There’s a big generational divide regarding the war in Ukraine. It might be bridged if Americans young and old became better readers.
This is Holy Week, a somber and sobering week in the church calendar, so I decided to conclude my Lenten series after reading a sobering poll of 1,500 Americans. It reveals a generational divide over the war in Ukraine: 92 percent of those aged 65 and over said they sympathize more with Ukraine. Just 56 percent of those aged 18-29 do.
And younger Americans are also less bothered about the war’s outcome: barely half of those under 30 said they care who wins, compared with 90 percent of those over 65. And just 47 percent of under-30s said Russia was targeting civilians intentionally while 91 percent of older Americans said that Putin is. That’s a gap of 44 points.
If you think this gap shrinks with educated younger Americans, think again. It’s still big, at 28 points. I’m sure there are many reasons for this but Philip Rieff’s comment about American education comes to mind. The higher you go, the higher the illiteracy. Younger Americans have been educated into imbecility. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that evil has been concentrated in the West, mainly in America. That’s why roughly 50 percent of younger Americans label both sides equally at fault in the war in Ukraine. They’re ignoring the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.
I lifted that last sentence from Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire Speech” delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983. Which leads my first recommendation for Americans young and old becoming better readers. Read Reagan’s speech.
Then read Peggy Noonan’s brilliant piece on Russian thuggery and savagery over the last century. The Evil Empire transcends communism and Putin.
Then steady yourself and read Anthony Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin 1945. It’s not for the faint of heart, as the evil depicted is horrific, especially toward women being raped, or drug back to the USSR as sex slaves. And while Allied soldiers committed rape, it was not on the scale of the Nazis’ concentrated evil. Their army raped tens of thousands of women as it invaded Russia in 1941. Then, as the Nazis retreated, the Red Army felt it had much to avenge, escalating the concentrated evil done to women.
“The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty,” wrote Natalya Gesse, a Soviet war correspondent observing the Red Army in 1945. “It was an army of rapists.” Altogether at least two million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not a majority, appear to have suffered multiple rapes. It is estimated tens of thousands of these women committed suicide.
Which brings us to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. This past week we got mugged by reality: purported Russian atrocities against Ukrainian civilians. Torture. Murder. Rape. Zelenskyy is one of the few world leaders who is not ignoring the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire. He told the world: “Concentrated evil has come to our land.”
He’s correct. Evil is everywhere but there are times and places where it’s concentrated. Like Russian troops torturing and murdering civilians, mutilating and boobytrapping bodies, raping and killing women in front of children. It’s a horror show, and it’s been concentrated in places like Russia and China for a long time.
So here’s another reading recommendation: the Bible. It depicts evil as concentrated in the evil one, Lucifer, who seeks to embody it in human beings who murder one another (Gen.4:1-16). Or in rape (II Sam.13). Rape is horrific because sexual union is par excellence of what it means to know God and his love. Rape is forced union, horrific because it profanes what is good, true, and beautiful, destroying the picture par excellence.
I make this recommendation because it has been my experience that most American Christians don’t read these parts of the Bible. I first saw this after preaching a sermon on Adam and Eve making love. A woman told me afterward that she was offended. I asked her what she imagined was going on in that verse. “I try not to imagine anything when I read it.”
If she had difficulty imagining lovemaking, I can’t imagine her reading the Minor Prophets where war violence towards women and children is common. This includes Babylonian invaders “dashing in pieces the little ones” (Isa.13:16; Hos.14:1; Nah.3:10), “ripping open pregnant women” (2 Kgs.8:12; Hos.14:1) while “raping/ravishing” Judean women (Isa.13:16).
This is why for several weeks I have urged Christians to read Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told as well as Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender. Both say our bodies are the focus of God’s plan, so it follows that the Evil One concentrates on destroying God’s plan in bodily ways that are almost too horrible to imagine. But we must. That’s why I also urge Christians to read The Screwtape Letters.
Finally, rape continues to happen in places besides Russia and the war in Ukraine. That’s why I urge Christians to read better magazines, like The Economist. A recent article noted the Taliban in Afghanistan is pushing females out of public life. It goes on to say forced marriages and rape are among the most notable features of Islamic State rule in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. These are places where we’re seeing concentrated evil. But again, recognizing this requires that Americans young and old, Christian or not, become better readers.
 “Americans’ views on the war reveal a striking generational divide,” The Economist, April 2, 2022.
 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (University of Virginia Press, 2006), xxiii.