Why Do I Feel Like a Human Shield?

I am not a total pacifist, but I hate war. Time has shown me that it is always better to talk than to kill. As someone who lives in a nation long considered the greatest purveyor of military violence in the world, I believe one of the most important actions anti-imperialist and anti-militarist people living in the United States can take is to build a movement to challenge and confront the US war machine on the homefront. If this opposition were to happen in a consistent and concerted manner, war would not be Washington’s go-to solution. At this point in time, the possibility of such a movement seems far-fetched and far away. However, one could have said the same thing about the possibility of a movement against the US war on the Vietnamese in 1963.

While I understand that there are times when self-defense requires an armed response, the time for that is over in Ukraine. There’s little to nothing to gain by continuing the military conflict. The war itself has clearly become what it always was–a proxy war between Moscow and Washington. The fact of Russia’s invasion and Kyiv’s reaction to it is overshadowed by the greater possibility of a much wider, even nuclear, war. This is true no matter where one stands regarding who holds the greater blame for the situation in Ukraine prior to Russia’s February 2022 invasion. It’s one thing to defend one’s nation from military aggression; it’s quite another thing to forcibly reject calls from governments and people around the world to negotiate a cessation of hostilities. Likewise, it is wrong to reject peace talks while sending (or demanding) billions of dollars worth of arms The ongoing escalation in Ukraine, the growing economic suffering of people around the world and the increasing danger of a wider conflict should be telling those in power that the energy put into warfare must be turned towards negotiating peace. Instead, the powerful in capitals of all nations involved continue their bluster while their sponsors in the war business count their coin.

On November 29, 2022 NATO issued a statement which read, in part:

“NATO is a defensive Alliance. NATO will continue to protect our populations and defend every inch of Allied territory at all times. We will do so in line with our 360-degree approach and against all threats and challenges.”

To begin with, NATO is not a defensive alliance. Its aggression against Afghanistan and Libya is well documented, as is its aggression against Serbia. Furthermore, if one considers the essential meaning of the word defensive, then NATO’s assimilation of most of eastern Europe up to Russia’s borders is the exact opposite of defensive. It can be reasonably argued that Russia was not a threat to the “west” until Washington made it one by putting its military on Russia’s borders. Once again, DC created a situation to justify its bellicosity. NATO’s intentions as a military pact committed to expanding Washington’s geopolitical and economic interests in Europe are clear. Just because it has achieved this offensive posture against Russia mostly without military conflict (at least up to now) does not make its expansion any less offensive in nature. Imagine Washington’s response if the opposite had occurred.

Eleven days after the aforementioned statement, the Wall Street Journal quoted Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante in regards to the massive increase in munitions orders to Europe: “You have to have almost a political environment like we have now, where people see the urgency for it, because in times of peace and times of prosperity, it’s one of the first things that falls off the budget.” Only a few days later WNBA star Brittany Griner was released from a Russian prison in a trade for arms dealer Viktor Bout. I bring that up only to make the point that what is essentially just another day at the store for Washington would have been one of Bout’s biggest deals. Where he traded in millions of dollars, the arms merchants with contracts signed by the US government trade in billions.

On December 19, 2022 Ukraine’s current president Zelenskyy told Congress that the billions going to Kyiv’s military adventure was not aid, but an investment. I suppose for those getting money from the arms industry, it is an investment. However, for the rest of us, it’s anything but. Even assuming it’s not a scam, it’s an investment from which only a very few will profit.

Recently, I’ve heard some on the Left argue that acknowledging Kyiv may have to “give up” its claim to Crimea or parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in order to achieve peace will guarantee that the ultra-right Ukrainian nationalists would take over the government. However, these same voices ignore the apparent reality that one of the reasons the current government in Kyiv rejects such a land-for-peace tradeoff is because of the influence the ultra-right and fascist elements already have in the government. In other words, the right wing pressure for a so-called total victory is what keeps saner minds in Kyiv from negotiating (assuming there are any left). Similarly, although the 2014 Maidan events were not a textbook coup and were somewhat supported by about half the Ukrainian citizenry at the time (according to many polls), it was the armed actions by the same ultra-right and fascist sectors that forced the replacement of the elected regime.

Some folks sharing this line of thinking have taken to belittling and attacking those of us who want a ceasefire sooner rather than later. We are told that promoting this action is tantamount to giving Moscow what they want and that Kyiv should get whatever it needs to fight to victory. I believe an appropriate response to this argument is that any willingness to let more people die by rejecting a ceasefire is as cynical as that of Moscow, which (like the US has done in every war I can remember) intentionally destroys infrastructure that supports civilian existence. In other words, both Moscow and those supporting Kyiv’s call for total victory consider the people on the ground–soldiers and civilians–as nothing but pawns. Furthermore, both are willing to let the rest of Europe (and much of the rest of the world) suffer to achieve their goals. NATO has used Europeans as human shields for long enough. In the current situation, Moscow is doing the same. It’s well past time to stop the war and fight it out at a negotiating table. It’s time to talk. Before Europe becomes collateral damage.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com