Beyond Violence 

A Lesson from the MH17 Crash

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Flight MH17 departed Amsterdam at 12:15pm (Amsterdam local time) and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6:10 am (Malaysia local time) the next day. Unfortunately, it never arrived. On July 17, the plane crashed, after being hit by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Ukraine. The 298 people onboard died, including 80 children.

The horror and anger this resulted in is evident in media headlines. More details of the crash were being revealed for weeks after the incident. More and more stories of victims surfaced, whose life stories were shared by their families and friends. Many people are left in great sorrow and some are furious; while politicians resort to finger-pointing as so far nobody has claimed responsibility for the incident. The truth is yet to be clarified.

The clear-up mission in eastern Ukraine has been chaotic and controversial, complicated by a military conflict rumbling nearby, the summer heat and possibly even deliberate obstruction. Four days after the Boeing 777 came crashing down into the fields of eastern Ukraine, and after extensive negotiations with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Borodai, the alleged prime minister of the Republic finally handed over the two "black boxes" (the flight recorders) to a Malaysian delegation. Colonel Mohamed Sakri, a member of the Malaysian delegation, thanked "his excellency Mr Borodai" for agreeing to the transfer, which came after Borodai spoke personally to the Malaysian prime minister by telephone earlier in the day. By which point the bodies had been exposed to high temperatures and looting of possessions. A train of refrigerated carriages containing the bodies of 282 of the victims as well as 87 "other body fragments" finally rolled out of the station in the warzone. The bodies had been lying in the train for days, as rebels refused to allow the train to leave until the international forensic experts arrived.

The MH17 tragedy shows similarities with an incident that occurred 31 years ago, in 1983, when Soviet Union’s interceptor shot down a Korean commercial airplane KAL007. This incident contributed to reinforcing U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s speech, calling Soviet Union an “evil empire”. It signaled the Cold War’s “beginning of the end”. In 1983, the relationship between the then world’s strongest powers was at its tensest after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States' Strategic Defense Initiative planned deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe in March and April of that year. FleetEx '83 was the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific. These actions were viewed by Soviet Union’s hierarchy as bellicose and destabilizing; they were deeply suspicious of US President Ronald Reagan's intentions and openly fearful that he was planning a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. Aircrafts from the USS Midway and USS Enterprise repeatedly flew over Soviet military installations in the disputed Kurile Islands during FleetEx '83, resulting in the dismissal or reprimanding of Soviet military officials who had been unable to shoot them down. Thus when the Korean commercial flight KAL007 entered Soviet Union’s prohibited airspace, in order to keep their jobs, the Soviet Union’s interceptor pilots were more than keen to shoot any suspicious aircraft down. The rest is history. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, representative from Georgia in the United States House of Representatives.

Given such devastating incidents, the sense of impotence and vulnerability can be overwhelming. However, humans are far from being impotent. We, as a human race, are prone to waging war, killing, and hurting each other. What makes these stories even more tragic is that they’re not natural disasters that just happen to us; rather sadly, we’re doing this to ourselves. With the complications of politics, ethnicity, bias, as well as prejudice, it is often forgotten that everyone has a part in humanity that connects each other. It is incidents like these that demonstrate the tremendous damage one action can have on humanity as whole.

There are many people in this world who may think the violence and conflicts only exist in the news, and therefore having nothing to do with their lives. In the case of Ukraine, they might think whatever is going on over there is only Ukraine and Russia’s business. If that is really the case, the MH17 tragedy would have never happened. An Asian airline, carrying passengers from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Philippines, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA, was hit over the Ukraine. The wide range of nations involved makes the crash a real “global tragedy”. It is clearly demonstrated that, shunning from the conflicts doesn't make them less real, nor does avoiding confrontation do any good to solving the real problems.

Lives cannot be brought back, but problems can yet still be solved, and division can still be mended. It is never too late to realize that we’re all in this together. To advocate peace and freedom, we need one another, and we should be there for one another.

Sofie Chen is a student of liberal arts, residing in Shanghai. Her interests cover gender equality and new media in social transformation. She has great passion of contributing to the world's transformation into a better one.

Written by Sofie Chen and published on 21-August-2014

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