Everyone has a moral obligation to face and address the suffering of others. As the war in Ukraine continues, American citizens must confront this moral obligation. This can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure what you can do, but it is necessary. 

“As social creatures we prioritize our group over other groups,” says Franklin AP Psychology and AP U.S. History teacher Greg Garcia. This is a phenomenon known as in-group bias, a pattern of favoring members of one’s own group over those in other groups, and it has been prevalent in personal responses to the war in Ukraine. The problem is that, as Garcia states, “…instead of arguing that you have one country that’s democratic being attacked, and emphasizing the values of freedom and democracy… over authoritarianism, [some American citizens would] rather contrast that and emphasize the bad parts, the elements of discomfort, and because of other biases, we’re emphasizing the economic cost here instead of other tragedies that are unfolding [in Ukraine].” 

Many Americans have turned to jokes about the possibility of a draft in the United States or expressing frustration about rising gas prices—American-centric responses to a crisis an ocean away. While fear is a valid reaction and coping can include jokes, we must also turn to face the suffering that is occuring right now. We must recognize that things like increased gas prices due to sanctions on Russia, are a minimal, worthwhile sacrifice. 

Many people have been finding ways of fulfilling their moral obligation. Some have been raising money for Ukrainian forces or refugees, and others have even traveled to Poland to actively provide refugee aid. People around the world, including Russian citizens, have been protesting the war or volunteering to fight with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Volunteers joining causes they believe in has been a theme throughout history. One such conflict was the Spanish Civil War, a war in which the United States was neutral. Many people from around the world joined the fight, including several thousand Americans known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Garcia references a very apt quote by Mark Twain, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Not only does it rhyme in violence and war, but also support and aid.

Providing that aid and support doesn’t have to be extreme. Simply writing letters to your legislators communicating support for sanctions against Russia, including communicating acceptance of rising gas prices, can be meaningful. By supporting the United States government’s actions against Russia, you are making an impact. Politicians should not have to choose between being reelected and offering support to Ukraine. 

Direct support isn’t the only option, and action should also be taken to address overarching issues like the sources of Russia’s power. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Russia was the world’s third-largest producer of petroleum and other liquids (after the United States and Saudi Arabia) in 2020.” To avoid future reliance on the natural gas resources of other countries, like Russia, you can push for a turn to renewable energy. Donating to environmental organizations and supporting politicians who are in favor of progressive climate agendas can contribute to that push. You can also choose to walk or bike instead of driving whenever that is an option, reducing your personal use of natural gas resources. Constructing one’s own perspectives on an issue and continuing to educate yourself can help define the kind of action that you want to take. You can read up on the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine with resources like the New York Times. You can also donate to organizations like UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders to help provide health care and other support to Ukrainians.

There are many options for varying degrees of support and those of us who can do so should fulfill our moral obligation to help others. Choosing to question our own in-group bias and support Ukrainians is necessary in their time of great need. As humans who exist in this world it is on every single one of us to uphold the values of freedom and democracy and to stop turning a blind eye to human suffering in other countries because it is the easiest choice. Right now your attention should turn towards Ukraine.

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