By: J. Crawford, Columnist
Views expressed in the column are the author’s own.
I’ve never been a particular fan of dead-horse beating, and though the ongoing crisis in Eastern Europe is certainly not a “dead” horse, its perpetual swollen eyesore—and by this I mean both painful to look at and an abscess on the eyes of history—would normally compel me to shift my attention elsewhere, if only to clue the engaged on other issues subverted by American conservatism and neoliberalism. In this case, I had plans to write on the political lines drawn in the “Usage War” between Descriptivists and Prescriptivists fought (mostly) in the introductions to dictionaries and English usage guides.
Instead, I have to return to the American response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s not in my interest (or authority) to provide moral or ethical rhetoric. That I’m a socialist—and have been, really, for quite some time—paints my opinions only of the governments of both nations, when the interest of the public should reside with the displaced, the afflicted, and the war-stricken.
Now for the single-line paragraph isolated for impact: American intervention in Ukraine is foolish.
The article published on April 4, eliciting an appeal for direct military involvement against Russia, employs a frustrating use of emotional rhetoric that falls slack to logic. It provides, with assurances that “this death toll in such a short amount of time is sure to make even the most stoic of individuals feel somber,” the same assigned emotion “fabricated by the mainstream media.”
I’m frustrated by the author’s construction, but the irrelevant comparisons between a Russian-Ukrainian war over questionably legitimate territorial claims and 9/11 (plainly stupid only because they’re not “in their entireties, true” and—in a typically American fashion—ignores centuries of nationalist and ethnic narratives; not a soul believes a hijacked aircraft belongs, ethnically or geopolitically, in the World Trade Center) is not inherently dangerous.
What’s dangerous is their reduction of Russia to a performative “‘big bad wolf.’” The author grasps, and commendably so, that Russia is an empire in economic and sociopolitical decline. The less-than-stellar start to an invasion scheduled to take less than a week, and its grinding to a near-halt shatters years of propaganda by American populists like Tucker Carlson (vicariously taking shape in his criticism of the “feminization” of the American military). And though it’s wonderful—for several different reasons—that Americans free themselves of Cold War rhetoric and adapt to the stagnant postmodern society we preside over, it might be useful to remember one of the opening passages of Tom Hayden’s Port Huron Statement:
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract “others” we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.
To return to that rhetoric, I remind us that we may be the last generation in the experiment of living. The author of the April 4 article, curiously, employs statistics of Ukrainian losses (a marked and absolutely not insignificant 1,300), but fails to mention once that the Federation of American Scientists estimated this year that Russia possesses close to 6,000 nuclear weapons with about 1,600 active deployed warheads.
How absurd! It’s ridiculous, the author’s return to a Roosevelt-era (and I do mean Theodore, not Franklin) policy of “Big Stick” diplomacy. I won’t speak on America’s history of exploiting Latin American countries’ governments and economies for material gain; of course, however, when we staged a revolution in Colombia to establish an independent America-friendly Panama with access to land to build a canal, we didn’t worry that Colombia would respond with nuclear annihilation.
If “Big Stick” diplomacy rejects the idea of “bluffing” in favor of direct and forceful intervention when other options are exhausted, then the Cuban Missile Crisis would have ensured that the Port Huron Statement was never written, not because it could have solved the Cold War, but because Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and the rest of the fledgling SDS would be char.
The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union. Putin controls a declining right-wing capitalist oligarchy. That being said, the mere existence of nuclear weapons complicates global war. That’s what intervention in Ukraine suggests: global war.
I don’t appreciate warmongering rhetoric. The author’s call to action, which I find in itself trite and a bit embarrassing considering our shared position as political columnists and amateur writers flinging argument and language into a void of polarized opinion, evokes the same blind patriotism that I wish I could be addressing through the lens of English usage instead of foreign policy.
“Why should we tremble?” they write. “Our people are united against this tyranny, the world is united against the tyranny, why do we wait?”
Our people are not united against this tyranny. Ignoring vast pro-Russian sentiment in conservative factions is naive. It’s ludicrous to suggest the world is united against this tyranny, because if it was, Russia wouldn’t be a declining right-wing capitalist oligarchy with deployed nuclear warheads. A global united front suggests no opposition, but opposition affirms a situation much more complicated than ordinary American imperialism.
I tremble. I’ve unending sympathy for those killed and displaced in Ukraine. I don’t believe the Russian invasion is legitimate, and I believe that—in due time—the consequences of the actions of Russian oligarchs will be sown by anyone melodramatic enough to reap this metaphor. However, I quite like my life. I enjoy reading and writing. Intervening now, at this stage, would be sure to replace my writing with char, and that might lack foresight.