Wake Up! We're at War | Opinion

Food, shelter, maybe a little bit of warmth in the winter, security for ourselves and our families. These are necessities, what people in the richer part of the world count on and what everyone else aspires to. Protecting these basic human needs is what people fight for, go to war for.

And it's these basics that are under direct assault by Russia, in Ukraine and around the world. The knock-on effects of the war are leaving an untold number of people hungry and—as the seasons change—out in the cold.

The first grain shipment in months left the Ukrainian port of Odesa on Monday morning under a tentative deal between Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Ukraine supplies more than 11 percent of the world's grain in normal times. Since the war began in February, its ports have been mined by Ukraine and blockaded by Russia's Black Sea fleet. The delicate deal finally allows one of the most fertile parts of the world to feed people living where food is hard to come by. But Russia has made humanitarian promises before and failed to honor them and, as if to add a question mark to the deal, struck the port of Odesa with missiles mere hours after the agreement was struck.

But it's not only about grain or sunflower oil. Russia's military has been targeting a key source of protein: eggs and poultry. An attack on one of Ukraine's largest poultry farms in March, near Kherson, left more than 4.7 million chickens to die of starvation, which is horrible whether you're a vegan or a carnivore.

There isn't going to be a great famine because of these attacks, but there will be hunger on a grand scale. As they are meant to, these strikes add to inflationary pressures around the world and cause people in Ukraine to further tighten their belts. Populations teetering on the edge of starvation are pushed one step closer to the cliff, and in some cases, over it.

Russia isn't making people hungry by happenstance. It's not just bottling up grain—it's deliberately destroying food, transforming fertile black earth into scorched earth. It's part of a concerted campaign to make everyone everywhere pay for Russian aggression and the Western response. It's a calculated attack on something fundamental to survival—the global food supply.

Helicopters in Ukraine
Russian military helicopters painted with the letter Z are seen flying behind a cemetery near a military airfield outside Taganrog in the Rostov region of Ukraine on July 26, 2022. STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images

No American is untouched by this war taking place thousands of miles away, and it's not just your gas tank, it's your breakfast, too.

But if higher commodity prices meant to keep food from people's mouths doesn't move you, the Kremlin is now fiddling with the taps controlling the flow of natural gas to Europe. The continent is deeply dependent on Russia for its gas and one of the key spigots is the NordStream 1 pipeline. Russia knows this and has been cutting supplies, giving Germany a taste of what a very cold winter could look like.

The United States and European Union are scrambling to find other sources of natural gas, which powers factories and electricity generation as well as homes, but it's a huge deficit to make up and may not be possible in the few months before winter sets in.

People will be cold, some may freeze. Plans to eventually go green are stymied by the need to keep people warm, moving, and fed RIGHT NOW. This is especially true in Germany, where coal-fired power plants due to be mothballed are instead being brought back online, but other nations are doing the same. That means Russia is not just attacking food and shelter for people with no stake in the fight in Ukraine; it means that the future of humanity itself is under assault.

Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia has been under heavy sanctions from the West. These are intended to hurt both oligarchs and average people, with the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be forced to bow to pressure from above and below. Putin's war isn't hurting only those he despises in the West, his own people are also struggling thanks to this pointless, endless fighting.

There is, of course, the kinetic war in Ukraine. Tens of thousands have died, millions have fled, and millions more live every moment under threat of violence and deprivation. NATO is deeply involved in that war, supplying military training, weapons, and intelligence—seemingly everything but boots on the ground. Russia has shaken the nuclear saber in return.

As Russia knows—as everyone knows—once you bring nukes into the conversation, the end of humanity is in play. Maybe the fighting isn't so far away, after all.

What does war look like? When has a war started? Is it when Gavrilo Princip fires the first shot and Archduke Franz Ferdinand is dying? Is it the quiet war that follows before the armies first clash? Is it only after there are slaughtered children lying in the field?

I worry that World War III starts off looking a bit like this.

No, it's not time to send in Western troops, but it's time to make sure they are ready. It's also time for Americans to be made aware of the ripple effects of this war on their daily lives.

Some have tried to argue that Russia's war is the result of Western military expansion in the Baltics and eastern Europe. But now, it's time for those who would apologize to Putin for his own aggression to slither away. No matter how we got here, we are all in this war.

America long ago started to tune Ukraine out, concerned about issues "closer to home," not understanding the war is not a world away. It's a fight for everyone's survival.

Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek, an author, and co-host of the Angry Planet podcast. TWITTER: @jasonqfields

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

This story was updated at 9:19 a.m. on Aug. 1.