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The war in Ukraine rages on, and the war mentality, understandable but dangerous, generates momentum to keep it going, even escalate it, even to consider repeating it in Finland or elsewhere based on having “learned” precisely the wrong “lesson.” The bodies pile up. The threat of famine looms over many countries ordinarily supplied with grain by Ukraine or Russia. The risk of nuclear apocalypse grows. The impediments to positive action for the climate are strengthened. Militarization expands.
The victims of this war are all of our great grandchildren, not an individual leader on one side. The things that need doing won’t fit here, but the first one is ending the war. We need serious negotiations — meaning negotiations that will partially please and displease all sides but end the horror of war, halt the madness of sacrificing more lives in the name those already slaughtered. We need justice. We need a better world. To get those we first of all need peace.
The way we talk about the war in Ukraine is odd. Russia is said to be waging a war, because it invaded. Ukraine is said to be doing something else — not war at all. But ending the war will require that both sides doing the fighting declare a ceasefire and do the negotiating. That can happen now, before more people die, or later after more people die, while the risk of nuclear war, famine, and climate catastrophe grow.
Here’s what the U.S. government could be doing:
- Agreeing to lift sanctions if Russia keeps its side of a peace agreement.
- Committing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine instead of more weapons.
- Ruling out further escalation of the war, such as a “no fly zone.”
- Agreeing to end NATO expansion and committing to renewed diplomacy with Russia.
- Fully supporting international law, not just victor’s justice from outside the treaties, laws, and courts the rest of the world is expected to respect.
Can we talk about demonization? War is the worst thing people can do to each other. Vladimir Putin has launched a ghastly war. Nothing could be worse. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose our ability to think straight or to recognize that the real world is more complicated than a cartoon. This war came out of a buildup in hostility by two sides over a period of years. Atrocities are being committed — in very different proportions — by both sides.
If the International Criminal Court or International Court of Justice had the full support of the United States as one party among equals, if they were not subject to the whims of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, they could be credibly committed to prosecuting all crimes in the Ukraine war — and in greater degree as the crimes mount up. That would motivate ending the war. Instead, talk of victor’s justice is helping prevent peace, as members of the Ukrainian government claim that peace negotiations could prevent criminal prosecutions. It’s hard to say which we’re worse at understanding right now, justice or peace.
Until wars become nuclear, military budgets kill more than weapons, when one considers what could be done to end starvation and greatly reduce disease with a fraction of what is spent on weaponry. Famines generated directly by wars also kill more than weapons. Famine looms in Africa right now from the war in Ukraine. We need peace so that we can have the planting of wheat by those brave farmers seen towing Russian tanks away with their tractors.
A 2010 drought in Ukraine led to to hunger and possibly in part to the Arab Spring. The ripples from a war can do far more damage than the initial impact — albeit often to victims media outlets take less interest in. The U.S. government needs to stop treating weapons as (40% of its) “aid,” stop starving Yemen through its participation in Saudi Arabia’s war, stop confiscating needed funds from Afghanistan, and stop opposing an immediate ceasefire and negotiated peace in Ukraine.
In a recent U.S. poll, almost 70% were concerned that the Ukraine war could lead to nuclear war. No doubt, no more than 1% have done anything about it — such as asking the U.S. government to support a ceasefire and negotiations for peace. Why? I think most people are disastrously and absurdly convinced that popular action is powerless, despite all the recent and historical examples of people changing things.
Sadly, I also think that many people are disastrously and absurdly convinced that nuclear war can be contained to some portion of the globe, that humanity can survive nuclear war, that nuclear war is not all that different from other war, and that morality allows or even requires during times of war the complete abandonment of morality.
We’ve come within minutes of accidental nuclear apocalypse many times. U.S. Presidents who, like Vladimir Putin, have made specific public or secret nuclear threats to other nations include Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush I, Clinton, and Trump. Meanwhile Obama, Trump, and others have said “All options are on the table.” Russia and the U.S. have 90% of the world’s nukes, missiles pre-armed, and first-use policies. Nuclear winter does not respect political boundaries.
The pollsters didn’t tell us how many of that 70% thought nuclear war was even undesirable. That should scare us all.
I want to call attention to a particular victim of the war in Ukraine: the climate of the Earth. War swallows the funding and attention needed to protect the Earth. Militaries and wars are huge contributors to the destruction of the climate and Earth. They block cooperation between governments. They create suffering through disruption of current fuel sources. They allow the celebration of increased fossil fuel use – releasing reserves, shipping fuels to Europe. They distract attention for scientists’ reports on the climate even when those reports are screaming in ALL CAPS and scientists are gluing themselves to buildings. This war risks nuclear and climate disaster. Ending it is the only sensible path.