The Age ~ Stephanie Hiller

Stephanie Hiller


Blue morning

Posted on April 14, 2022 by Stephanie Hiller

Opinion by Stephanie Hiller —

Economist Jayatri Ghosh has said that countries in the developing world, many of them with large populations like Indonesia, Brazil, and India, do not support the sanctions against Russia because they are not impressed with the behavior of the Western country which they recognize as “moral hypocrisy.” 

Specifically they note the difference between our response to the white Europeans of Ukraine and our behavior in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Countries in the developing world have reason to distrust the United States, especially after the inequities in the handling of the pandemic; but our hypocrisy is not only racial. We are guilty of the same crimes that we are now charging Russia with. In the patriarchal do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do world, we have lost our authority as the champions of freedom and democracy which we ourselves do not embody.

The war in Ukraine could have been prevented. Big bad Russia, our demon of the century, made several attempts to state its grievances and seek a non-violent resolution, including a December letter to NATO which produced no satisfactory response, and repeated assertions in the following weeks by Putin that he did not intend to invade. Its basic grievance, that the West’s encirclement of Russia was a threat to Russia’s security, was justified.

But Biden, working with a crusty old Cold War playbook, continued to insist that he believed, presumably on “intelligence” that an invasion was planned.

We now know that American allusions to its intelligence sources have been fabricated. In a press conference, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price actually acknowledged that the US was deliberately falsifying its sources as a form of “information deterrence” to scramble Putin’s mind. The “evidence” for some of its claims was “invisible” he said.

But the CIA has revealed that Putin had not made his decision to invade only days before he did so. 

It seemed as if Biden wanted this war. Certainly his repeated statements, accompanied by threats of the worst sanctions Putin could possibly imagine, may have prompted Putin in childish frustration to go ahead with the invasion. It was, as Chris Hedges explains, a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that produced the negative consequences Biden was allegedly trying to avert. 

That was how it struck me at the time. Instead of making concessions, or calling for talks, the US was confirming what Russia has charged, that the West’s treatment of Russia was consistently disrespectful, if not hostile.

Since the invasion began, Biden has not once (to my knowledge) called for negotiations toward a ceasefire. Nor has the US participated in whatever negotiations were attempted because “the US is not in the war.”

But we are sending enormous amounts of sophisticated weapons to Ukraine, and are in constant direct contact with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Clearly the US is in the war. Indeed, this war is not so much a war of Russia against Ukraine as it is between Russia and the US. It is a horrible proxy war that the Ukrainian people have been forced to bear with their lives. Some five million Ukrainians have already left their homes, seeking sanctuary in other countries. Entire cities have been decimated, hospitals and schools destroyed. Fighting against them or for them are members of the avowedly neo-Nazi Azov Battalion which has been incorporated into Ukrainian security forces.

The late historian Stephen H. Cohen, an expert on Russian affairs, revealed in an interview in 2019 that Zelensky had run for the presidency on a peace platform and was elected by 70 percent of the voters, but that the Azov battalion had threatened his life. It appears that Zelensky made some kind of deal with the Nazis, although Americans somehow believe that this could not be true as Zelensky is a Jew. Well, there have been stranger bedfellows. Zelensky’s campaign was largely funded by a Jewish oligarch, Kosmoilosky, who himself hires neo-Nazis for his own protection. So it would not be surprising to learn that Zelensky and Azov made a some sort of deal.

Zelensky’s behavior became more perplexing last week when he actually introduced two members of the Azov Battalion in a talk before the Greek Parliament, saying he did not agree with their ideology but “they are good fighters”. What a horrible compromise for a peace-maker to make. The Greeks, who have recently fended off their own neo-Nazis, were horrified. The event and their reaction, that a Nazi must never be allowed to address the Greek parliament, was broadcast throughout Europe, but ignored by western media.

I am not an investigative journalist. I am an idealist, a believer in the basic goodness of all people. In the light of that belief I have long been committed to building a vision for a better world. But where is that vision now? 

I was struck by the words of a young Russian activist, talking on a Stop the War Coalition rally last Saturday about Russian opposition to the war and the dangers they face. We need a vision to keep going. He said, I am of the generation, I grew up with the idea that “another world is possible”. 

I will never forget hearing those words in Brazil, in a huge assembly at the World Social Forum (2003) where Arundhati Roy said, at the end of a riveting talk, “Another world is possible. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I thought I heard Her too, but somewhere in the next two decades that perfectly reasonable dream, that all people deserve and that Nature herself requires, was eclipsed by the ascension of neoconservative policy-makers. We are now at the peak moment of the darkening of the light.

What we are witnessing is a nightmare, a terrible flashback, as if we have suddenly been cast backwards into the violence and horror of the second World War replete with a ruthless killer in possession of some of the most lethal weapons ever invented while the “civilized world” claims the role, and the language, of moral righteousness in a clash between good and evil.

Like many of you, I have been reading all I can from diverse sources to try to understand what the hell is going on. Like all wars, this war is a nasty, cruel, incomprehensible project for which civilians pay the biggest price. Wars counter our faith in human goodness by revealing the lowest, most rotten aspects of something called “human nature.” Always the other guy is the bad guy, while “we” are the champions of decency and honor. Sam Keen in a fascinating book, Faces of the Enemy, goes at some length to show that enemies are the projection of our own disowned shadows. But it’s hard to explain a Hitler or a Stalin on that theory; nor does it help us stop murderous tyrants from spreading their evil stain all over the world.

Putin is not Hitler or Stalin. A careful reading or hearing of Putin’s famous Munich speech in 2007 reveals that much of his critique is justified. Offended, the West isolated him further in response. Putin has been well-loved in Russia for his modernization of the country and expanding democracy. In his 2007 opinion piece in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins describes a man who is seeking that elusive “better world”. Sharon Tennison, founder of the Center for Citizens’ Initiatives, who has traveled widely in Russia, speaking at Peacexpeace in March, also portrayed Putin as intelligent and even likable. Clearly the leader of the current onslaught on Ukraine is a complex figure, and not Satan incarnate.

All war is devastating. The war in Iraq has left that country utterly destroyed; we all know now that it was based on a lie. The 20-year war in Afghanistan has decimated that country, and now we have abandoned its stranded, starving people to their fate. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks. In Yemen, where after 8 years of bloodshed, a ceasefire has been declared, millions have died.  There has not been a nice war, and it’s dubious that there has ever been a necessary one, though nations demand the “right” to protect their people against aggression even though it never spares the people. Wars make money, that is known.

This war in Ukraine was received with glee by weapons contractors and we are also seeing that fossil fuel companies have been rewarded by the sanctions disrupting Russian’s oil industry. Could that be the reason our economy is booming, while we are paying for it with high food and fuel prices? The question always is, Booming for whom? And lest we forget, climate change is moving apace with little discussion and certainly no international collaboration. Certainly we don’t have time for wars right now, least of all the kind of global conflagration that lies ahead if we don’t stop this war in Ukraine at once; as Noam Chomsky has clearly stated, we now find ourselves at “the most dangerous moment in history.”

Like the rest of us, apparently, Putin is capable of enormous cruelty in war. (It’s not the leaders who rape and dismember the enemy but common, ordinary people.) Yet until this invasion, the Russians have supported him. He has gone to great lengths to modernize Russia and actually to allow some steps toward democratization. Apparently, like the black sheep of the global family, he has gone to great lengths to be accepted. Twice he asked that Russia be included in NATO, a startling request that left Clinton and Obama speechless. 

Human beings, all of us, are a complex mix of good and bad.  This is not to justify the bad, nor to exonerate Putin. Day by day, his war has become more monstrous, confirming to many Americans that he is indeed the wicked criminal we have always suspected him of being. 

Together, we have arrived at this excruciating turning point. We have to stop having wars. Impossible as it seems today, we have to find other ways of resolving conflicts and dealing with adversaries. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there have been many opportunities to change our relationship with Russia, yet our leaders have persisted in antagonizing Russia and China. Instead of figuring out how to live with them and deal with global problems like poverty and climate change, we continue to pour salt on old wounds, persistently laying the groundwork for a world war we will not survive.

We must protest this use of our tax payer dollars and our good name as Americans. We must call for an end to this ugly war NOW. Yanis Varoufakis has said that there are only two alternatives before the world: to come up with a negotiated settlement, however unsatisfactory it will be to the participants, to end the war; or to fight on, as Chomsky puts it, “until the last Ukrainian dies”, risking a nuclear war that will poison all of Europe and perhaps the entire world.

This is the danger we all face. While the seas rise and the world burns, while the poor starve and refugees pour into our cities or die on a raft in the Mediterranean, while quality of life goes down and the price goes up, we – all of us, including the rich –are finally standing at the abyss created by nuclear weapons, a forever war that will end our world forever. 

What can we do? We can raise our voices. That’s what I’m trying to do here. We can give ourselves permission to learn the truth and speak about it. We can talk. We can write. Maybe we can get on television. We can fill the streets. We can demand that Biden/US make every effort to bring this war to an end.

We must protest this infamy, this insanity, we must demand that our leaders sit down with one another and find a solution, figure out how to govern a world in which we, and Europe, and Russia and China, India, and all nations, can respectfully and peacefully co-exist. 

That is the vision without which we can no longer survive. Stop the war!  

Stephanie Hiller is a writer who lives in Sonoma.

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA