Transcending the Certainties of War
Robert C. Koehler / Common Wonders
(March 15, 2022) — Peace, in the deepest sense — in the midst of war — requires a clarity and courage well beyond the boundaries of linear understanding. The warning lights flash. World War III has entered the red zone.
Can we stare into hell and refuse to see . . . an enemy?
This is the deep, haunting need that is now required, as we clutch tomorrow, hold it tight, vow to protect it with our lives. But it’s far too easy, instead, to surrender to a certainty that the other guy — Russia, with the smirking face of Vladimir Putin — is 100 percent wrong, acting solely out of greed and delusional grandeur, which is something we would never do (and have never done). And it goes without saying we are blameless in all this. On with the show!
“Twenty-four-hour cable news coverage of the ugly war in Ukraine is keeping Americans hyped up and dumbed down,” writes Gerry Condon of Veterans for Peace. “The very real horror of war is on the screen for all to see. The bombed-out buildings, the mounting civilian casualties and the frightened refugees speak their own truth.”
None of this horror should be minimized, bandaged over, for the sake of “peace,” as cynics assume. But, as Condon notes, “we rarely see the victims, the grieving families and the terrified refugees when the invader is the US. The ‘shock and awe’ US terror bombing campaign on Baghdad was described by one network TV anchor as a ‘beautiful thing to see.’” We also fail to notice three decades of Western minimization of Russian concerns — of Russian existence.
“The decision to spurn the possibility of peaceful coexistence with Russia at the end of the Cold War is one of the most egregious crimes of the late 20th century,” writes Chris Hedges. Instead, he notes, we spiraled into “a furious frenzy of the Russia-hating that has been central to US culture ever since World War II.”
This is not about blame, but it is about accountability — in all directions. Peace! It’s an ongoing, collective process, a crucial force needed especially in the midst of conflict. It’s about bridging gaps, listening to everyone, creating the future. A conflict isn’t simply “solved,” but understood and transcended.
In this context, meet Yurii Sheliazhenko, executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, a board member of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection and a member of the board of directors at World BEYOND War.
Speaking from Kyiv with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Sheliazhenko — in an incredible interview — tells the world that there is no military solution to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More than that, he describes how peace as a force is confronting the invasion: “. . . brave Ukrainian civilians are . . . blocking streets and blocking tanks, just staying in their way without weapons. . . . to stop the war. In Berdyansk city and Kulykіvka village, people organized peace rallies and convinced the Russian military to get out.”
Despite what we may learn from media coverage, there are ways to confront war, to confront hell, without participating in it. Sheliazhenko does not speak abstractly. What is necessary right now is not the cancellation of Russia but a unification of the world.
“War profiteers of the West are the same threat to democracy as the authoritarian rulers of the East,” he said.
“Instead of breaking the last bonds of humanity out of rage, we need more than ever to preserve and strengthen venues of communication and cooperation between all people on Earth, and each individual effort of that sort has a value.”
Every last soul on this planet is a participant in the peace process! This is a message emerging from Ukraine. What’s needed in this moment, of course, is a negotiated ceasefire, a Russian pullout. To that end, here’s part of the text of a letter Code Pink has written to President Biden and Congress (your signature welcome):
“There is no military solution to the conflict over Ukraine, a country caught in the crossfire between the US and Russia, the world’s two most heavily armed nuclear nations. While the US and the world are rightfully denouncing Putin’s invasion of a sovereign country, the shelling of civilians, the destruction of homes and hospitals, and threats of nuclear attacks, the major role the US has played in exacerbating the conflict that led up to Russia’s invasion must also be acknowledged and addressed.
“By breaking promises not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, by placing offensive missiles in Romania and Poland that could reach Russia in minutes, by arming Ukrainian forces, by continuing to ‘modernize’ the US nuclear arsenal and by withdrawing from key nonproliferation treaties, the US exacerbated the conflict that led up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We know that Russia must withdraw its troops and commit to respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the United States must be ready to make compromises and support negotiations between Ukraine and Russia . . .”
The letter concludes with a list of commitments the US needs to make to help a negotiated ceasefire happen. Here’s what I would add, in solidarity with Yurii Sheliazhenko: Sign — and honor — the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! It’s time to step into the future, fellow residents of Planet Earth. Nuclear weapons are not a “deterrent.” They’re either an accident waiting to happen or a geo-psychopath’s last result. And the time to tuck them into history and move toward real peace is N-O-W. We can turn the invasion into the spark for global salvation.
Noting that the European Union is considering opening its doors to Ukraine, Sheliazhenko expressed joy at the possibility of such a uniting, but added that a “consolidation of the West should not be a consolidation against a so-called enemy, against the East. East and West should find the peaceful reconciliation and should pursue global governance, unity of all people in the world without armies and borders.”
Robert Koehler is an award—winning, Chicago—based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com. © 2022 Tribune Content Agency, Inc.
George Kennan, “the Russian expert America needs.”
The Nuclear Delusion:
Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age
Excerpt from the book by George Kennan (1982)
I find the view of the Soviet Union that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective, but dangerous as a guide to political action.
This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications;
• this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country;
• this routine exaggeration of Moscow’s military capabilities and of the supposed iniquity of Soviet intentions:
• this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another great people — and a long-suffering people at that, sorely tried by the vicissitudes of this past century;
• this ignoring of their pride, their hopes — yes, even of their illusions (for they have their illusions, just as we have ours, and illusions too, deserve respect);
• this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of Soviet conduct and our own,
• this failure to recognize, finally, the commonality of many of their problems and ours as we both move inexorably into the modern technological age: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims;
• these, believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naivety unpardonable in a great government.
I use the word naivety, because there is a naivety of cynicism and suspicion, just as there is a naivety of innocence.
And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions — until we correct our tendency to see in the Soviet Union only a mirror in which we look for the reflection of our own virtue — until we consent to see there another great people, one of the world’s greatest, in all its complexity and variety, embracing the good with the bad, a people whose life, whose views, whose habits, whose fears and aspirations, whose successes and failures, are the products, just as ours are the products, not of any inherent iniquity but of the relentless discipline of history, tradition, and national experience.
If we insist on demonizing these Soviet leaders — on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction — that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or for us.
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