Ukraine and Russia; Flags and Wars

Coming from a left antiwar heritage, I had to turn away from the carnage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, even though the West (the US and its allies) had been prodding Russia since the end of the Soviet era in 1991. Would Russia have been less aggressive if Mikhail Gorbachev had received a pledge as a written agreement from the West not to expand NATO in 1991? If reforms in Russia had succeeded prior to that year, would some form of more responsive government, responsive to the Russian people, have developed in Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries? It’s all conjecture, but no one follows rules in war anymore. All of that rule making ended with the first Cold War and is now sort of a terrible joke, unless a person is on the ground in the Ukraine or one of the many, many places where the West, led by US aggression and predatory capitalism, has triumphed.

For weeks now, I have only glanced once a day at the major media news giants reporting about international news. Every war crime in the book, and Russia has committed many in Ukraine, is laid at Russia’s feet. The morning on which I write a meteorologist at an Albany, New York news station, a meteorologist adept in his reporting of the climate disaster, notes that a building on the Empire State Plaza is now decked out in the colors of Ukraine. The lights from windows of a building there glow in blue and yellow. Why that plaza was never adorned with the colors of Iraq or Yemen is quite understandable since the US and its allies never commit war crimes and when they do, well, the media does the Judeo-Christian thing and turns the other cheek and the violations of the rules of war go on with abandon. Julian Assange attempted to report on some of those violations of the US and he has not seen freedom. Recall the Geneva Convention, the UN charter, and simple human decency? They vanished in the post-World War II race to rule the world by whatever means possible, and mostly by the rule of cash and violence.

Here, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, a road leads steeply up to a spot overlooking a valley and hills rising sharply to the second highest mountain peak in Massachusetts, Mount Everett. It’s a great walk because of the relatively steep angle. These foothills of the Appalachians have become home to countless numbers of second-home owners from the greater New York metropolitan area who have lots of money to spare, some of that money made possible by generous tax cuts to the near wealthy and wealthy. Large homes dot the landscape with much open land surrounding them. Houses can sell for well over $1 million. Reaching the top of the hill a few days ago, it astounded me that one such second home now flew the Ukraine flag with its blue and yellow colors. The US flag flew only feet away.

Those colors are now seen almost everywhere. The mass media long since made Russia an enemy, much like the former Soviet Union was, and a guess is that lots of people still believe that Russia was instrumental in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat to Trump. But, it was the gutting of the US through decades of deindustrialization and not Russia, which caused millions economic misery here. It’s all great fodder for the production of, and investment in, military hardware and software.

A few days ago, I unfollowed a Facebook group in a local town, a tourist Mecca, because posts appeared where people reported reserving rooms in Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way of sending money there. Where were these kind-hearted people during the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, to name just a few, where US bombs fell and fall and the rules of war were shattered once again as they now are being shattered in Ukraine? The same town now flies the flag of Ukraine just under the US flag on a piece of town property where hundreds gathered a few years ago to support asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border. The New York Times recently reported that 100,000 refugees from Ukraine will be granted places in the US. Whatever happened to those kids held in the equivalent of dog cages at the border with Mexico from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, countries where US-funded wars over decades created routine violence and mayhem and lots of refugees? Refugees from countries in Central America and elsewhere were demonized, while Ukrainian refugees (deserving asylum, also) were held up as the epitome of those in need.

A case can be made for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but at least part of the $13.6 billion (New York Times) could have gone to aid to people harmed by the effects of the pandemic or for general aid for housing and schools and food. If a vibrant peace movement existed now, chants such as “Money for education, not for war,” or “Money for food, not for war,” or “Money for housing, not for war” would ring out over the masses of protesters.

A news item appeared in the local media a few days ago highlighting a pilot, a Connecticut State Trooper, who had just earned his pilot’s license. The trooper was pictured in his trooper’s uniform, standing in front of a blue and yellow display. The local airport where he trained was recently highlighted in an article in the Nation (“Flight Shame in Great Barrington”) for the actions of some of its pilots who routinely fly over the local area spewing lead-laden airplane exhaust and have barnstormed local sites in nearby New York. The airport has sought to expand in this rural area for many years, a move that many residents oppose. A late acquaintance, a pilot, said that the minimum cost of owning a small plane, excluding training and other expenses, is about $500,000.

A local town building also displayed the colors of the Ukraine flag in its windows. I wonder how many of the people who support such displays are worried about the possibility of nuclear powers expanding this war into the unthinkable?

And those willing to make more of a concrete “contribution” to the war in Ukraine now see US volunteers there (Guardian News, March 25, 2022). This is a kind of reversal of those, in far greater numbers, who volunteered in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

In the decade of the 1970s, a homeowner in a central Rhode Island city erected a display of the UN flag with flags of member nations below the major flag. This display drew the ire of many, most saying that the display was an insult to the US and diminished the significance of the latter and diminished the status of the US among nations. Symbols are one representation of larger concepts, with the UN flag display, a desire to represent all the nations of the world with the underlying hope for a peaceful world. Flags still take up inordinately important places in the minds of most, as is apparent now. One Cold War has morphed into a new Cold War with the intervening War on Terror. We spend trillions of dollars on armaments and the old hatreds and inhumanity persist.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).