WHY HAS THE RUSSO-UKRAINIAN WAR not generated a global movement for, at the very least, an immediate cessation of hostilities? The aggressor, Russia, possesses nuclear weapons, and has issued thinly-veiled threats that it is prepared to use them if any other power attempts to interfere in its “military operation” in Ukraine. The slightest miscalculation, therefore, could trigger an all-out nuclear exchange – and the end of civilisation as we know it. In such precarious circumstances, mobilising global support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict seems like a good idea. So, why isn’t it happening? Where is the peace movement?
Before attempting an answer to that question, it is worth casting our minds back to the first quarter of 2003. The United States and the United Kingdom were engaged in obvious preparations for a full-scale military invasion of Iraq. All over the world people were gathering in huge demonstrations to oppose the US/UK plans. Over a million protesters flooded the streets of the UK’s largest cities in what was, almost certainly, the largest political protest in the nation’s history. Vast crowds similarly thronged the streets of American cities. In France, Italy and Germany it was the same. Time magazine described the global peace movement as the other great power on the planet.
All to no avail. Like the Russian Federation, the United States was not about to be dissuaded from doing what it believed it had to do. That it would go to war without the sanction of the UN Security Council, and on the basis of intelligence claims that most independent experts dismissed as spurious, was not about to slow the administration of George W Bush down. Peace movement or no peace movement, the invasion would go ahead as planned.
The demonstrable futility of the international protest movement against the Iraq War offers a pretty solid explanation for the absence of a global pacifist response to the Russo-Ukrainian War. Among those coming of age in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century, it may simply be understood that if a major power is resolved to attack another country, no amount of chanting and placard-waving will stop it. Didn’t the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spin-doctors respond to media taunts that there were a million citizens on out on the streets, by referencing the tens-of-millions who weren’t?
The other obvious lesson to be drawn from the global protests against the US/UK invasion of Iraq is that they would never have happened (or, at least, not on anything like the same scale) had their organisers not been living in democracies. If the Russian Federation showed the same respect for fundamental human rights as the United States, it is possible that a million or more Russians would have turned out to protest the invasion of Ukraine. What the world actually witnessed on the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg was the brutal suppression of every attempt at protest by the thuggish Russian police.
It is these images of suppression and violence that bring us to the heart of the matter. People around the world rose up against the prospect of the invasion of Iraq in part because they believed that the two nations responsible, the USA and the UK, were still, in some hallowed and undefiled place, receptive to the moral case for peace. All the evidence may have pointed in the opposite direction, but, in their heart-of-hearts, the historical friends and allies of the United States and the United Kingdom wanted to – needed to – believe that they were better than the murderous bullies Bush and Blair had turned them into.
Very few people believe that some hallowed and undefiled place exists in the dark monstrosity that is the Russian state. There are no democratic orchards in Russia. The fruits of freedom and justice do not grow there. The conditions are too harsh. Even when the tree of liberty is smuggled in and persuaded to bloom, which is seldom, the flowers fade for lack of warmth. Russia is a hard, cold country, and difficult to love, even if you’ve a mind to. But no people on earth knows more about suffering – and how to share it.
And we are suffering, but not in a way that does Russia any good. Our suffering is vicarious, inspired by the pain and heroism of the Ukrainian people. How else are the people of the West supposed to feel when they are presented with the image of a Ukrainian father, now a soldier, fighting back tears as his wife and son are borne away from him on a westbound train to safety, clutching in his hands his little boy’s toy ambulance – all that is left to him? Are we supposed to be filled with an urge to make peace? Or, are we already part of the war?
The bodies in the street, the terrible revelations of rape and torture: these only make matters worse. Our instinctive response, when confronted with such images is not to calmly contemplate the best means of extricating all concerned from the horrors of war, but to punish those responsible for such atrocities. Perhaps that’s what they’re intended to do. Perhaps, as the Russians insist, they are fake news. But while such images are all the world is seeing, there will be no global peace movement.
And if there is worse to come: if the wounded Russian Bear tears the Ukraine to pieces; and if the world is bombarded with ever more tragic and terrifying images of Ukraine in extremis; then it will not be a global peace movement that emerges, but a global war movement. Channeling the wild bellicosity of the masses celebrating the outbreak of the First World War, the people of the West, heedless of the nuclear danger, will cry: “Do your worst, Russia – and we will do ours!”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 15 April 2022.
It is interesting to learn that there were extensive protests against the 2003 Iraq war. It is so long ago that I think I must have forgotten. However, in 2003, Saddam Hussein had invaded a neighboring country, so I'd have thought that there would have been a lot of support for the US/UK action.
"it is possible that a million or more Russians would have turned out to protest the invasion of Ukraine."
"The most important thing to keep in mind is that Russia is a completely depoliticized country. People generally don’t want to have anything in common with politics. There is an incredible contempt and disdain for all kinds of politics just because Russians are completely certain that there is no possible way to change anything through politics, that no change is possible in general. So for that reason, people prefer to lead their private lives. They have opportunities to do that because most of them are better off under Putin. Any kind of political activity is all just complete nonsense to a vast majority of Russians. If you believe in extraterrestrials, that’s at least interesting. If you are into politics, you’re silly. Particularly for people in business, that’s a complete no go. I always say the best way to spoil the party is to start talking about politics in Russia. You will never be invited again."
Russian sociologist Greg Udin
So all have to do is convince people that politicians are all the same, that there is no real difference between mainstream political parties, and that nothing you can do politically will change anything. I suspect you can see the beginnings of this in NZ with the steadily falling percentage of people who vote. It's quite apparent in the US as well. Once you've done this you can establish an authoritarian pseudo-democracy which is in essence a dictatorship. I'm pretty sure the extreme right know all this.Even in New Zealand, a major preference on the right seems to be for a "strong man" in charge, who can "get things done". 1922 anyone?
The recent film of a gormless US President trying to shake a non-existent hand throws into sharp relief the terrible dilemma facing America: if Putin is the madman you describe (and that appears to be the case) then should the US make a preemptive strike? Or does it wait for Russia to make the decision? We all have a stake in this.
Yeah, for some reason before invasion I've had a ear worm of President Putin singing to himself an old Randy Newman song (via Alan Price), and his surprise the incursion got a very different reaction -
I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear
Oh I'd step out in style with my sincere smile and my dancing bear
Outrageous alarming courageous charming
Oh who would think a boy and bear
Could be well accepted everywhere
It's just amazing how fair people can be
Seen at the nicest places where well fed faces all stop to stare
Making the grandest entrance is Vlad Putin and his dancing bear
They'll love us, won't they?
They feed us, don't they?
Oh, who would think a boy and bear
Could be well accepted everywhere
It's just amazing how fair people can be
Who needs money when you're funny?
The big attraction everywhere
Will be Vlad Putin and his dancing bear
It's Vlad Putin and the amazing dancing bear
[very lazy satire when you just replace the name]
I think it would be well to ask yourself some questions in respect of the 'Russo-Ukraine War', so called. First of all, ask what Russia might be about.
It does no good to bang your knee with a hammer and go: 'Putin's gone crazy', 'made a misjudgement', 'Rutin's a monster' etc and blah. Suppose Russia is a nation who has decided to exercise the same 'right' that the United States has arrogated to itself: to draw red lines where its vital interests are concerned. Note, as you do so, that Russia's 'red lines' are a whole deal closer to Russia than the United States's red lines are to the United States. Suppose Putin's government knows very well what it is doing, and why. Try for a rational explanation.
Ask yourself: what are Russia's war aims? OK, for sure, this is speculation. But work on the assumption that there ARE war aims, and they are rational ones. Ask yourself what are Russia's peace aims. I dare say they are a deal easier to figure out - they have been pretty much stated explicitly years ago. Of course, whether they are realisable is a whole different question.
I am also perturbed by the ready assumption that Russia has been the perpetrator of the war crimes reported. The New York Times claims to have 'proof'. That is more than the Pentagon has been claiming (last I heard). The Pentagon allowed that there was insufficient evidence to support such a direct accusation.
It appears that there are some circumstantial evidences that the crimes imputed to Russia have in fact been committed by Ukraine forces and/or sympathisers, against Russian supporters and sympathisers. There is the announcement by the Ukraine Minister of Police warning of a 'cleansing operation' to be carried out by Ukraine personnel. There are reports of the victims of these mass murders to be wearing white arm bands (signifying support for Russia), or being tied up with them. Ukraine's supporters wear blue (so I gather). There is some suggestion that the bodies found were too fresh to have been killed by Russian personnel, who had left the position several days before. At that, how come there a delay of those days - the best part of a week after they were alleged to have been committed, before the breathless announcement of these crimes?
Maybe the Russians are guilty after all. But I'll tell you what. If the thing ever comes to an international investigation, you watch Russia being denied the chance to present their own case, or to present the evidence to support it.
It will be MAS17 all over again, only more so. Even Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government didn't buy the findings of the so-called Joint 'Investigation' Team, whose 'a priori' brief was so obviously 'find Russia guilty' I wonder why it is that people were so ready to believe the outcome.
Cheers, (yeah, well)
Ion A. Dowman
This war in Ukraine isn't even about Ukraine: Ukraine is merely the theatre of a struggle between Russia and US/NATO. Ukraine's armed forces are simply NATO's auxiliaries. You could hardly say that NATO and the US are neutrals in this fight: they are belligerents, whatever their pretence. New Zealand should keep it nose well and truly clear of this mess: it has nothing to do with us.
Do you SERIOUSLY think Russia would 'go nuke' over Ukraine? I feel certain that US would, because the US is bloody minded enough for anything. Remember, it is the US that has the 'policy' of 'First Strike' (announced by Bush Junior, and never repudiated), at any time for any reason at any excuse. Russia doesn't, not unless its very existence is at stake (which would probably mean it is already under imminent nuclear attack).
Now, do you reckon Russia's very existence is at stake in this war? (If your answer is 'yes' to this, that would be a very interesting revelation, and state something about what you believe to be NATO's and the US's war aims). I don't even reckon Ukraine's existence is at stake, qua nationhood, though it will lose some territory it need not have done. Russia wants non-hostile buffer state. Destroying Ukraine would be stupid; taking over Ukraine outright wouldn't be a whole lot smarter. Ukraine wouldn't even have
to be especially friendly towards Russia to satisfy Russia's wants.
This could have been achieved at any time between February 2014 to February 2022. It was Ukraine's intransigence, egged on by the US and NATO, over far from unreasonable demands that led to this war - or, to be more accurate, led to Russia's entry into this war.
Cheers, (yeah, well)
Ion A. Dowman
The peace movement as you call it is devoting all its efforts to protests about climate change, to black lives matter, to diversity, to refugees, etc, etc.
Most people who might care about 'peace' couldnt give a toss about these other 'matters'. Maybe climate is taken seriously but no one is really going to give up cars and heating and medicine and revert to horses, a vegetable diet, sack cloth clothing etc.
The western world has had a drop in living standards due to globalisation and things are getting , and about to get, worse. Food prices have only just started rising. Russia and Ukraine produce some 20-30% of world grain and seeds. World fertiliser prices are rocketing up. Virtue signaling moves to slow oil production is raising oil prices aside from effects of the Ukraine affair.
The cost of housing is going up in all western countries.
And you ask where is the peace movement? Most people are worried about their own state if affairs and have no time or energy left to devote to something that their efforts wouldnt change.
If their was a "Draft" of men and women in western countries to go and fight in the Ukraine, you'd see a peace movement pop up real quick.
@mikesh you have remembered some alternate history or more likely confused 2003 with either 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran and triggered the Iran-Iraq War or 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and trigger the War to liberate Kuwait (aka Operation Desert Storm). George Bush gave various reasons for invading Iraq in 2003 but "Saddam Hussein had invaded a neighboring country" wasn't one of them.
GS, pertinent points about of our present state. I heard Robert Reich on National Radio afternoon the other day and he summarises our position so easily I felt redundant. Every time I have to come up with our point of view it feels like giving birth anew (I'm a male imagining). Glad for so many of us who remember the right. Chris doesn't think we are significant anymore, I very much do. Not since the 80s has there been so much force for social democracy.
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