2020
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June 25, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

NASA renames headquarters to honor ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary Jackson

They’ll never be hidden again.

NASA announced Wednesday it is renaming its Washington headquarters after Mary W. Jackson, an aerospace engineer who helped launch the U.S. space program.

She and her co-workers’ contributions to spaceflight had been largely forgotten until Margot Lee Shetterley’s 2016 book, “Hidden Figures,” and the Oscar-nominated film it inspired.

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” her daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said in a statement. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation.”

NASA’s first Black female engineer started her career at the agency in the 1950s as a human computer in a segregated wing. To become an engineer, she had to get permission from a judge to take courses at an all-white high school.

Last year, Congress posthumously awarded Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden the Congressional Gold Medal and voted to rename the street outside NASA headquarters “Hidden Figures Way.”

To help others, Jackson ultimately volunteered for a demotion so she could influence NASA to hire more women and other underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

It’s not the only building to have been renamed after Jackson. In 2018, Salt Lake City’s oldest elementary school voted unanimously to change its name from Andrew Jackson to Mary Jackson Elementary, to tears and a standing ovation, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Said School Community Council Chair Neal Patwari, “We just thought it would be good to have a school that honored somebody I could tell my children to look up to.”

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Why even ‘the Atlanta way’ faces a reckoning on policing

Atlanta is famous for being the city “too busy to hate.” But “the Atlanta way” is being tested by the shooting of Rayshard Brooks and a wrenching debate on race.

Yvonne
Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters
A protester watches as a Wendy’s in Atlanta burns June 13, 2020, following a rally against racial inequality and the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

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The arrest of former officer Garrett Rolfe on murder charges for shooting Rayshard Brooks has put Atlanta at the forefront of a wrenching debate over race, class, and the use of deadly force by police.

For Georgia novelist Tina McElroy Ansa, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, the protests have created a discomfort rarely seen in a city that prides itself on racial peace.

“In some ways, Atlanta is not a Southern city, nor a Western city, nor a Northern city, but it reacts in a different way – the ‘too busy to hate’ thing,” says Ms. Ansa. “Atlanta is a different kind of animal, and it defines us. But we have so much to clean out. It’s a huge conversation to have.”

But many residents believe that the debate must go beyond police budgets and policies, to the kind of inequities of opportunity that simmer under the surface even here. In that way, Atlanta, they say, offers a unique starting point for a nation searching for peace.

“This is not about ostracizing police,” says Atlanta native D.J. Jones. “And race can’t be the point of our victimization. There are so many cogs in the system, and the only way we can fix it is people sitting together and learning from each other.”

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1. Why even ‘the Atlanta way’ faces a reckoning on policing

When Atlanta resident D.J. Jones watches the video of the shooting of Rayshard Brooks, he squints with the eye of someone trained in armed diplomacy.

Mr. Brooks was killed on June 12 after being questioned for over 30 minutes by two white Atlanta police officers after they found him asleep in his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru.

At the point of arrest, Mr. Brooks panics, struggles with an officer, grabs a Taser, and flees. He is shot in the back. The officer says, “I got him.”

The escalation seemed contrived to Mr. Jones, a U.S. Army linguist. The way the officer repeated questions seemed calculated to his ear. “I thought, ‘He’s riling him up. He came to this call with an agenda.’”

Mr. Jones’ mission for more than a decade has been spanning the globe from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan as a street diplomat in a civilian suit, doing counterterrorism work by bridging the trust gap between disaffected neighborhoods and the powers that be.

Over the past month he says he has watched his own country – his own city – explode as protests against police brutality have been met with more police brutality.

As a citizen, and a bassist, he joined Juneteenth parties to celebrate the end of slavery. Black Atlantans like himself, he says, “are walking with less fear.”

“This is happening now because American society has focused on fixing surface racism without addressing policing culture,” he says. Protests here and across the U.S. offer, he says, “the last rebuttal of the Confederacy.”

Here in a former Confederate city, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is traversing ground that Black mayors have since taking the reins in the early 1970s. She has signed executive orders to curb use of force and has demanded the firing of at least 10 officers for unprofessionalism, and worse.

The arrest of former officer Garrett Rolfe on murder charges for shooting Mr. Brooks has put Atlanta at the forefront of a wrenching debate over race, class, and the use of deadly force by police.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Army linguist D.J. Jones attends a Juneteenth block party in Atlanta's West End on June 21, 2020, as a civilian. Mr. Jones has done diplomatic counterterrorism work throughout the world, but has found a challenge to democratic norms in his hometown. Atlanta, he says, is in a unique position to address a militarized police culture that he says has contributed to extrajudicial police killings of Black Americans.

But many residents, including Mr. Jones, believe that the debate must go beyond police budgets and policies, to the kind of class divides and inequities of opportunity that simmer under the surface even here in America’s “Black Mecca,” which the city has been referred to since the 1970s.

In that way, Atlanta, they say, offers a unique starting point for a nation searching for peace.

“T.I., the rapper, made a statement that Atlanta is ‘Wakanda,’ the perfect city from ‘Black Panther,’” says Nathaniel Q. Smith Jr., an Atlanta native and founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity. “I push back on that, not because I don’t believe that Atlanta is special for Black people, but because we’re not Wakanda.

“Yes, the protests are about police brutality and a criminal justice system that is inherently racist, but at the end of the day it is because people feel like they are not getting their fair share.”

“The Atlanta way”

The ninth-largest metro in the U.S., Atlanta is the undisputed capital of the South. Its triumvirate of historically Black colleges – Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta – seeds the country with Black intelligentsia. It is a popular destination: Over 600,000 people moved to the metro area – more than the population of the city itself – since 2010, many of them Black Americans seeking a return to the South.

Part of its appeal lies in the “Atlanta way.” First created as part of a marketing campaign in 1923, it joined the Black and white elite in a bid to unify the city around commerce. That comity was on full display in 1968. As riots flared across the U.S. after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in Memphis, Atlanta remained calm as his casket was brought home to the historic Old Fourth Ward, where he had preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In essence, Atlantans decided that in order to rise to prominence “we are going to be that place that articulates a different mindset ... that surface-level racial strife is not good for business,” says Calinda Lee, a historian at the Atlanta History Center.

Ms. Lee recalls as a senior at Spelman College protesting in the wake of the acquittal of officers in the Rodney King beating – and feeling now, after settling here and raising a family, a sense of weariness that little has changed in nearly 30 years.

“I can still see myself, not only marching in the street and ... organizing rallies, but also saying, how do we channel this?” says Ms. Lee. “Even as these charges are being brought now, I guarantee you that African Americans all over the nation are holding their breath and waiting for the excusing and minimizing. But it is also reminding us that class is a particularly vulnerable reality for African Americans.”

“Atlanta is undergoing a demographic shift that seems to be hastened by class, which can’t be unlinked from race,” says Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “You can have descriptive representation in government, but who is the power behind the power – and is that as diverse as the city?”

Despite a burgeoning Black middle class, the state of Black Atlanta remains precarious. Under the last mayor, Kasim Reed, only a handful of housing initiatives were finished, even as the city partnered with developers and corporations to build amenities for a gentrifying white middle class. Black unemployment was 11.5% compared with 2.7% for white people in 2017, according to the Brookings Institution, and the opportunity gap between tony Buckhead and Bankhead is vast.

Changing demographics and voting patterns in the suburbs, too, complicate the picture, says Dr. Gillespie. Just north of Atlanta, the suburban congressional district once led by Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich is now held by Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was murdered in 2012 in a convenience store parking lot by a white man upset by rap music.

“All of these things are building up,” says Dr. Gillespie. “It’s boiling over.”

For Georgia novelist Tina McElroy Ansa, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, the protests have created a discomfort rarely seen in a city that prides itself on racial peace.

“In some ways, Atlanta is not a Southern city, nor a Western city, nor a Northern city, but it reacts in a different way – the ‘too busy to hate’ thing,” says Ms. Ansa, author of “The Hand I Fan With.” “Atlanta is a different kind of animal, and it defines us. But we have so much to clean out. It’s a huge conversation to have.”

The reckoning comes as the country embarks on a fundamental debate about racial progress, even as the White House denies the existence of institutional racism in policing.

Meanwhile, Ms. Bottoms is being floated as a potential vice presidential pick for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, even as she grapples with the same challenges faced by other Democratic mayors of large cities.

“Mayor Bottoms has to broker the views of everybody to bring everybody to a place of consensus,” says Ms. Gillespie. “But residents may not be as willing to compromise – it becomes a dirty word – and it’s what makes ... what these mayors have to do fraught. The rhetoric has potential to be a stumbling block.”

As other cities like Camden, New Jersey, and Minneapolis reshape their police forces, Atlanta began a heavy review of its police budget last week.

Atlanta police had already reformed to a more humanistic approach after a string of debacles in the 1990s and 2000s. For the past four years, until her resignation this month, the city was led by a lesbian police chief in a city that’s one of the most LGBTQ-friendly in the country.

“This doesn’t happen here”

The reforms had been so successful that Mr. Brooks’ niece, Chassidy Evans, shook her head when rioters burned Atlanta police cars after the George Floyd shooting.

“This doesn’t happen here – leave them alone,” she remembers thinking. Days later, her uncle was killed at the hands of police.

But there are challenges, starting with deep disagreement among law enforcement officials about whether Mr. Rolfe was really at fault or was a scapegoat.

“Those types of cases are extremely difficult because we can all point to what the citizen could have done differently, but unfortunately all we can deal with is what did occur – and was it justifiable under the law and policy?” says Samuel Reid, who has conducted police oversight in both Minneapolis and Atlanta.

Already, 19 Atlanta police officers have resigned, many have called in sick to their shifts, and other departments have said they will only respond in Atlanta if there is an “officer down” call.

The greater challenge, those who study American policing say, will be to address broader inequities that have resulted in the militarized “us versus them” culture witnessed as police used tear gas on protesters in 96 U.S. cities over the last month.

“At the next press conference I’d like to see the heads of city departments reporting on what they have done to alleviate the criminogenic factors in the community,” says Robbie Friedmann, founding director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange and professor emeritus at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. “Because if you cut the police budget, you are going to cut into the flesh and bone of the police force and you are going to end up producing less effective police, and it will end up hurting the community that needs those services most.”

But in Atlanta, there is a sense of a power shift. The cops are “basically on strike,” says Mr. Jones as peaceful protests have continued, often taking the form of bonfires and street parties.

Polling shows a dramatic shift among Americans in favor of deeper reforms, a fact reflected by the diversity of protesters gathered at a protest block party at the corner of Peeples Street and Ralph Abernathy Boulevard in the city’s West End, a gentrifying Black neighborhood.

“This is not about ostracizing police,” says Mr. Jones. “And race can’t be the point of our victimization. There are so many cogs in the system, and the only way we can fix it is people sitting together and learning from each other.”

Netanyahu’s annexation quandary: Is making history worth the cost?

Just talk of Israel unilaterally annexing West Bank lands is sending shudders through the Middle East, with dire warnings of blowback on several fronts. So what is driving Benjamin Netanyahu? And will he flinch?

Yvonne
Mussa Qawasma/Reuters
A Jewish settler holds an Israeli flag as Palestinians face off with Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Susya village, south of Hebron, June 19, 2020.

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s government says it is committed on July 1 to start moving formally toward the unilateral annexation of portions of the occupied West Bank. But what would be a provocative step remains cloaked in uncertainty, even as the repeated declarations of intent are already exacting a cost, for Israel and its few partners in the region.

The door to annexation was opened by President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which envisions Israel incorporating hundreds of Jewish settlements alongside and within a Palestinian state. But unilateral annexation risks destroying the prospect for establishing such a state, turning Israel’s democracy into an apartheid entity responsible for 2.7 million noncitizens. It could rupture Israel’s peace with Jordan, and burn ties with Gulf Arab leaders who have endorsed steps toward normalization.

With so much potential downside, and with polls suggesting that less than 5% of the Israeli public considers annexation a top priority, what then is motivating the prime minister?

“Netanyahu thinks that history will be kind to him,” says Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli writer involved in Middle East reconciliation efforts, “if he’s the prime minister who succeeds in placing his imprimatur on the physical contours of the state.”

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2. Netanyahu’s annexation quandary: Is making history worth the cost?

The billboard next to Tel Aviv’s main highway pictures Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel alongside the country’s iconic founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Sponsored by Israeli settler hard-liners who oppose a Palestinian state, the billboard urges West Bank annexation, and contains an admonition: “History will judge.”

Indeed, the region seems to have arrived at a fateful juncture. Mr. Netanyahu’s government says it is committed on July 1 to start moving formally toward the unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

For now, however, what would be a provocative step remains cloaked in uncertainty, even as Mr. Netanyahu’s repeated declarations of intent are already exacting a cost, for Israel and its few partners in the region.

The window of opportunity on annexation was opened by President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which envisions Israel incorporating hundreds of Jewish settlements alongside and within a Palestinian state.

But unilateral annexation, despite the current coordination with the United States, risks destroying the prospect for establishing such a state, turning Israel’s democracy into an apartheid entity responsible for 2.7 million non-citizens. It could enflame the occupied territories, rupture Israel’s peace with Jordan, and burn ties with Gulf Arab leaders who have endorsed small steps of normalization.

Talk of annexation has already triggered an erosion of cooperation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and stark warnings from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates about a reversal in ties.     

“Netanyahu’s rushed push for annexation so far has deepened cleavages within Israeli society regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [and] triggered significant downgrading of Israeli-Palestinian civil and security coordination,” says Ofer Zalzberg, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It nourishes the sense in the leadership in Amman, Ramallah, and the Gulf that to counter annexation fallout and ensure survival,” they would have to downgrade relations.

Debbie Hill/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the area where a new section is to be built in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa on Feb. 20, 2020. Palestinians regard the neighborhood as a settlement.

With so much potential downside for Israel, and with two recent polls suggesting that less than 5% of the Israeli public considers annexation a top priority, what then is motivating Mr. Netanyahu?

“Israel’s last outstanding border remaining to be defined is its most complicated border to the east,” says Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli writer involved in Middle East reconciliation efforts. “Netanyahu thinks that history will be kind to him if he’s the prime minister who succeeds in placing his imprimatur on the physical contours of the state.”

Yet his bid for history carries costs for others as well. Unilateral annexation renders President Abbas’ preference for peace talks with Israel laughable and boosts pressure on his government for a muscular response; 71% of Palestinians support severing relations with Israel and abandoning the 26-year-old Oslo peace agreements, according to a June poll. The Palestinian leader has rolled back cooperation with Israel – a move ironically that hurts his own public and threatens to unravel his rule.

Jordanian concerns

And because annexing parts of the West Bank would make a Palestinian state there less viable, it stokes Jordanian King Abdullah’s concern that his country’s majority Palestinian population will claim Jordan as their nation-state. That’s why King Abdullah and Jordanian officials have warned Israel and the U.S. multiple times in the past six months that annexation was a “red line” that would violate the two countries’ peace treaty.

“Jordan is committed to the peace treaty, and it considers the treaty in its national strategic interests,” says Mohammad Momani, a former minister of media affairs. “But if the other side is not abiding by the treaty, then it is only logical for Jordan to reconsider articles within the treaty.”

While Jordan has maintained coordination with Israel on Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, officials close to the government in Amman say it has downgraded cooperation on communal services.

Ariel Schalit/AP
An aerial view shows the northern West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim in the hills above the Jordan Valley, Feb. 18, 2020. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing whether to annex the valley and all of Israel's far-flung West Bank settlements.

Gulf Arab officials and observers accuse Mr. Netanyahu of jeopardizing a careful and unprecedented thawing of ties that Gulf leaders pursued with Israel at the expense of their own domestic politics. Mr. Netanyahu pushed for normalization without a Palestinian peace agreement by making common cause against Iran, in coordination with Washington.

The Gulf even lent the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” a veneer of legitimacy in hopes it could lead to an agreement on a Palestinian state. But unilateral annexation puts those governments at risk because it threatens to incite grassroots unrest across a region already suffering economically.

Taking the unusual step of penning an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the U.S., wrote that annexation renders improved security ties and normalization impossible.

“The message from the UAE is very clear: It is either annexation or normalization,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political analyst. “If the Netanyahu government really goes through with annexation, they should expect a huge setback.”

Pushback from Europe and U.S.

Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t laid out the scope of the annexation because he is navigating opposition from multiple directions domestically – ranging from maximalist demands from Jewish settlers who oppose the Trump plan’s call for a Palestinian state, to criticism of annexation by Israeli security experts. He also faces pushback from European countries, and in the U.S. from pro-Israel members of the Democratic Party who warn that shared democratic values are at stake.

Observers have been left to guess whether he will redraw Israel’s borders to incorporate some 30% of the West Bank, where hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers reside, or, more symbolically, extend Israeli law to clusters of large Jewish settlement suburbs of Jerusalem. 

Mr. Netanyahu, the son of a history professor, sees an opening to take advantage of the most pro-Israeli diplomatic initiative ever by a U.S. government, and believes that warnings of local and regional upheaval – and of a rupture with the Arab world – are overblown, says Tal Shalev, a political columnist at Walla! News.

“He doesn’t have any diplomatic achievement for the history books. He wants to be responsible for this move,” she says. “He is not sure that President Trump will be reelected to implement his pro-Israel views. He thinks he has a limited window of opportunity to change the way things are perceived about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Amir Cohen/Reuters
Israelis protest under coronavirus restrictions against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2020.

Mr. Abbas faces a dilemma in that annexation strengthens his militant Islamist rival, Hamas, which controls Gaza. However, endorsing armed resistance to Israel and cutting ties completely risks the implosion of his autonomy government and his political power base.

So far, he has downgraded security cooperation and refused to accept the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel, signaling to Israel about the costs of shouldering responsibility for the welfare of 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians should the Palestinian Authority collapse.

Annexation “is the final blow to the realization of the two-state solution and the peace process. This is the first time that [the Palestinian leadership] is realizing that it’s the formal end,” and that it’s being backed by the U.S., says Diana Buttu, a former member of the Palestinian negotiations team.

“Oslo was supposed to be five years. ... With annexation, the thinking is that we’ve got to put an end to Oslo – that means putting an end to the fundamentals of it, which takes away responsibility from the Israeli authority and shifts it to the Palestinian Authority.”

Postponed move?

However, the pain of shifting the burden to Israel is being shouldered by average Palestinians amid pandemic-induced struggles. Unemployment is on the rise as day laborers from the West Bank can’t reach jobs in Israel, and hundreds of Palestinian medical patients aren’t getting permits to travel for treatment at Israeli hospitals.

Mr. Abbas is taking the middle path “between doing nothing and continuing coordination, and going all the way, in opposition,’’ says Mr. Zalzberg. “He’s trying to signal non-acceptance while keeping the PA intact and the very basic Oslo agreement intact.”

In the end, observers both inside and outside Israel believe Mr. Netanyahu will try to satisfy everyone by postponing the move, or perhaps by making do with a symbolic declaration of sovereignty over settlements around Jerusalem. That would change little on the ground, and could still be digestible, he may feel, by Israel’s Arab neighbors and by the international community while allowing him a place in Israeli history.

Yet, warn Palestinian officials, even a partial measure will justify a severing of cooperation. It would be difficult for Arab countries, too, to accept an attempt at nuanced annexation.

“You can bet that Arab governments will be a hundred times more reluctant to talk about cooperation or peace with Israel,” says Mr. Momani, the former Jordanian official.  “This move is already poisoning the well of good will; if annexation goes through, the whole environment will be poisoned.”

Why does World War II still hold such a grip on Russia?

World War II was a pivotal event for many countries, but in Russia, it still looms large today. Why does the war retain such a grip on Russian hearts and minds?

Yvonne
Alexander Vilf/Host/Reuters
Russian Victory Day celebrations, held in Moscow's Red Square on June 24, 2020, are always a big deal. But this year they came amid a surge in Russian memorialization of the war, including consecration of an armed forces cathedral and publication of a major article on the war by Vladimir Putin.

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Most nations that participated in World War II suffered terrible losses. But Russia seems to be the only country where the war actually grows in the public consciousness with each passing year.

There may be no simple explanations for why Russians cannot seem to ease their memories of the trauma of the war. It’s a basic truth that WWII impacted the former Soviet Union far more than any other participant, leaving 27 million dead. “Almost every family carries the memory of someone they lost,” says Mikhail Chernysh of the Institute of Sociology in Moscow.

Critics argue that the Kremlin leans so heavily on the war because the post-Soviet Russian state needs events that bespeak a time of social unity. A recent poll found that 75% of Russians believe that the Soviet era was “the best time in Russian history.”

“Under Putin, the authorities see Victory Day as a source of legitimacy,” says Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “This is understandable since our population believes that it was the most important event in Russian and, indeed, world history. There is no other proposition that enjoys such complete consensus in Russia.”

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3. Why does World War II still hold such a grip on Russia?

The anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany is a hugely important holiday in Russia. So when the coronavirus lockdown prevented it from being celebrated on its appointed day, May 9, a new holiday was created so that it could happen this week.

That is why, on what would otherwise have been an ordinary Wednesday in June, Red Square reverberated under the weight of hundreds of armored vehicles, more than 12,000 marching troops, and a massive flyover by 75 combat aircraft. President Vladimir Putin sat on the Soviet-era tribune beside Lenin’s mausoleum, surrounded by war veterans – who had been quarantined for two weeks in advance – to view the belated, but still impressive, Victory Day military parade.

Most nations that participated in World War II suffered terrible losses and still mark the big anniversaries. But, 75 years after the guns fell silent in Europe, Russia seems to be the only country where the war actually looms larger in public consciousness and political considerations with each passing year.

This year, in addition to ensuring that the annual parade would take place, Mr. Putin consecrated an enormous new armed forces cathedral and war museum near Moscow. He also penned a 9,000-word polemical article about the lessons of the war, which was published in an important U.S. foreign policy journal. The annual march of the Immortal Regiment, a relatively new event in which millions of Russians publicly display photos of ancestors who fought in the war, is taking place on July 26 after being postponed along with the regular parade.

There may be no simple explanations for why Russians cannot seem to ease their memories of that immense trauma inflicted by the war. It’s a basic truth that WWII impacted the former Soviet Union far more than any other participant, leaving 27 million dead and most of the European USSR in ruins. The Red Army also bore the brunt of defeating Nazi Germany, a fact that Mr. Putin’s article chided his Western readers for sometimes forgetting.

“Victory Day is the only holiday on our calendar that does not attract any controversy,” says Mikhail Chernysh, an expert with the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. “Almost every family carries the memory of someone they lost, and just about everyone supports the idea of public remembrance.”

Critics argue that the Kremlin leans so heavily on the war because the post-Soviet Russian state lacks great achievements and the democratic legitimacy that would confer unity, and hence stages events that bespeak a time of social consolidation, a great cause, and a stirring victory.

Sergey Guneev/Host/Reuters
Vladimir Putin (center), shown here attending the Victory Day Parade in Red Square on June 24, 2020, argued in his article in National Interest magazine that the West fails to remember that it was the Red Army that bore the brunt of defeating Nazi Germany.

A poll released last week by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that a whopping 75% of Russians believe that the Soviet era was “the best time in Russian history” while only 18% disagreed. Deeper into the weeds of that survey, it becomes clear that the Soviet period is attractive because it is associated with stability, confidence in the future, a “good life,” and nostalgic memories of childhood and youth. Only 28% said they favored a return to the Soviet system, while 58% wanted Russia to follow “its own, special path.”

“Under Putin, the authorities see Victory Day as a source of legitimacy,” says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “This is understandable since our population believes that it was the most important event in Russian and, indeed, world history. There is no other proposition that enjoys such complete consensus in Russia.”

“Not just about a great victory”

One probable reason that Mr. Putin was moved to write his lengthy missive about the war was that Moscow was miffed by the lack of an invitation to attend last year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day celebrations in Britain and France – though Mr. Putin claimed otherwise, deriding the importance of D-Day in the process. Likely even more irksome to Russia was a resolution adopted by the European Union last September that seemed to declare the Soviet Union equally guilty with Nazi Germany for starting the war, because the two signed a nonaggression pact on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland. The Soviet invasion of Poland followed two weeks thereafter.

Much of Mr. Putin’s piece is a factual, but tortuous and one-sided, account of the events leading up to the war. It’s a familiar narrative to any Russian schoolchild, but not well-known in the West. It’s also noteworthy that, amid the polemics, he does point out that the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, renounced the Hitler-Stalin pact and its secret protocols, which divided up Poland and the Baltic states between the USSR and Germany. The subsequent collapse of the USSR’s empire undid the geopolitical remapping that has fueled much of the vitriol between Russia and the West over the start of WWII.

Nikita Petrov, a historian and council member of Russia’s largest human rights organization, Memorial, says it’s understandable that Mr. Putin doesn’t want to address Soviet crimes and mistakes, but does want to stress its participation in the anti-Hitler coalition, which turned the USSR into a great global power.

Mr. Putin’s article concludes with an appeal for Russia and the West to heal their growing rift by holding a summit meeting like the Yalta Conference in early 1945, where Allied leaders hammered out the post-WWII global order. “It’s perfectly natural for Putin to champion the idea of a Yalta 2, because he sees this as a possible way to overcome Russia’s international isolation,” says Mr. Petrov.

In short, WWII remains a powerful memory and motivational force in Russia because it seamlessly unites popular emotions with the Kremlin’s current goals, says Mr. Chernysh.

“The war has all the traits of a foundational event for Russians,” he says. “It’s not just about a great victory, it’s also about our victimhood, past and present. It displays the resilience of the nation when united against overwhelming odds. It is the glue that promotes current social and political cohesion.”

Essay

Beyond fortitude: COVID-19 nurses tap a hidden strength – ‘sisu’

Sometimes, life and work can get so tough that it takes more than grit and perseverance to cope. Front-line nurses on COVID-19 wards have needed that quality in spades. The Finns have a word for it.

Yvonne

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How do nurses cope with the enormous pressures they face on COVID-19 wards, overwhelmed with work and fearful of infection?

They draw on a quality that in Finland they have a word for – sisu. It signifies the extraordinary courage and determination that surfaces in response to particular adversity and hardship.

Finnish soldiers drew on sisu during their brutal winter war to repel a Soviet invasion in 1939. Nowadays Erin Dean, a nurse in New York, says she is “drawing on a heretofore untouched well of strength and determination. The whole hospital is calling upon a unique type of fortitude that allows us to get the job done.”

Emilia Lahti, a world expert on sisu, thinks of it as the next gear beyond fortitude. It expands your sense of what you can do, encourages you to take action in the most daunting of circumstances, and opens untapped channels of power.

COVID nurses, she says, are “digging to reach layers of strength they did not know existed.”

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4. Beyond fortitude: COVID-19 nurses tap a hidden strength – ‘sisu’

I can see the banner atop the Space Needle from my desk at home. It reads, “We got this Seattle.” While I am grateful that my city is no longer the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, my thoughts turn to my former home and my colleagues in New York City living in the eye of this dark storm.

I emailed a number of front-line nurses at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, where I once worked, asking them to describe how they are able to maintain a constancy of care when they are running on empty.

Their stories are gallant examples of sisu: a Finnish word meaning the extraordinary courage and determination that surface only in response to particular adversity, suffering, and hardship. The word is 500 years old, but it was revived by the perseverance of Finnish soldiers who fought in the punishing cold of the 1939 Winter War. They defied a powerful Soviet army invasion and preserved Finland’s independence.

Since then, sisu has become a key element in Finnish culture, though it is a capacity we all share. At the core of sisu is the idea that, in each of us, there is more strength than meets the eye.

“No time to be sad”

Take Erin Dean, who details her evenings in the intensive care unit.

“Every night, when I take the elevator up to my floor, I call upon an inner strength to get me through one more night,” she explains.  “I became a nurse to help. I never believed it would require a special courage, but now I know that is true.  It’s not just me; the whole team, the whole floor, the whole hospital is calling upon a unique type of fortitude.”

Ms. Dean describes how this “horrifying disease has allowed me to witness acts of love on a scale I would not have imagined.” She recalls a loving, long-married couple – each fatally ill – in beds on separate floors. She ferried the wife in a wheelchair to her husband’s side so that they could die together. By the time Erin returned to her station, the wife’s bed had been assigned to another patient.

“No time to be sad.” Dean writes. “I had another patient to care for. As nurses, we have all developed the ability to compartmentalize illness and death, but not at this extreme, unprecedented level.  We are drawing upon a heretofore untouched well of strength and determination.”

I discovered the notion of sisu when I worked on a Fulbright grant at the Helsinki University hospital. There I encountered the work of Finnish psychologist Emilia Lahti, the world’s foremost authority on the phenomenon.

Ms. Lahti’s research details three key elements of sisu. Firstly, it enables us to move beyond our existing view of our mental and physical capacities. Sisu is also an action mindset that helps us to face up to fears, extend ourselves in moments of suffering, and take action in the most daunting circumstances. And finally, sisu is a second wind that allows us to draw upon a previously hidden, untapped source of strength.

Digging deeper

These three elements sing in the example of Lenox Hill front-line nurse Emily Fawcett, who describes working her fifth 13-hour shift in a row.

“I could probably sit here and complain about how my feet are swollen and throbbing, how I have a headache from the tight mask, how I have cried three times today already, or how I miss my family. But, I am choosing not to. And this is why: Today I had the honor and privilege to “send off” a Navy veteran – to give him the goodbye that he deserved.

“It was at this moment I had to call on my inner strength and courage. It no longer mattered that I was exhausted, that I had not eaten lunch, that I had charting to do. All that mattered was this patient and his family. They were my strength, my courage. If they could be strong in this moment, so could I.”

Ms. Fawcett describes her team jumping into action. They called the family in, gathered hospital workers who were veterans, got the music ready. “We all gowned up, the family said their goodbyes. We played the Star Spangled Banner and we all gave him his final salute. He passed away shortly after. It was beautiful and it is this moment that will carry me into my next shift.”

I ask Emilia Lahti how she views the exceptional responses of front-line health care workers.

“The sisu these nurses describe has appeared in a moment of extreme adversity,” she responds. “It is invoked by an experience that calls them to stretch and expand.” Ms. Lahti thinks of sisu as the next gear beyond fortitude. It begins where grit and perseverance end, a “friendly darkness of adversity” that sparks our “ability to channel a moment and open the pathway to a latent existing strength that resides within us,” she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic is such a moment, Ms. Lahti suggests. “We are witnessing a global expression of sisu. We see nurses and health care providers digging to reach layers of strength they did not know existed. They are stepping into their previously unpresented strength.”

Consider a final example of sisu as defiant bravery. ICU nurse Rose May Coma compares her first day on a COVID-19 unit to being “a civilian at war,” toe to toe with the enemy virus. She addressed it directly.

“That’s okay Corona, I was not ready today. Scoreboard: CORONA: 1 ME: 0. But tomorrow is another day. I’m made of tougher stuff than you, Corona. You won’t get me again. Enjoy your win; I’m in it in for the long haul. I will dig deep, deeper than I ever needed to. I will do it for my family, your family, my brothers and sisters at the front line, for me, for humanity.”

More than 100 years ago, the American philosopher William James wondered “what keeps our lights burning and our hearts hoping during the dark night of the soul?” When I listen to the stories of these valiant nurses, I hear eloquent answers. I can only express wonder and gratitude for the sisu that moves them to meet this unthinkable moment.

Barbara Mackoff is a Seattle consulting psychologist, senior faculty at the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, co-author of “The Inner Work of Leaders,” and author of the forthcoming “What’s in Your Just in Case Book?”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

How Vermont farm turned being a good neighbor into good business

Thomas McCurdy was worried about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his own small business. But the way he went about saving it helped his neighbors as much as himself.

Yvonne
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Thomas McCurdy (left) and Bailey Hale pose on their Vermont farm on June 9, 2020. The online food delivery service they launched has helped keep their business afloat and also assisted their neighbors and local non-profits.

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When COVID-19 hit Vermont last March, Thomas McCurdy felt out of sorts, jarred by the pandemic’s effect on his company and on his local community.

But he soon shook that mood off, and with his husband he expanded their pastry and cut-flower business into gourmet cooked food delivery.

That was partly a way to keep their business afloat, when nobody was buying wedding cakes or cut flowers for events. But it was also a way to help their community.

Local farmers benefited; the delivery company, Kingdom Direct, bought meat, eggs, cheese, and milk from them when farmers markets were shut. And poorer citizens, in a region with the highest unemployment rates in the state, benefited when clients ordering the gourmet menus online clicked on a message encouraging them to donate to a local nonprofit.

“We’re all in this together,” says Mr. McCurdy, “and I feel really grateful to have found this specific little niche and to be able to piece this all together to support as many people as we can.”

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5. How Vermont farm turned being a good neighbor into good business

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Vermont in mid-March, pastry chef Thomas McCurdy spent a week or two feeling confused and “out of sorts,” as he puts it, jarred by the economic impact on his business and his community. But that didn’t last.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘OK, that’s enough of that. Time to get to work,’” he says. That’s when Mr. McCurdy and his husband, Bailey Hale, who own a bakery and flower farm in Irasburg, Vermont, hatched the idea for Kingdom Direct.

Launched at the beginning of April from their premises at Ardelia Farm & Co., Kingdom Direct offers weekly home delivery of ready-cooked meals and fresh local foods to customers in the Northeast Kingdom region around Irasburg, a picturesque village 25 miles south of the Quebec border.

The online service was partly inspired by the need to do something to keep their business afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. But the founders also hoped to help their neighbors – both the farmers who sell them food and people hit financially by the pandemic in the area, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Vermont.

“We were not the only ones scrambling to make a living,” Mr. McCurdy says.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

So Mr. McCurdy turned from patisseries to high-class takeout, cooking gourmet and exotic menus from Mexico, China, Iran, and Greece and delivering the food to customers who had ordered online.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Peanut noodles are stacked in containers for Kingdom Direct, on June 9, 2020, in Glover, Vermont. Customers can either pick up their meals or have them delivered.

Just before a client reaches the payment stage, she is prompted to donate to a local nonprofit – a different organization each week – working with disadvantaged local people.

That goes to the heart of Kingdom Direct, whose name was chosen to reflect the region, not the business behind it.

“It’s not just about us,” Mr. McCurdy says.

“It made them cry”

One beneficiary of the scheme was the Backpack Program at nearby Derby Elementary School in Derby Line, Vermont, a small, rural town where about half the 500 students were signed up for free or reduced price lunches this spring. Under the program, launched last December, school counselor RoseAnna Cyr ensured that children from families having difficulty feeding themselves took home non-perishable food items before long weekends or school breaks.

In March, as the coronavirus struck and her school closed, she expanded her scope, also delivering fresh produce, bread and cheese to families needing help. And those families found an extra treat for the kids in each bag: homemade cookies from Ardelia Farm. That’s an item most of the families couldn’t usually afford, Ms. Cyr says.

“I’ve had parents comment that it made them cry, to have something special like that delivered to their child,” she says.

Kingdom Direct has also given a boost to local farmers, who struggled to find customers for their goods in early spring when the schools that usually buy a lot of milk and fresh vegetables shut down and farmers markets were closed.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Elizabeth Chadwick prepares soup for Kingdom Direct, on June 9, 2020, in Glover, Vermont.

One of them is Hannah Marvyl Pearce, who owns Hillside Farm with her father a couple of miles down the road from Mr. McCurdy. She found herself with eggs and applesauce in March and nowhere to sell them.

“It was a really good resource, to provide eggs to him,” Ms. Pearce says of Mr. McCurdy, who offers delivery of locally produced milk, cheese, eggs, mushrooms, and poultry, as well as cooked meals. “We easily sold them all; it was a really nice way to shift our market a little bit” away from traditional channels in new directions, Ms. Pearce adds.

She says people are realizing the value of locally produced food. “There’s a deeper appreciation for farmers and food in general, and a realization that a lot of folks don’t have dependable access to it,” Ms. Pearce says.

One of Mr. McCurdy’s favorite parts of the week is when he writes checks out to the farms.

“That feels really nice, to be able to support all those farmers through what we’re doing here,” he says.

Ms. Cyr, who is also a customer, tries to buy food from a different local farm each week. “This is definitely a time when we need to support our communities and support each other,” she says.

Feeding his neighbors

In April, just over a week after starting Kingdom Direct, Mr. McCurdy’s professional talents as a pastry chef won him the wherewithal to scale up his new service. Competing on the Food Network’s “Chopped Sweets” program, he won the competition for best dessert, and the $10,000 prize that went with it.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Cookies cool on a baker's rack for Kingdom Direct, on June 9, 2020, in Glover, Vermont. A cookie is included with every meal.

“It was a very nice surprise in the mail,” Mr. McCurdy says.

He didn’t get much of a chance to bask in the glow of victory, aside from a Zoom watch with a few friends of the broadcast on which he baked his winning recipe. But the prize money helped pay for a refrigerated delivery van and some much-needed kitchen equipment. He also hired a couple of part-time staff.

Kingdom Direct has helped Ardelia Farm stay afloat too, at a time when its summer outlook was grim. The farm would usually have relied on cut-flower sales to event florists in New York City and on Mr. McCurdy’s wedding cake sales. Those income streams dried up as customers canceled their summer events.

One of Mr. McCurdy’s biggest takeaways from this experience is the increase in his local business. Previously, Ardelia Farm had sold everything it grows and makes out of town.

That has changed dramatically because of COVID-19. “Approximately 40% of Kingdom Direct customers are from our community,” Mr. McCurdy says. “That’s really exciting to me, to be really feeding our neighbors, our community.”

Ardelia Farm, he says, has been able to make an impact, helping farmers, nonprofits, and local families.

“We’re all in this together,” Mr. McCurdy says, “and I feel really grateful to have found this specific little niche ... to be able to piece this all together to support as many people as we can.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

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Walls between faiths fall to the coronavirus challenge

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For religious groups, the global nature of the coronavirus has led to a global opportunity. Many more faiths are now cooperating – even during the self-exile of a lockdown. They are holding interreligious services – virtually, of course, which makes it easier for congregants to mix. They are joining forces to serve those afflicted by COVID-19. They are working together to deal with people’s questions about the meaning of the pandemic.

One of the more unusual examples of cross-faith cooperation is led by Alon Goshen-Gottstein, the director of the Jerusalem-based Elijah Interfaith Institute. He has interviewed dozens of spiritual leaders in 15 countries on video about what he calls Coronaspection, or a reflection on how the crisis has positioned people “in relation to God and to true reality.” A common thread is that religions have a shared spiritual foundation.

The spiritual challenges of the crisis are universal. For most religions, so are their responses. Their growth in understanding each other and in working together is faith in action. That can only bring solace and healing solutions to millions.

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Walls between faiths fall to the coronavirus challenge

For religious groups, the global nature of the coronavirus has led to a global opportunity. Many more faiths are now cooperating – even during the self-exile of a lockdown.

They are holding interreligious services – virtually, of course, which makes it easier for congregants to mix. They are joining forces to serve those afflicted by COVID-19 – the need is huge with nearly half a million people having died, often alone. They are working together to deal with people’s questions about the meaning of the pandemic and to share prayers, often of gratitude.

Even the United Nations is joining in. UNICEF has launched a multireligious initiative to support the spiritual and emotional care of children during the crisis. In May, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged religious leaders to promote mutual respect and understanding as a way to counter the social strains caused by the pandemic.

In the United States, more than 100 faith leaders held a National Day of Mourning and Lament on June 1. In London, St. Paul’s Cathedral has set up an online interfaith memorial, which invites Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, and others to honor the deceased in Britain.

Most of the cooperation is local. On New York’s Staten Island, for example, clergy from different religions livestreamed a grieving service June 11 for the more than 1,000 people lost to the virus. In Detroit, different faiths are coordinating efforts to serve the community with food and other supplies – regardless of a recipient’s beliefs.

“Believers, facing an adversary like this one, lean upon the universal power of love, mercy, service, and care for their neighbors,” said Victor Begg, emeritus senior adviser of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

One of the more unusual examples of cross-faith cooperation is led by Alon Goshen-Gottstein, the director of the Jerusalem-based Elijah Interfaith Institute. He has interviewed dozens of spiritual leaders in 15 countries on video about what he calls Coronaspection, or a reflection on how the crisis has positioned people “in relation to God and to true reality.” The list includes Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The topics range from mastering fear to how to make one’s home the center of worship.

A common thread is that religions have a shared spiritual foundation. The coronavirus, U.S. imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told Mr. Goshen-Gottstein, “is de-emphasizing the physical dimension and exemplifying the nonphysical dimensions of our interconnectivity.”

The spiritual challenges of the crisis are universal. For most religions, so are their responses. Their growth in understanding each other and in working together is faith in action. That can only bring solace and healing solutions to millions. 

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Sudden joy and a new life discovered

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Is there value in learning more about God and our relation to Him? For a woman whose spiritual search led her to Christian Science and freedom from intense depression and a number of other ailments, the answer is a resounding yes.

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1. Sudden joy and a new life discovered

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I found Christian Science when I overheard someone say it was a religion about understanding God. My ears perked up at that idea because in my spiritual searching I felt I hadn’t found any other religion or philosophy that made understanding God its focus. At the time I was suffering with many physical problems, as well as with intense depression, and I was steeped in psychology. I believed God was good, but I didn’t understand how I could have all these problems.

I attended a Sunday morning church service at a Church of Christ, Scientist. At first, I walked out thinking, “There’s nothing here,” but almost immediately another thought came that “sometimes what appears to work doesn’t,” like the years of help I’d sought. And sometimes what doesn’t seem like it would work does, like the church service.

When I got home, I found myself singing as I did chores. When my teenage daughter arrived home after being on an overnight with friends, she was very alarmed. She thought I was on drugs. I assured her I had not taken any kind of drug. I then wondered if my sudden joy had anything to do with that Christian Science church service.

There was a second service at 5 p.m., which I attended – and I left even happier. I wanted to understand what was happening, and I found out about Christian Science practitioners. I was able to connect with one on Monday. She patiently answered all my questions. I particularly appreciated that she wouldn’t act as a person going between God and me, but would help me discover my own direct relationship to God and learn the practicality of living the teachings of Christ Jesus.

During our appointment the next day, I realized that after 10 years of searching for healing – trying holistic approaches, including homeopathy, psychic healers, Eastern religions, and taking more than 30 vitamins a day – Christian Science was what I’d been searching for; it actually felt familiar, as if it explained what I already knew deep within.

Christian Science confirmed that God is all-good and that “God is not the author of mortal discords,” as stated on page 231 in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy.

I continued attending church services and became a member of a branch church, followed by Mother Church membership and Christian Science class instruction.

I discovered I was healed of ailments I’d endured since childhood. Symptoms of chronic weakness, fatigue and pain associated with previously diagnosed iron deficiency, hypoglycemia, and thyroid imbalance disappeared. Intense menstrual cramps, digestive disorders, and frequent kidney and bladder infections were healed, never to return.

However, the healing of recurring struggles with depression took more persistent prayer. I spent many hours in the Christian Science Reading Room in study, and one day I looked up the word “depression” in the dictionary. I remember one of the definitions was “to press down, as a depression in a street.” The comforting thought came: “What if the world is not pressing down on me, but I’m like a little seed pushing up to the light.” I saw as God’s idea I was naturally attracted to the light. From that time forward, the image of the seed expressing its inherent strength has given me spiritual authority. The bouts of intense depression completely ceased, and today, if any feelings of helplessness or sadness occur, they are quickly overturned.

Christian Science has been a steady foundation to me ever since, and I’ve depended on Christian Science in every aspect of my life.

Originally published in the Jan. 9, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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In memory

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
Doves are released during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Cheorwon, South Korea, June 25, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow in the next installment of our “Navigating Uncertainty” series, Peter Ford explores what the world looks like when the U.S. steps back from leading.

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