The Frailty of Peace in the Midst of War

Prior to any analysis of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prior to the casting of blame and outrage — at Putin’s hubris, at NATO’s pernicious westward expansion over the last three decades — there’s this:

“Our world has become so interdependent that violent conflict between two countries inevitably impacts the rest of the world. War is outdated — nonviolence is the only way. We need to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity by considering other human beings as brothers and sisters. This is how we will build a more peaceful world.”

Too simple? Yada yada?

The words are those of the Dalai Lama, speaking a few days after the invasion, about the time Vladimir Putin was ordering his commanders to put Russia’s nuclear weapons on a “special regime of combat duty alert” and the world began convulsing in shock. There may be around 13,000 nuclear weapons still haunting Planet Earth but, since the end of the Cold War, they’ve been sitting quietly at the far edge of public awareness and concern. Suddenly they’re back at the center of things.

Is the world on the brink of nuclear war?

I bring the Dalai Lama’s words into the mix because, overly simple as they might sound, they can’t be ignored. And, indeed, they are not simple. They transcend any talk of “national sovereignty.” All humanity — all life — is interdependent. If that’s the case, how in God’s name do we move beyond this seldom-questioned world of borders and armed animosity?

Hatred unifies. And yes, Putin’s invasion — the murder of Ukrainians — not to mention his nuclear audacity, is a gash across the whole planet. But hardly the only one. As Jeff Cohen has pointed out:

“Unfortunately, there was virtually no focus on civilian death and agony when it was the U.S. military launching the invasions. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 on false pretenses—made possible by U.S. mainstream media complicity that I witnessed firsthand—civilian deaths were largely ignored and undercounted through the years.”

Any U.S. reaction to Putin’s invasion has to be in both directions. The West in many ways has been provoking Russia’s aggression since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not only that, no country on Earth, in my lifetime, has invaded more countries, overthrown more democratically elected world leaders, than the United States of America. This doesn’t excuse Putin, but how can it be so easily and quickly forgotten? The U.S. and its buddy, NATO, have not come close to anything resembling accountability for the wars they have waged over the years. Just the opposite. The trillion-dollar annual U.S. military budget, which grows larger every year, is beyond comprehension. To condemn Russia but ignore all this is, essentially, pointless — or worse. It revs up a unity of hatred.

Glenn Greenwald describes “the climate that arises whenever a new war erupts, instantly creating propaganda-driven, dissent-free consensus. There is no propaganda,” he writes, “as potent or powerful as war propaganda. . . . The more unity that emerges in support of an overarching moral narrative, the more difficult it becomes for anyone to critically evaluate it.”

In other words, war itself is the enemy. As Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies write: “We sincerely hope that Russia will end its illegal, brutal invasion of Ukraine long before it commits a fraction of the massive killing and destruction that the United States and its allies have committed in our illegal wars.”

What I hear is an enormous, planetary cry for change. There is no such thing as a just or legal war — nor is there any sanity left in the process of preparation for war. And here, I believe, is where the words of the Dalai Lama start to make sense. Rather than the grotesque idiocy of the global military budget — including the maintenance and upgrading of those 13,000 nuclear weapons, 90 percent of which are in the hands of Russia and the United States — we need to begin consciously creating the future he describes: a future of oneness.

Whatever we do, we create the future. If we prepare for war — especially at a level that transcends virtually everything else — we create a future in which war is inevitable. And as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons pointed out on its website:

“Right now, the dangerous policy of so-called nuclear deterrence is used to enable the continued invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It does not keep the peace, it allows for war to be carried out against Ukrainian people.

“Any theory which is based on the willingness to mass murder civilians and is kept in check by little more than sheer luck will eventually lead to a horrific humanitarian catastrophe. That’s what is being risked right now, and it must stop.”

I don’t know how this will stop. I do know that protests against the Ukraine invasion are occurring all across the planet, including in Russia, where so far over 5,000 people have been arrested. I’d love to see those protests not just expand, but transcend . . . and turn into policy.

I wish I could personally embrace the whole planet, not with protest but with love.

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.