Feb 26 2022

Words Fail

by at 8:37 pm under Uncategorized

I write this week’s blog on Saturday night. Words fail. I cannot do justice to current events, but I feel that I must lend my voice to the chorus. This is too important.

Just as we begin to emerge — tentatively and perhaps maskless — from the oppressive coronavirus pandemic, however transient the reprieve might be, we are gut punched by a more familiar type of bogeyman. This specter from the 20th century, and if we are honest, from all of human history, is a homicidal tyrant hell-bent on domination, with no regard for human life. He chose this past week to live out his particular Rambo-style fantasy on a nation filled with innocents who will needlessly die for the sin of existing in a particular place at a particular time. For who? For what? We, who struggle to save one life at a time, cannot comprehend the enormity of this evil.

I only know what I see and read, but here is my take. The Ukrainian people have thus far fought valiantly, and no doubt will continue to do so. The president of the Ukraine reminds us of the essential differences between false bravado and true courage, demonstrating profound grace under pressure. I pray for his survival and success. With enormous disadvantages in troops, munitions and air power, I fear the Ukrainian people will lose the battle for Kiev soon, but they will eventually win this war, for they have tasted freedom for too long and will never lose the memory of that taste. With the rest of the world aligned in a manner I have not seen since the aftermath of 9/11, the Ukrainian people will get long-term assistance, and Russia will be isolated and constrained while Putin and his buddies deal with an increasingly outraged citizenry that will prefer food and jobs over abstract megalomaniacal notions and forced military conscription. Those poor oligarchs, what will they do without their yachts, private jets and multi-million-dollar homes around the globe? How can they possibly live without buying everything in sight at Art Basel?

Putin has previously succeeded in crushing his opposition after earlier rebellions in Chechnya and the Ukraine, but this time the bear has poked a much larger creature. Might this outrage be the impetus for the United States to rediscover some of its common values and purpose as it leads a global coalition in resistance to Putin’s plans to destroy world order? Russia will be a pariah state as long as Putin rules, and his impending victory in the Ukraine ultimately will prove to be hollow.

The next days and weeks promise to be awful. As this is the first large-scale war fought by a military superpower in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a communications-enabled populace, the truth will emerge, and the fearsome savagery of war and of these oppressors will be on full view. People will be more outraged than cowed. I remember how a photo showing the execution of a Viet Cong colonel in 1968 galvanized protests against the Vietnam War. That was just one picture. Imagine what will happen when the atrocities to come emerge fast and furious on our smartphones — all day, every day, everywhere. I just hope that the Western alliance holds, does not lose its resolve, and that the United States rises to the challenge of world leadership, as it must.

At moments like this, we are faced with the awful truth that research, prevention and treatment of human disease necessarily take a back seat to the carnage of war. It is no accident that the end of the golden era of NIH doubling coincided with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. More important, it feels almost disrespectful to write about anything but Ukraine this weekend.

However, I cannot help but note that this past Friday’s Grand Rounds speaker, Dr. Elana Fertig from Johns Hopkins, gave a marvelous talk that demonstrated the power of computational biology to guide cancer immunology research. As one of her scientific mentors and collaborators, I was so proud. Having helped to raise her since she was a very little girl, my heart was bursting with parental pride. She, and so many other spectacular emerging research stars, are reminders that while we might be forced to focus on the dark clouds we see during times of trouble, the sun will shine again, brightly, warming the future.

Stay safe and be well.




The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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