Dear Russia-Had-No-Choice Friends

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, May 24, 2023

Here’s a terrible “syllogism” from a wonderful person, Ray McGovern, longtime CIA employee, then longtime peace activist, and now year-long contender that Russia had no choice but to attack Ukraine.

“The Russians had other options to invading Ukraine.
They attacked Ukraine in a ‘war of choice’; also threaten NATO.
Ergo, the West must arm Ukraine to the teeth, risking wider war.”

This is supposedly an explanation of the thinking of we believers that Russia had some choice other than to invade Ukraine. In reality, it illustrates a very sad and enormous distance between the thinking of people who once agreed that war was immoral, but who have now spent over a year utterly failing to persuade each other of anything.

Of course the quote above is not a syllogism at all. This is a syllogism:

A threat of war requires war.
Russia is threatened with war.
Russia requires war.

(Or write the same thing substituting Ukraine for Russia.)

But so is this:

A threat of war does not require war.
Russia is threatened with war.
Russia does not require war.

(Or write the same thing substituting Ukraine for Russia.)

The disagreement is over the major premise. The syllogism is not actually a very useful tool for thinking; merely for a primitive sort of thinking about thinking. The world is actually complex, and someone could build a case for this one, too: “A threat of war sometimes requires war, depending.” (They’d be wrong.)

That the threat or war, and even actual war, in many cases has not required war in response but been defeated by other means is a matter of record. So the question is whether this time was different from all of those times.

Here’s another disagreement. Which of these is true?

“Opposing one side of a war requires defending the other side.”


“Opposing one side of a war could conceivably be part and parcel of opposing all sides of all wars.”

This is a factual question, too, a matter of record. Those of us who have spent all these many months denouncing every war act by both sides of the war in Ukraine can show each side all the accusations we’ve received of supporting both their side and the other side — and all the evidence that they are all mistaken.

But maybe it doesn’t matter whether someone fantasizes that I’m cheering for NATO and secretly in the pay of Lockheed Martin. They simply want an answer to the staggeringly slam-dunk drop-the-mic win-the-whole-internet brilliant inquiry of “Well what the eff then could Russia have possibly, possibly done?”

Before I describe what Russia could have done, both in the moment of maximum crisis and in the previous months and years and decades, it’s worth digging up some ancient Greeks one more time:

Russia had to defend against NATO.
Attacking Ukraine was guaranteed to provide the biggest boost NATO had seen in a lifetime.
Therefore Russia had to attack Ukraine.

Maybe the syllogism can be helpful after all? The two premises are perfectly true. Can anyone spot the illogic? It seems not, at least not in the first year and a quarter. The U.S. set the trap and Russia simply had no choice but to take the bait? Really? How insulting to Russia!

Over a year ago I wrote an article called “30 Nonviolent Things Russia Could Have Done and 30 Nonviolent Things Ukraine Could Do.” Here’s the Russian list:

Russia could have:

  1. Continued mocking the daily predictions of an invasion and created worldwide hilarity, rather than invading and making the predictions simply off by a matter of days.
  2. Continued evacuating people from Eastern Ukraine who felt threatened by the Ukrainian government, military, and Nazi thugs.
  3. Offered evacuees more than $29 to survive on; offered them in fact houses, jobs, and guaranteed income. (Remember, we’re talking about alternatives to militarism, so money is no object and no extravagant expense will ever be more than a drop in the bucket of war spending.)
  4. Made a motion for a vote in the UN Security Council to democratize the body and abolish the veto.
  5. Asked the UN to oversee a new vote in Crimea on whether to rejoin Russia.
  6. Joined the International Criminal Court.
  7. Asked the ICC to investigate crimes in Donbas.
  8. Sent into Donbas many thousands of unarmed civilian protectors.
  9. Sent into Donbas the world’s best trainers in nonviolent civil resistance.
  10. Funded educational programs across the world on the value of cultural diversity in friendships and communities, and the abysmal failures of racism, nationalism, and Nazism.
  11. Removed the most fascist members from the Russian military.
  12. Offered as gifts to Ukraine the world’s leading solar, wind, and water energy production facilities.
  13. Shut down the gas pipeline through Ukraine and committed to never building one north of there.
  14. Announced a commitment to leaving Russian fossil fuels in the ground for the sake of the Earth.
  15. Offered as a gift to Ukraine electric infrastructure.
  16. Offered as a gift of friendship to Ukraine railway infrastructure.
  17. Declared support for the public diplomacy that Woodrow Wilson pretended to support.
  18. Announced again the eight demands it began making in December, and requested public responses to each from the U.S. government.
  19. Asked Russian-Americans to celebrate Russian-American friendship at the teardrop monument given to the United States by Russia off New York Harbor.
  20. Joined the major human rights treaties it has yet to ratify, and asked that others do the same.
  21. Announced its commitment to unilaterally uphold disarmament treaties shredded by the United States, and encouraged reciprocation.
  22. Announced a no-first-use nuclear policy, and encouraged the same.
  23. Announced a policy of disarming nuclear missiles and keeping them off alert status to allow more than mere minutes before launching an apocalypse, and encouraged the same.
  24. Proposed a ban on international weapons sales.
  25. Proposed negotiations by all nuclear-armed governments, including those with U.S. nuclear weapons in their countries, to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons.
  26. Committed to not maintaining weapons or troops within 100, 200, 300, 400 km of any borders, and requested the same of its neighbors.
  27. Organized a nonviolent unarmed army to walk to and protest any weapons or troops near borders.
  28. Put out a call to the world for volunteers to join the walk and protest.
  29. Celebrated the diversity of the global community of activists and organized cultural events as part of the protest.
  30. Asked the Baltic states that have planned nonviolent responses to Russian invasion to help train Russians and other Europeans in the same.

I discussed this on this radio show.

I’m sure it’s in vain, but please make a real effort to remember that this was in an article about what each side could do instead of the insanity of organized mass-murder, risking nuclear apocalypse, starving the globe, impeding climate collaboration, and ruining a country. Please make a real effort to remember that we all have always been painfully aware of all the U.S. aggression toward Russia. So, the answer to “How dare I suggest that Russia behave better than the horrible worst-government-on-Earth of the country where I myself live, the United States?” is the usual one: I spend most of my time demanding that the United States behave better, but if the rest of the world can find it within itself to behave so well that life on Earth is preserved despite every effort of Washington, I’m going to be grateful for that — and I’m certainly not going to discourage it.

Maybe the Russian peace activists so bravely opposing their nation’s warmaking, as we all must oppose our own, are deeply misguided, but I don’t think they are.

So, why is it so impossible to even make each other understand where we’re coming from, you Russia-Had-No-Choicers and I? You suspect that either Ray’s old outfit is slipping me cash or that I’m scared of getting called a “Putin Lover” — as if I haven’t had plenty of death threats for opposing a war on Iraq that I would have traded in a heartbeat to simply be called an “Iraq Lover.”

My suspicions of you may be as wildly off as yours of me, but I don’t think they are, and I mean them with total respect.

I suspect that you think if one side of a war is wrong, the other is probably right — and right in every detail. I suspect you opposed the U.S. side of the war on Iraq but not the Iraqi side. I suspect you oppose the U.S. side of the war in Ukraine, and that you think it simply follows that whatever the Russian side does is admirable. I imagine the two of us going back to an age of dueling. I’d be screaming “Stop this idiotic barbarism, you two!” and you’d be hurriedly asking around to determine which idiot was the good one and which the evil one. Or would you?

I suspect that you don’t want to give any thought to the years that the two sides spent failing to prepare unarmed defenses, and that you think that no matter what Russia did to appeal to the morality and fairness of the world, the world would have spat at Russia and grabbed some popcorn to watch the U.S./NATO buildup. Yet, even with Russia committing hideous murderous acts, we’ve nonetheless seen much of the world — and many of the world’s governments! — refuse to side with NATO, despite enormous pressure, and despite the horrible embarrassment of having to seem to defend, or being accused of defending, Russia’s warmaking. We’ll never know how the world would have responded had Russia used massive and creative nonviolent action, had Russia joined international bodies of law, had Russia signed onto human rights treaties, had Russia sought to democratize world institutions, had Russia appealed to the world to reject U.S. imperialism in favor of a world run by the entire world.

Maybe the Russian government doesn’t want to fall under the rule of law any more than the U.S. government does. Maybe it wants a balance of power, not a balance of justice. Or maybe it thinks like most people in Western society — even many who have acted as peace activists for years — that war is the only answer in the end. And maybe nonviolent action would have failed. But there are two weaknesses in that thought that I think are indisputable.

One is that we are now closer than ever to nuclear apocalypse, and when we’re gone we won’t really get to argue who was more in the right than whom.

The other is that the U.S./NATO build-up was over decades and years and months. Russia could have waited another day or 10 or 200, and in that time it could have begun to try something else. Nobody picked the timing of Russia’s escalation other than Russia. And when you pick the timing of something, you had a choice to give something else a try first.

Even more importanly, unless both sides admit some wrong and agree to some compromise, the war will not end and life on Earth might. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t agree on that much.

2 thoughts on “Dear Russia-Had-No-Choice Friends”

  1. I was a complete pacifist until this situation arose. What was happening on the eve of the Russian intervention was that Ukraine had begun a massive artillery bombardment of the civilian population of the Donbas, apparently in preparation for a ground assault that would have resulted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians.

    Even Gandhi admitted that there are limits to non-violence. If you are faced with someone who is firmly committed to violence, to killing women, children, and old people, then the best thing to do is take up arms to defend them, he advised. That was the situation in Donbas.

    Sending in “peacekeepers” would have simply added to the casualties. Evacuating the entire civilian population might have been an option, but it would have uprooted people from the homes they wanted to stay in.

    The Russians proposed negotiations on numerous occasions, from the Minsk accords, which we now know Ukraine and the west negotiated in bad faith, “to buy time to arm Ukraine,” through nearly-successful talks with Zelensky after the start of the war, which were broken up by the US.

    To me, the situation is analogous to the US putting a gun (Ukraine) to Russia’s head. If somebody did that to you, would you wait until they had clicked off the safety, or pulled the trigger, to try and knock the gun out of their hands? Russia chose not to wait. The US has spent decades and billions of dollars maneuvering the world into this situation, and it looks to me like your “nonviolent” options would have been futile and cost about as many lives as what the Russians have done. Somebody needed to call Uncle Sam’s bluff on his long history of military intimidation, and the Russians, who had tried everything they could think of to find a peaceful solution, intervened to save the lives of the civilian population of Donbas, who were going to be killed for the crimes of protesting the US coup in Ukraine and wanting to educate their children and do government business in their native tongue–Russian.

    Overall, I appreciate your perspective, and I wish we lived in a saner world, but this is the world we’re in, and this, the brink of nuclear war, is what it’s come to. Maybe, for all our cleverness, we are too unwise to survive much longer.

  2. P.S. I could say a lot more about why your other suggestions don’t hold water, but I think I’ve written enough for now, except to say that your “syllogism” doesn’t hold water either, imfao.

    A threat of war requires war.
    Russia is threatened with war.
    Russia requires war.

    Again, Russia did everything it could think of to prevent this from being a war. To continue my metaphor, they spent decades telling the west “don’t point that gun at my head,” and the west kept doing everything it could to get that gun pointed at Russia’s head, until things got to the point where the safest thing to do was to try and knock the gun out of Sam’s hand. Many of your suggestions about Russia disarming in response to this would only have been interpreted as weakness by Sam, and motivated him to press forward with his plans. Ask Muamar Qaddafi about what happens when you disarm in response to US threats.

    The Russians found out in the 90’s what the US would do to them if they let our government in, and they don’t want to go there again. It’s started a nasty barroom brawl at a time when we should be joining forces to keep the bar from burning down, it’s true. But Sam has given no indication that he cares about that. What’s a country with a gun pointed at its head to do?

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