Ted Grimsrud—June 23, 2022
[In early March, as the conflict in Ukraine gained the world’s attention, I began to write about that conflict, especially in relation to the American Empire. I posted a blog entry, “Thinking as an American pacifist about the Russian invasion” on March 3. On April 10, I posted “Reflecting morally on the conflict in Ukraine,” a collection of four shorter Facebook posts from the previous month. This current post also collects Facebook posts and leaves them essentially unchanged.]
So, what’s going on with Russia/Ukraine? [5.10.22]
I have struggled with how best to understand the current conflict in Ukraine and, especially, the American role in it—especially in light of Jesus and his biases toward peace and against the power elite. These are some brief points about which I have developed some clear impressions (subject to revision):
1. The US has been seeking a unipolar world at least since 1945 (for example, note the size of the American military budget in relation to the rest of the world and its extensive set of military bases around the world). This quest for global dominance has led to the US relationship with the Soviet Union/Russia to be very adversarial. Russia has a long history of facing aggression from the West going back to Napoleon.
2. Ukraine was the site of armed conflict before the Russian invasion in early February 2022, with thousands dying since 2014. What happened in February was an acceleration of the conflict, not an initiating of it.
3. There are great profits for arms dealers (war profiteers) in the deepening of this conflict. These profits come on top of the great profits throughout the Cold War era and the resistance to a post-Cold War “peace dividend.” These profits have been a key factor driving American policies.
4. Our mainstream (corporate) media are mainly repeating what they are being fed by government. Note the lack of dissenting voices in relation to the militarized American response in the core national media (e.g., Times, Post, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, New Yorker, Atlantic).
5. Ukraine has since 1991 been enormously corrupt on all sides with little genuine democracy. The US has contributed to this in many ways, playing a major role in changing governments, shaping leadership, infusing weapons, hindering peacemaking efforts (e.g., Minsk accords).
6. Joe Biden has long tended to favor military intervention. His role was crucial in the expansion of NATO, the war on Iraq, and the war on Afghanistan. His foreign policy appointees are also interventionists of long standing. Biden has been a major player in the long-term propaganda campaign to shape American hostility toward Russia and Putin.
7. NATO expansion was a deliberate provocation toward Russia. It seems quite possible that we are seeing the fruition of efforts to exploit Russia’s proclivity toward violence (which the US obviously shares) as a means to significantly weaken that country.
8. As a pacifist, I reject all war. But evaluated according to just war criteria, the Russian war in Ukraine may be significantly less unjust than the US war in Iraq—both in terms of just cause and proportionality.
9. Conclusion: Americans of good will should strongly oppose actions that add to the violence and potential for violence in Ukraine and should strongly support efforts to bring a negotiated end to the conflict. Recognizing the unlikelihood of these outcomes, we should at least voice our refusal to give consent to our government’s approach to this conflict.
The alternative sources of news and analysis that I have been following: PopularResistance.org, ConsortiumNews.com, CaitlinJohnstone.com, CoverActionMagazine.com, and ScheerPost.com
What about the Russia/Ukraine war going nuclear? [5.15.22]
Debates continue, with some intensity, about why the United States used nuclear weapons on Japan in August 1945. Was it to force the intransigent Japanese finally to surrender and save the millions of lives that would be lost in an invasion? Was it to intimidate the Soviet Union, America’s looming big rival? Or was it ultimately simply the irreversible momentum of having created the ultimate weapon with such an enormous expense and effort—if you’re going to go that far, you almost have to use it once you’ve got it.
That third reason is the one that terrifies me the most. We don’t know how close the US has come to visiting nuclear devastation on the world again in the past nearly eight decades—but we do know of a number of incidents. Surely there have been other incidents where one of the other nuclear powers came close. The thing is, when you have such a weapon at hand, doesn’t it seem likely you would use it if the circumstances were extreme enough?
When the US accelerated the development of these weapons immediately after they were used and was unexpectedly countered by the Soviet Union in a shockingly short period of time, we entered an era where the use of nukes by either power would lead to the end of life on earth. The likelihood of such an outcome, “mutual assured destruction” (MAD), it has been supposed, has made it certain that we won’t have an intentional nuclear war. I actually believe that many of the American nuclear weapons overseers have not been willing to accept that stasis and have continually imagined—and sought to create—a situation where the US could actually fight a nuclear war and win.
Regardless, it does seem our biggest danger is having an unintentional nuclear war (think of the scenario in “Doctor Strangelove”). And this kind of war seems much more likely the closer warmakers’ hands might be to the nuclear trigger. The greater the tensions, the more aggressive the behavior of the great powers, the more dependent on military action and less dependent on diplomacy, the more likely that an “accident” might happen.
It strikes me as quite likely that the American Military-Industrial Complex only ever reluctantly backed away from the high alert scenario that seemed to end with the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. At that point, the main publicly acceptable rationale for the American arsenal ended. However, the powers-that-be avoided a significant reduction of this extraordinarily expensive and dangerous arsenal and, remarkably, avoided an open explanation for why the country should continue to devote so many resources to something that would have such a terrible impact would it ever be used. Obviously, the tremendous financial rewards for the war profiteers gave them great incentives to work to avoid either a reduction or an explanation—and they wildly succeeded in that effort.
And now, things are even better for the corporate beneficiaries of American militarism. The Russia/Ukraine conflict has already been enormously profitable and the flow of wealth from the American people to the war profiteers continues to increase.
The downside, though, is that we probably have never been closer to a nuclear conflagration. The trigger fingers are about as close as they can be to taking the irrevocable step toward disaster. I find it stunning how little this development enters into the public discourse about the American involvement in the conflict. There is always the possibility that some American leader will order that fatal step. Probably more likely right now, US intervention will so threaten the sense of survival for the other side that they will take the fatal step. Much more likely, though, is the unleashing of an unintentional nuclear endgame due to the heightened tensions and heightened aggressions and heightened reliance on military action instead of diplomacy.
I don’t know what can be done. My prayer is that somehow the United States will back away. No matter how negatively one views Putin, it simply seems crazy to imagine that America’s current approach of exacerbating the conflict can do anything but make things worse—for the Ukrainian people, for all Eastern Europeans, and in reality, for all the people in the world. More than ever, we need simply to say no to nuclear weapons, no to the American for-profit military system, and no to the idea that the way to fight evil is by the use of overwhelming evil.
The synergy between guns and warism in the United States [5.29.22]
Though not everyone agrees with this, it does simply seem to be a fact that there is a direct, cause and effect, connection between the number of guns people in the United States have and the number of gun deaths. It would seem obvious, then, that the most effective way to reduce the number of deaths would be to reduce the number of guns.
As an indication of how messed up this country is, it probably is more likely that after these recent mass murders the number of guns people have here will actually increase. Nobody seems to have much of an idea how this could be different.
Let’s consider a nation that is pretty similar to the US—with in some ways a perhaps even more violent past, Germany. According to the New York Times, “about two people out of every million are killed in a gun homicide in Germany,” which is “roughly the death rate for hypothermia or plane crashes” here at home. In the U.S., though, “the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people—the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year.” That’s to say, the gun homicide rate is more than 15 times greater in the US than Germany.
In 2020, according to an analysis in April of the most recent CDC data available, guns overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and teenagers.
To push these thoughts in a direction that will be a bit more controversial. I think there is a direct correlation between this gun violence and the near unanimity among our federal legislators (and seemingly the American public) that the US should pour billions of dollars’ worth of weapons into the Ukraine/Russia conflict—even as the American leaders seem uninterested in pushing for a negotiated peace settlement.
I see two underlying dynamics behind these pieces of information: (1) What theologian Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence”—the belief in the necessity of violence to make things work out right. As Wink argued, this myth is a self-defeating falsehood. But it is extraordinarily powerful. And American Christianity has shown itself to be essentially powerless to resist it. (2) Both the marketing of guns to the American people and weapons of war to nations such as Ukraine are extraordinarily profitable for our largest and most powerful corporations.
When we have little hope: What can be done? [6.23.22]
I feel more discouraged about American politics than I ever have—and I well remember Watergate, Reagan’s warism, Bush’s attack on Iraq, and the Trump years. Trump did get away with a lot of corruption and self-dealing. However, by the end of his term, enough people were fed up to make it likely he could be pushed out and some healing would happen. However, the Democrats chose probably the worst possible candidate. As bad as Biden was (he truly offered nothing that people who sought change wanted other than not being Trump), he managed a solid win—and, seemingly miraculously, was gifted with Democratic majorities in Congress.
Now, though, in most ways things seem to have gotten worse since November 2020—Covid, the climate crisis, economic aid for vulnerable people, police domination, gun violence, …. Topping it all off is the ratcheting up of the Cold War—our leaders have not only refused to help prevent or resolve peacefully the conflict in Ukraine but instead have poured billions of dollars into the coffers of corporate war profiteers by adding weaponry and military support that only increases the carnage and exacerbates the alienation. We have also seen an escalating of tensions with China and red-baiting hostility toward numerous Western hemisphere nations.
Biden’s failures and the paralysis of the Democrats make it seem likely that we will move back into Republican dominance of the federal government with untold disasters likely to follow—and with the Democratic Party discredited and sidelined for the foreseeable future,
In face of this despair, what can be done? I struggle to imagine a possible path. But I have a few ideas. In general, when one has little power to affect outcomes on a large scale, one does well to be reminded to focus on means more than outcomes (which, according to Gandhi [following Jesus, I’d suggest], is the approach we should always take anyhow—he taught that the means are absolute, the ends are fluid and changeable in face of evolving possibilities). What matters most is living peaceably in all ways and not giving in to temptations to take shortcuts or to compromise one’s core values. In my study of the book of Revelation, I have been impressed that the story there focuses on the way that peace is to be achieved (follow the Lamb wherever he goes), not the certainty of a happy outcome. We don’t know for sure about where we will end up, but we do know for sure that the only way that we will get to where we want to is by living consistently with the peaceable vision.
Part of the discipline of this kind of hopeful living in face of seemingly intractable problems is to recognize that when we focus mainly on being against something, we will be more vulnerable to the forces of alienation, fear, and coercion. The alternative is finding ways to serve a positive vision of healing and wholeness, a vision that includes respect and compassion toward all people at all times.
As I struggle with imagining a good approach in the context of deep discouragement and felt powerlessness, I come up with a few strategies that I will briefly mention:
(1) Clarify one’s core convictions. An important core conviction for me is that life is precious. I seek always to understand better why I believe this and how this conviction might help me discern how to respond to various dynamics in my life. Clarity about the preciousness of life gives me strength to resist messages from the wider culture to support or even just accept violence in US foreign policy or in the area of criminal justice, for example.
(2) Learn what’s going on. When the conflict in Ukraine escalated last winter, I realized right away how little I knew about that situation—and I also realized how unreliable the messages we were being given by our government and by the corporate media were. So, I have tried to find sources I could trust a bit more. From these sources, I learned that my natural suspicion of the US Empire was well founded. The events since February have confirmed that we can’t know what’s going on in Ukraine if we rely on mainstream sources.
(3) Raise one’s voice and show that not everyone agrees. Even if one cannot realistically hope to influence events to move in a peaceable direction, one still has a role to play in voicing dissent however one can—social media, conversations with friends, letters to editors, etc. It is important that people be aware that oppressive and unjust policies are not unanimous.
(4) Be persistent in one’s critique. The forces of domination depend on their opponents losing heart and giving up. However, the brokenness that those forces visit on the world does not go away. Sustaining our critique of injustice remains always necessary—to paraphrase Jesus, “the poor you will have with you always, so you must keep challenging the dynamics that create and sustain poverty.”
(5) Create space to be human by cultivating love. Every act of love, every act of caring, every act of sustaining life has meaning and power. When things look grim on the large scale and for the foreseeable future, we still have power to cultivate love in our face-to-face relationships. Such effort keeps a small light flickering—and can be the starting point for something bigger.
(6) Imagine alternatives. I believe that one of the most hopeful aspects of our world today is that we do have possible solutions for most of our problems—even if so many forces resist implementing them. It remains crucial that we keep imagining such solutions and keep conceiving of alternatives to the deadly dynamics of the status quo.