For the Love of War

Reading “For Ukraine, Many Antiwar Activists in the U.S. Make an Exception,’ (New York Times, August 15, 2023), is hardly shocking. Reading the comments section appended to that article is like a symbolic slap in the face to those opposed to war. I missed reading the article when it appeared in the Times until the piece was brought to my attention.

The comments section is well worth reading and perhaps more telling than the accurate assessment by the Times that only tiny pockets of antiwar sentiment and action exist to counter the Ukraine war that has fast turned into a proxy war between nuclear powers.

The Reader Picks section of those NYT articles that have comments always interests me. The pro-war drumbeat in the most popular comments is deafening to the ears of those against war. Like the NYT coverage of the Ukraine war from its inception in 2022, the justification for this war as a defensive action by Ukraine is almost universally couched in the kind of rhetoric that was obvious after the terror attacks in September 2001 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The constant mass media drumbeat for war in both print media and online media has been universal.

The Ukraine war is an illegal incursion of Russia into Ukraine. The laws or rules of war accurately label the latter as an illegal preemptive war. The issue of NATO (read US/Western Europe) incursion at the borders of Russia is analogous to the Soviet incursion into Eastern Europe in the 20th century. That Russia’s borders were overrun by empires in the 19th and 20th centuries, with France and Germany as the major belligerents, is an undeniable issue in this war. The US and its allies instigated and stage-managed to a degree the 2014 political debacle in Ukraine. The existence of large numbers of far right members of the Ukraine military who identify with Ukraine’s Nazi past shock even a casual observer “Nazi Symbols on Ukraine’s Front Lines Highlight Thorny [sic] Issues of History” (New York Times, June 7, 2023). Anti-Semitism persists in Ukraine today. Ukraine was a killing field and a source of terror against Jews during World War II. According to statistics from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, one and a half million Jews were killed in Ukraine during the Holocaust there. Many with Ukrainian roots around the world can trace a part of their family’s suffering to anti-Semitism and murder there.

The absent antiwar movement in the US predates the Ukraine war. The antiwar movement here folded its tents and faded into obscurity when Barack Obama, recall his campaign motto of “hope and change,” initiated his troop surge of 2009 that achieved nothing.

The Ukraine war has been a continuing boon for US weapons manufacturers that have been riding high since the beginning of the War on Terror. The supply of cluster bombs to Ukraine, one of the most antipersonnel of war-making munitions, is another grotesque example of how the US has been warped by decades of endless wars and the planning for war and mass media war propaganda.

Pentagon spending has totaled over $14 trillion since the start of the war in Afghanistan, one-third to one-half of which went to defense [sic] contractors” (Watson Institute, Costs of War Project). The latter is a “safe” bet for making the Ukraine war into part of the globe’s endless wars! It’s a “good” investment.

Trillions of dollars to the Pentagon and weapons manufacturers takes money away that is needed for the basics of life for millions of people in the US. American Exceptionalism can’t pay the bills and militarism is a notorious source of fossil fuel emissions. Schools, housing, medical care, adequate nutrition, and a host of other programs of social uplift suffer because of war.

The New York Times reports that the US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, while in Kyiv, is expected to announce another $1 billion in US aid, most of which is for weaponry (September 6, 2023). The beat goes on.

Medea Benjamin has been a proverbial light in the pro-war darkness that has enveloped this society. Demonstrations such as the recurring demonstration in Amherst, Massachusetts against war offer hope, but reading the comments of Timesreaders almost tripping over one another in support of war is alarming. From my perspective as a Vietnam-era war resister, those who claim to have been against the Vietnam War and now are unabashed cheerleaders for war are disheartening. The Vietnam War from which cluster bombs are still killing innocent civilians decades later, called unexploded ordnance, does not leave the supporters of war with any lasting remorse.

Putin, Zelenskyy, Biden, et al. need an off-ramp of diplomacy from war and it’s a pressing need. A few isolated antiwar protesters will certainly not achieve that goal of an off-ramp. It would take millions of people in the streets, or at the very least a critical mass to do that.

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