I’ve had a few friends, both on social media and in real life, getting cross with me lately for giving consideration to all sorts of odd ideas on the situation in Ukraine. On the one hand yes, I know it’s hard to stay calm when something’s suddenly a hot topic, and all kinds of whacky takes are flying around but on the other, there is no point whatsoever of developing an opinion and waving it around if you haven’t first had a good look at some other opinions, and done your best to find out what they’re based on, and what other evidence there might be.
On goodies and baddies
It should be pretty obvious to anyone who’s thought it through that no political conflict is as simple as ‘these are the good guys and those are the bad guys’. That, of course, does not stop us recognising a criminal or a murderous act, and saying ‘that is a bad thing.’
On practical steps
Even if you have ‘taken sides’ in a war – or any other kind of dispute, that should not prevent you doing your best to prevent murderous fighting, nor should it discourage you from helping out the victims – all the victims – of the situation.
On Russia and Ukraine
It is not simple. Don’t let anyone tell you it is. Thinking it’s simple is caused by conflating two issues. The first is full of things like ‘Russia should not have invaded Ukraine’ and ‘these people should not have been bombed/displaced/terrorised/shot at’ and ‘we must help the refugees’ of COURSE those ideas are simple, and most people can see that they are right.
The second thing is that as soon as you look seriously at the history and geo-politics, you can see that it is not simple to conclude ‘which side you are on’ because a whole range of governments and business interests have been in there stirring the pot for a long time. Even if you are SURE one side is right or wrong, you can also see that their actions, and the consequences of those actions, have been made worse by power-mongers and profiteers.
Let’s face it, only a relatively small percentage of humans really understand what’s going on in their own countries’ politics. Why should we think we’ve genuinely worked out what’s going on in another? ‘Understanding’ another country’s politics isn’t the way to address an emergency situation, it’s a long-term project to do in the library, or take to a debating society.
A broader view
At this point, I’m going to annoy another lot of people (probably) by quoting Russell Brand. Whatever else he was right or wrong about, I really liked that, after trying to understand all the influences that have played out in Ukraine, his message to the statesmen on the world stage was “if you care so much about democracy, do it in your own bloody country.”
The anti-war stance
You can’t win wars. Unless, that is, you are a shareholder in an arms manufacturer or a political lobbying company. Otherwise, history shows quite clearly – people lose wars. People wars happen to get killed, displaced, interned, filled with bitterness, trauma and despair, whether ‘their’ country wins or loses.
In this case, as in most wars, Brand’s exclamation is actually one we *can* act on, which is a great antidote to the helplessness one feels when one’s country goes to war. By pressuring our own politicians to think about the immediate wishes and concerns of actual humans, we can show that they need to take responsibility for refugees, and to get commercial concerns out of their debates around international conflicts. Every little advance we make in getting politicians to think this way will help to de-fuse the current wars and prevent future ones.
The message we should send to all national leaders
To all the national leaders who’ve been acting on, and opining about, the Russia-Ukraine situation:
- Please go very carefully, and examine your words and deeds before making announcements. Your absolute first and biggest responsibility is to recognise that this is a very dangerous situation. Try to stop the killing, and above all to prevent it ‘going nuclear’. That responsibility is far, far more important than being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘popular’ or ‘taking sides’. You do not necessarily need to be a ‘pacifist’ or a ‘unilateralist’ but you DO need to be very diplomatic when dealing with rival statesmen with access to nuclear codes. At every step, please choose words and deeds that de-escalate the violence.
- Please check out all the advice you are getting, and all the pressures that are upon you, and act on the advice of experts who *really* want to stop the killing, not people who are in the pay of the weapons industry (even if they give you big donations). Resist ‘playing for points’ in your own country. We do not want to disappear in a nuclear blast to the sound of your dying cry “but I was right!”.
- Please take a long, hard look at the origins of this, and all the other conflicts in the world, in the light of the vast amount of suffering being caused globally by the climate crisis, the economic crisis, and the refugee crisis those first two problems have caused. It is civilians, primarily women and children, the poor, the displaced and the marginalised, who suffer worst and longest in wars. The next most endangered group are ordinary soldiers, placed in ‘the front line’ while you sit in offices. If you don’t care about them, you should not be in politics at all.
They’re not going to take that advice, are they? So what do we do?
The anti-war stance
Anti-war is not the same as pacifism. Anti-war is about figuring out how to stop wars, and acting on the conclusions you come to. What we need to do is watch, and question, and when necessary lean very hard on, warmongering politicians – and that’s most politicians.
There. I can stop annoying people by saying I haven’t decided what to think about Ukraine, now. Why would anyone know what to think about a whole country? You just need to grasp that there is no such thing as ‘winning’ a war, then you can decide what you think about nuclear weapons, and refugees, and people being bombed and shot at. Then, you will probably want to join an organisation like Stop the War, and if you reckon they’ve got it right, help out with what they are doing.
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