Avoiding WWIII

The death and suffering in Ukraine does not yet remotely compare with that in Yemen. Nor does the death and suffering from war in Yemen yet compare with that around the world resulting from the misdirection of resources into war — not to mention the impediments to urgently needed global cooperation created by war.

But we talk about Ukraine, not only because it’s in corporate media and involves relatively wealthy, weapons-dealing, European nations waging war at home instead of in distant lands, but also because it has created the greatest risk of nuclear apocalypse yet seen on Earth. There are other possible flashpoints in Iran, Taiwan, Korea, and Syria in all of which the U.S. government is behaving in a manner that makes WWIII more likely. But the leading contender for Archduke Ferdinand of Armageddon is Ukraine.

The good news is that the shine is wearing off. A CNN poll finds a slight majority in the U.S. opposed to how Biden is handling Ukraine. Corporate newspapers list the war in a long list of Biden’s failures. Among elected officials, Republicans make partisan noises about possibly not funding this war with every last possible dollar forever, maybe. But let’s keep this in context.

There’s never been a war this wearing off of the shine didn’t happen with. There’s no critique of militarism permitted in corporate media or national U.S. politics. The slight criticism permitted of war spending is used to prevent criticism of corporate profits or of self-destructive sanctions, or indeed of ordinary non-Ukraine war spending which is in the process of being dramatically increased with no opposition in Congress or mention in the media, as corporate profits and sanctions combine with war spending to create higher gas prices for people lacking both mass transportation and media outlets that allow talk of shifting war spending into mass transportation.

The main current of corporate commentary still drifts between predictions of imminent victory and resolutions to stay the course no matter how long it takes, with no useful discussion of what the war means for nuclear dangers, for global handling of climate or pandemics or refugees, or for the spending of resources on useful and necessary things. Properly and gloriously pursuing the war is, of course, opposed to shamefully and treasonously negotiating an end to the war. Once begun, wars must simply last forever rather than be lost, as they all must be if they aren’t continued. The operations that are not doomed to defeat are handled as coups or threats or bribes, not wars. But some of them, if they last long enough, are likely to defeat the entire enterprise of life on Earth, and some people seem to realize this while pushing ahead anyway.

New York City recently released a painfully ludicrous public safety video with tips for surviving a nuclear bomb (such as “get inside”). And the response was mostly not to point out what a bomb does or why there would be multiple bombs or how a nuclear winter happens, but rather to mock the very idea that nuclear war is worth worrying about. The facts suggest it is more likely than ever, but a decision has been made to simply treat it as impossible. A recent poll showed 0% of people in the U.S. worried about war, nuclear or otherwise, as their top concern, and 1% worried about climate, with 33% concerned about inflation (which is actually good for people who have debts) and 15% concerned about gas prices (which is completely understandable even though higher gas prices is the one pro-climate change that’s been made in the United States).

Needless to say, we need a ceasefire, and a negotiated settlement. Numerous world governments have said so, but not done much to make it happen. Unfortunately, neither side much likes the idea, preferring to gamble with human life for a bigger win. As with the war in Korea and many others, a negotiated settlement would look a lot like pre-war agreements, albeit with a lot of people dead and buildings destroyed. And who wants that? Not the rightwing militarists in Ukraine or Russia. Not weapons dealers. Not media outlets. Not people who actually believe six years of tales of Russia stealing U.S. elections and owning Donald Trump, not people who believe that either Russia or NATO had no choice and have no choice and that it’s all a little bit exciting.

I believe that Biden and Putin are trying their absolute best to imagine that they are living in World War II right now, as depicted in U.S. and Russian celebrations. Each declares he is fighting Hitlerian forces, even though they are fighting each other. Each declares war and escalation to be absolutely inevitable, and therefore the gravest sin to be “appeasement” of the other side. Each swears the fight to be purely defensive, and yet that defensiveness to require endless fighting for the goal of unconditional surrender by the aggressor.

The lessons both sides have learned from WWII are:

  • War is glorious.
  • War is inevitable, so you’d better start it and win it.
  • There is no nonviolent alternative to war.
  • The evil of the other side justifies any and all evil by yourself.

The lessons they ought to have learned are:

  • War is the worst thing there is.
  • Reckless disregard for peace is extremely dangerous.
  • Nonviolent action, powerful even 75 years ago, has developed into the most effective set of tools.
  • Evil cannot be justified.
  • Risking nuclear war is madness.

It’s impossible for either side to see, but Russia and NATO depend on each other.

Whichever side you’re on, you

  • agree with weapons-maker propaganda that the available actions in the world are (1) war, and (2) doing nothing;
  • you ignore the historical record of nonviolent action succeeding more often than war;
  • and you imagine militarism to be required completely independently from considering what the results will be.

It’s possible for some people to glimpse the stupidity and counterproductive nature of war as long as they look at old wars, and don’t apply any lessons learned to current wars. An author in Germany of a book about the stupidity of World War I is right now busy telling people to stop learning lessons from him and applying them to Ukraine.

Many are able to look somewhat honestly at the 2003-begun stage of the U.S. war on Iraq. The pretended “weapons of mass destruction” according to CIA predictions were only likely to be used if Iraq were attacked. So, Iraq was attacked. A big part of the problem was supposedly how much “those people” hated “us,” so, although the surest way to make people hate you was to attack them, they were attacked.

NATO has spent decades hyping, exaggerating, and lying about a Russian threat, and simply drooling over the possibility of a Russian attack. Inevitably knowing that it would radically boost NATO membership, bases, weapons, and popular support by attacking — even if the attack actually demonstrated its military weakness — Russia proclaimed that because of the NATO threat it must attack and enlarge the NATO threat.

Of course, I’m the lunatic for suggesting that Russia should have used unarmed civilian defense in Donbas, but is there anyone alive who thinks NATO would have been able to add all these new members and bases and weapons and U.S. troops without the radical escalation of the war in Ukraine by Russia? Will anyone pretend that NATO’s biggest benefactor is Biden or Trump or anyone other than Russia?

Sadly, there are a lot of people who do imagine, just as ridiculously, that NATO expansion wasn’t needed to create the Russian invasion, that in fact more NATO expansion would have prevented it. We’re supposed to imagine that NATO membership has protected numerous nations from Russian threats that have never been hinted at by Russia, and to completely erase from all human awareness the nonviolent action campaigns — the singing revolutions — that some of those nations used to defeat Soviet invasions and kick out the Soviet Union.

World BEYOND War is planning an online screening of the film The Singing Revolution with a discussion with the filmmakers.

NATO expansion made the current war possible, and further NATO expansion as a response to it is insane. Russian warmaking drives NATO expansion, and further Russian warmaking is a lunatic’s response to NATO. Yet here we are, with Lithuania blockading Kaliningrad. Here we are with Russia putting nukes into Belarus. Here we are with the U.S. saying not one word about the violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty by Russia, because it’s long had nukes in 5 other countries (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Turkey) and has just put them into a sixth (UK) and had put bases capable of launching nukes into Poland and Romania as a key step in the steady and predictable build up to this mess.

Russian dreams of quickly conquering Ukraine and dictating the results were plain nuts if actually believed. U.S. dreams of conquering Russia with sanctions are sheer madness if actually believed. But what if the point is not to believe in these things so much as to counter hostility with hostility, having taken a principled stand within one’s head against acknowledging any alternatives?

It doesn’t matter whether attacking Ukraine will work! NATO continues its relentless advance, refuses to negotiate, and aims eventually at attacking Russia, so our choices are to attack Ukraine or to do nothing! (This despite NATO’s need for Russia as an enemy, despite the desire spelled out in a RAND study and by the USAID to provoke Russia into a war in Ukraine and not to attack Russia, this despite the fact that it would surely backfire.)

It doesn’t matter whether sanctions will work. They’ve failed dozens of times, but it’s a question of principle. One must not do business with the enemy, even if sanctions strengthen the enemy, even if they create more enemies, even if they isolate you and your club more than the target. It doesn’t matter. The choice is escalation or doing nothing. And even if actually doing nothing would be better, “doing nothing” simply means an unacceptable choice.

Both sides are thus mindlessly escalating toward nuclear war, convinced there are no off-ramps, yet pouring black paint on the windshield for fear of seeing what lies ahead. I went on a Russian U.S. radio show recently and tried to explain to the hosts that Russia’s warmaking was as evil as anyone else’s. They wouldn’t stand for that claim, of course, though they made it themselves. One of the hosts denounced the evils of the NATO assault on the former Yugoslavia and demanded to know why Russia shouldn’t have the right to use similar excuses to do the same thing to Ukraine. Needless to say, I replied that NATO should be condemned for its wars and Russia should be condemned for its wars. When they go to war with each other, they should both be condemned. This being the actual real world, there is of course nothing equal about any two wars or any two militaries or any two war lies. So I will be weeding out the emails responding to this screaming at me for equating everything.

But being antiwar (as these radio hosts repeatedly claimed to be, in between their comments supporting war) actually requires opposing wars. It seems to me that the very least that war supporters could do would be to stop claiming to be antiwar. But that won’t be enough to save us. We also need a massive global demand for a ceasefire and negotiated peace. People can start by signing the ceasefire petition at worldbeyondwar.org.

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