“Arms against a sea of troubles”: Hamlet moment for Western leaders and Ukraine

by Bob Schwartz

Western leaders and politicians are torn and vacillating about how deeply to intervene in Ukraine.

In his speech to British Parliament this week, Zelensky chose words from Hamlet to describe the desperate existential situation for Ukraine: “To be or not to be.”

The genius of Shakespeare, why he has lasted so long in culture, is his ability to crystalize human experience and history. That phrase is the opening of one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquys. Hamlet weighs the ultimate choice between suffering and suicide. It begins:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

Though they don’t often earn it, this is one of the times Western leaders and politicians deserve a little of our sympathy. Whether it is an offer of arms, a no-fly zone, or troops on the ground, the potential consequence of intervention is dire—and politically controversial. The failure to do more has its own consequence, more likely than potential, of Ukraine’s bold resistance falling in the face of vastly superior Russian power. It is existential.

If this play ends well, Russia will eventually be exhausted without the West taking extreme military measures. If it ends badly, without that intervention, Russia will continue its scorched earth terrorism, leaving little of Ukraine that existed just weeks ago. In that case, we, those leaders and politicians, all of us, will replay the decisions made now. Except that this is no play.

Glory to Ukraine.