By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, September 27, 2023
Remarks in Charlottesville, Va — Video here.
War and peace could be a very simple issue. We make it very complicated. People say and do things that I simultaneously want to cheer for and condemn.
This week Senator Rand Paul said he wants to stop supporting Ukraine in order to support the United States. The phrase “support Ukraine” is shorthand for fueling a war that is destroying Ukraine, damaging the world, and threatening nuclear apocalypse. “Support Ukraine” means keeping the weapons flowing, in combination with the insistence that the weapons will keep coming as long as Ukraine agrees to not make peace.
Some of the money goes to things other than weapons, and — rather bizarrely — people find this particularly offensive. It’s one thing to fund senseless mass-murder, and quite another to fund human needs — that’s outrageous!
But on the tv show 60 Minutes, it’s the opposite of outrageous. The aid to Ukraine, as this show depicts it, is funding good capitalist entrepreneurs with start-up money and, yes, some of it goes to tanks, but tanks are purely protective devices, like armor, that save lives because the soldiers inside them can’t be shot or blown up with mines. The irony that Bradley Fighting Vehicles exist to kill and destroy is completely and intentionally lost. There’s no bragging about body counts here, just rehearsed gratitude to the brave American people
The polling is the same. A rapidly increasing percentage of the U.S. public — a majority in some polls, and a plurality in all polls — wants to stop supporting or aiding Ukraine. But what does that mean? What if I want to help Ukraine? What if I consider Ukrainians, and for that matter Somalis and Yemenis and Syrians and Venezuelans, to be exactly as important as U.S. residents? What if I want the U.S. government to drop its opposition to peace talks and drop its commitment to sending more weapons, but send the whole world, including the United States itself, vastly more in actual humanitarian aid? What if aiding Hawaiians is not more important than slaughtering Ukrainians because of what passports Hawaiians have but because killing Ukrainians isn’t supporting or aiding or helping Ukrainians at all?
We live in a very strange age in which spending money on death and destruction is understood as philanthropy, in which the U.S. government badgers other governments to spend money on weapons as a percentage of their economies, as if weapons are a public good, a service that global citizens must provide. Once you’ve internalized the idea that militarism is good for you, even though it leads to wars, and even though tiny percentages of that money could eliminate poverty or create a green new deal beyond the wildest fantasies of green new dealers, and once you’ve committed your mind to believing that victory is eternally imminent, and that the enemy is a monstrous and magical threat to the mysterious force of freedom (even as Ukraine bans elections, opposition parties, and free speech, and the U.S. Democratic Party effectively eliminates primaries), it’s only going to confirm your commitment to war when you see that the only Congress Members who oppose it are selfish hypocrites pushing voodoo economics.
Rand Paul wants to hoard all the resources for this 4 percent of humanity, on top of which he’s lying because we all know he no more wants to spend a dime on Hawaiians or Virginians or anybody else than he does on Ukrainians. But if Ilhan Omar won’t oppose so-called aiding Ukraine while Rand Paul and Henry Kissinger and Donald Trump will, can there be any question which position is the one for a good caring person?
Yes, as a matter of fact there can be. Does anyone remember learning about the error of argument from authority? Aren’t we practically conditioned to scream “follow the science”? Don’t we claim to value independent thought? Doesn’t UVA still teach that bit of Jefferson about the need for an informed populace? Well, what all of that means is that something isn’t true because of who agrees with it, but because it actually makes sense to you as a responsible thinking person.
The war in Ukraine, both sides quietly admit while shouting the opposite, is an endless quagmire. And if you believe either side’s fantasy about total victory, please consider how such a victory could possibly be lasting, sustainable, or just. This is a war over not allowing the people of Crimea and Donbas to choose their own fate. That’s the opposite of democracy, and neither success nor failure for whichever side you’re on would last even if it were in any way likely to happen.
This war ends with compromise or with nuclear apocalypse. Risking nuclear apocalypse is insane, while being normal and accepted practice. Independent thinking means rejecting that. This war is the top impediment to global cooperation on climate and environment, and a top direct destroyer of the environment. It is the top force shifting resources worldwide into militarism. It is the justification for spying on everything we do and curtailing rather than expanding our rights. It teaches bigotry and dehumanization. And it teaches, exactly contrary to what we teach our children, but in perfect alignment with thousands of movies on Netflix and Amazon, that compromise is evil, that holding out for total destruction of someone else is admirable, and that violence solves problems.
Have we ever really come to grips with the fact that less than 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation on Earth? Military spending is so enormous that fractions of it could transform the world, including the United States. There’s no need for this selfish choosing of us or them. And actually aiding the world would generate many fewer enemies than bombing it. Unlike normal countries, the United States counts as 40 percent of its so-called foreign aid, weapons for foreign militaries. Its biggest recipients are Ukraine, Afghanistan, Israel, and Egypt. And yet, as a percentage of income, many other countries’ actual foreign aid is greater than that of the United States, weapons included.
Perhaps we should frown a little on all the free weapons for Egypt, because a Senator has gold bars in his closet for making that happen. But have we forgotten Congress Members bragging about what they would earn from weapons stocks on Wall Street through fueling the war in Ukraine? Have we forgotten that opposing free weapons for Israel will earn you a well-funded primary challenger and banishment from committees and television appearances? It’s not all about gold bars. In fact, in a system of legalized campaign bribery, Saudi-funded stink tanks, Pentagon funded movies and video games and pre-game celebrations, and revolving doors between weapons dealers and media outlets and so-called public service, gold bars are more an indication of stupidity than of any sort of unusual corruption.
War and peace can be a simpler question. Mass murder is evil. It’s evil when Russia does it. It’s evil when the United States does it. It’s evil when Ukraine does it. Compromise and peace have always been possible and preferable. It just gets harder the longer a war drags on. And that’s a dangerous trend when the alternative is nuclear escalation. Allowing the people in the disputed territories to choose their own fate is democratic. Drafting people into mandatory barbarism, and imprisoning those who object, as both Russia and Ukraine are doing, is the opposite of democracy.
The U.S. is party to fewer major human rights treaties than any other nation on Earth, is the greatest saboteur of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, the greatest abuser of the veto in the United Nations (Zelensky is right to want it gone), the greatest violator of treaties related to war and peace and disarmament, the most frequent shredder of treaties it was party to, the greatest violator of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, standing outside the Land Mines, Arms Trade, and Cluster Munitions treaties. The top weapons dealer, coup-trainer, and— by many measures — Earth destroyer should shut up about the rules based order and catch up with those who support one, including the 47 nations that have pushed the United Nations for peace negotiations in Ukraine.