By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, September 6, 2023
As much as any other town in the U.S., my town, Charlottesville, has failed in recent years when it comes to opposing wars. We used to be a leader, passing early resolutions through our city council — inspiring others — to advocate against wars in Iraq or Iran, against armed drones, telling Congress to move funding to human and environmental needs, divesting public dollars from weapons companies, ridding local police of weapons of war, etc. Peace rallies were not rare occurrences.
At long last we have an event planned to advocate and strategize for peace in Ukraine, one that will be livestreamed for the world to see at cvilleukraine.org. From a certain perspective, it’s very strange that it’s taken so long. Nothing in my lifetime has done more to increase the risk of nuclear apocalypse than the war in Ukraine. Nothing is doing more to impede global cooperation on climate, poverty, or homelessness. Few things are doing as much direct damage in those areas, devastating the environment, disrupting grain shipments, creating millions of refugees. While casualties in Iraq were heatedly disputed in U.S. media for years, there’s widespread acceptance that casualties in Ukraine are already near half a million. There’s no way to precisely count how many lives could have been saved around the world by investing hundreds of billions in something wiser than this war, but a fraction of that could end starvation on Earth.
From another perspective, it’s clear why there has been so much acceptance of this war. It’s U.S. weapons, not U.S. lives. It’s a war against a country demonized in U.S. media for decades, for its actual crimes and for fictions like imposing Donald Trump on us. (I can understand not wanting to admit that we did that to ourselves.) It’s a war against a Russian invasion of a smaller country. If you’re going to protest U.S. invasions, why not protest a Russian invasion? Indeed. But a war is a not a protest. It’s mass slaughter and destruction.
Manipulating good intentions is part of the standard package, folks. Destroying Iraq was marketed in the United States as for the benefit of the Iraqis. The most obviously provoked war in recent years, in Ukraine, was christened “The Unprovoked War.” U.S. and other Western diplomats, spies, and theorists predicted for 30 years that breaking a promise and expanding NATO would lead to war with Russia. President Barack Obama refused to arm Ukraine, predicting that doing so would lead toward where we are now — as Obama still saw it in April 2022. Prior to the “Unprovoked War” there were public comments by U.S. officials arguing that the provocations would not provoke anything. “I don’t buy this argument that, you know, us supplying the Ukrainians with defensive weapons is going to provoke Putin,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) One can still read a RAND report advocating creating a war like this one through the sorts of provocations that senators claimed wouldn’t provoke anything.
But what can be done? Provoked or not, you have a horrendous, murderous, criminal invasion. Now what? Well, now you have endless stalemate, with years of killing or nuclear war. You want to do what you can to “help” Ukraine, but the millions of Ukrainians who have fled, and those who have stayed to face prosecution for peace activism, look wiser each day. The question is whether keeping a war going is more helpful to Ukrainians or the rest of the world than ending it with a compromise aimed at a sustainable peace. According to Ukrainian media, Foreign Affairs, Bloomberg, and Israeli, German, Turkish, and French officials, the U.S. pressured Ukraine to prevent a peace agreement in the early days of the invasion. Since then, the U.S. and allies have provided mountains of free weapons to keep the war going. Eastern European governments have expressed concern that if the U.S. slows or ends the weapons flow, Ukraine might become willing to negotiate peace.
Peace is viewed by some on both sides of the war (many of them quite far removed from the fighting), not as a good thing, but as even worse than ongoing slaughter and devastation. Both sides insist on total victory. But that total victory is nowhere in sight, as other voices on both sides quietly admit. And any such victory would not be lasting, as the defeated side would plot vengeance as soon as possible.
Compromise is a difficult skill. We teach it to toddlers, but not to governments. Traditionally a refusal to compromise (even if it kills us) has more appeal on the political right. But political party means everything in U.S. politics, and the President is a Democrat. So, what is a liberal thinking person to do? I would suggest a heavy dose of independent thinking. Nearly two years of peace proposals from around the globe almost all include the same elements: removal of all foreign troops, neutrality for Ukraine, autonomy for Crimea and Donbas, demilitarization, and lifting sanctions.
At this point, some observable action must precede negotiations. Either side could announce a ceasefire and ask that it be matched. Either side could announce a willingness to agree to a particular agreement including the elements above. If a ceasefire is not matched, the slaughter can be quickly resumed. If a ceasefire is used to build up troops and weapons for the next battle, well then, the sky is also blue and a bear does it in the woods. Nobody imagines either side as capable of switching off the war business that quickly. A ceasefire is required for negotiations, and an end to weapons shipments is required for a ceasefire. These three elements must come together. They could be abandoned together if negotiations fail. But why not try?
Allowing the people of Crimea and Donbas to determine their own fate is the real sticking point for Ukraine, but that solution strikes me as at least as big a victory for democracy as sending more U.S. weapons to Ukraine despite the opposition of the majority of people in the United States.