade, destroy and conquer Ukraine because he doesn’t want a democratic country (or a possible member of NATO) on Russia’s borders and given that Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union, the country should really be part of Russia (the Ukrainians beg to differ).
In response, most of the world has sided with Ukraine. There’s lots of verbal condemnation of Putin’s “war of choice,” reports of weapons being sent to help the Ukrainians fight and humanitarian aid but the destruction and genocide continue. We are literally watching a people and a nation be destroyed and not taking more action because we are afraid: afraid of losing a fuel source (European countries are more vulnerable than the US), afraid of higher gas prices (less than 8% of our oil comes from Russia so prices appear to be rising because certain companies are taking advantage of an opportunity and not because of supply and demand), afraid of not getting paid back (Russia owes western banks an estimated $120 billion), afraid of starting World War III, afraid of Putin and what he will do, and afraid of starting a nuclear war – all of which makes it seem the US and other members of NATO decided weeks ago to sacrifice Ukraine and its citizens for the continued “safety” of their own citizens and nations.
We are standing on the sidelines verbally condemning Putin, passing sanctions (many with major loopholes), threatening to take Putin to The Hague as a war criminal (unless Putin decides to vacation in the Netherlands, this will never happen), and reacting to Putin’s moves, instead of acting offensively. Is the answer a “no fly zone” that Zelenskyy and Ukrainians have been begging for every single day? I don’t know but I do know the answer is not being complicit as we watch the Ukrainians and their country be destroyed by a madman. No one is safe with Putin and if NATO thinks the bystander effect will keep the rest of us safe, they are sadly mistaken.