In my lifetime, the world has always been at war. Most of the wars have involved the United States. As I watched these wars unfold, explode and then end, the point of them has mostly escaped me. This isn’t to say I am blind to why they occurred. During the US war on Vietnam, I ultimately supported the Vietnamese people in their resistance to the bloody US military operation and believed their cause was just. Still, I knew instinctively at the time that the resolution of their struggle would be found in the political arena. The Vietnamese liberation forces knew that, too. The role of the fighters in the NLF and northern Vietnamese military was to make a victory by Washington too costly to try and achieve. Even though their fight on the ground and against the US air force was the crucial element in the struggle for an independent Vietnam, it was the worldwide movement against the US war there in all its manifestations that provided the political space necessary to keep Washington’s military from committing even greater war crimes than those they did commit. Foremost among those was the decision by Nixon and Kissinger not to use nuclear weapons. It is often said that this decision was the result of the massive antiwar protests in October and November of 1969. Washington’s cavalier attitude to the blood being spilled is what prolonged that war. The peace treaty that was agreed to in 1973 could have been had twenty years earlier except for Washington’s desire for hegemony and war.
As for subsequent wars started by Washington, I supported the FMLN in El Salvador and the Sandinista in Nicaragua. Like the Vietnamese freedom fighters, their struggle was a defensive struggle that was a direct response to the murderous nature of the governments they opposed. Naturally, these governments were supported and maintained by Washington. Although my ideal approach to overthrowing such governments would be nonviolent, it was apparent that nonviolence in any of those wars would have only given the oppressive regimes an easier path to the killing fields they seemed intent on creating.
Here’s a little story that I hope helps explain that previous paragraph. In 1981 I was arrested and detained along with a couple of thousand other people during a protest against the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila, California. The detention center was an unused army camp near San Luis Obispo and was a fairly relaxed affair for a jail. There were no bars and we were free to walk around in certain areas of the camp during the day. Roll call was taken once in the morning. The detainees included a few popular figures—Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy, Robert Blake, and Reverend Cecil Williams, to name just a few. Jackson Browne and Wavy Gravy organized a talent show while they were being held that featured Browne singing and playing a guitar lent to him by one of the California National Guard called up to guard the detention center. Robert Blake didn’t stay long. Reverend Williams spent his time in detention conversing with anyone who approached him.
The conversation I never forgot was one regarding nonviolence and the wars that were heating up in Central America. A dogmatic pacifist insisted that the only way for the people of El Salvador to truly liberate themselves from the US-sponsored death squads and the government was through massive nonviolent resistance. In the same breath, this same fellow criticized the Sandinista revolution—which had overthrown the dictatorial Somoza government barely a year earlier. After suggesting to the guy that he could make his point just as easily without yelling, Williams pointed out that the certain result of nonviolent protest in El Salvador was mass murder of the protesters. He continued by reminding those of us in the discussion that the Sandinistas and the resistance forces in El Salvador (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) had begun with nonviolent protest and that their becoming an armed force was a defensive response. In both countries, the move towards armed defense had only occurred after years of military and police violence by the state. The move was not a choice easily made. It was self-defense, plain and simple. It was the US and its client regimes in those countries that wanted the war, not the people ultimately joining the resistance.
This was not the case in Ukraine. Until 2014, the various governments in Kyiv since the dissolution of the USSR interacted with Russia in a peaceful manner. This was often in spite of an increasing amount of provocation from Washington and ultra-nationalist/fascist forces in Ukraine. As things evolved, these provocateurs would eventually find themselves working in tandem against Moscow and in support of a greater inclusion of the fascists in Ukraine’s government and society. It’s not that Washington necessarily was happy to work with fascists, but its determination to keep Moscow at bay overrode any concerns some in the CIA and State Department might have had about the politics of some of their Ukrainian friends. The most important thing for DC and Wall Street was assimilating Kyiv into the US capitalist sphere. It’s not like the CIA is known for having moral qualms; it did arm and help train numerous fascist and right wing groups around the world during the Cold War and was instrumental in the creation of Al Queda.
In other words, Ukraine did not have to be in the war they are now in. Russia had not pushed them into a corner like the ones the Nicaraguan and El Salvadorean people found themselves in some forty and fifty years ago. The people of Ukraine were not being disappeared by Russian security forces and protesters were not being shot down in the streets—at least not since the US-engineered overthrow of the elected government in 2014. They did not find themselves in dire economic straits; their children going hungry while the plutocrats in the country feasted. Yes, like any capitalist economy, serious inequality exists, but certainly no more than is found in the United States. A war between separatists and Ukrainian forces encouraged by fascists existed in the eastern part of the country, but most Ukrainians lived peacefully. Still, the Zelenskyy government in Kyiv, having thrown its lot in with the empire across the Atlantic, blindly (or not so blindly?) moved ahead with its war on the separatists, ignoring the Minsk 2 agreements which would likely have settled that war and other issues peacefully. After rejecting an agreement reached by the previous government, Zelenskyy tempted fate.
Moscow, like its competitor the United States has done so many times in its history, grew tired of talking and invaded. This is what brutal superpowers do. Like cops on a SWAT team, their final answer is brutality, blood and death. Negotiations strain their limited patience; a patience stemming from their arrogance and hubris, among other things. This is in spite of the fact that almost every war ends at a negotiating table. Even US National Security Council member under Donald Trump, Alexander Vindman, said in an interview in the Washington Post regarding the current war in Ukraine: “One way or another, this ends in some sort of negotiated solution. The question is, how much blood is spilled?” (3/27/2022)
Instead of that question, we should be asking before any war begins, why spill any blood?