Part #1: Here’s a terrible “syllogism” from a wonderful person, Ray McGovern, longtime CIA employee, then longtime peace activist, and now year-long contender that Russia had no choice but to attack Ukraine.
“The Russians had other options to invading Ukraine. They attacked Ukraine in a ‘war of choice’; also threaten NATO. Ergo, the West must arm Ukraine to the teeth, risking wider war.”
This is supposedly an explanation of the thinking of we believers that Russia had some choice other than to invade Ukraine. In reality, it illustrates a very sad and enormous distance between the thinking of people who once agreed that war was immoral, but who have now spent over a year utterly failing to persuade each other of anything.
Of course the quote above is not a syllogism at all. This is a syllogism:
A threat of war requires war. Russia is threatened with war. Russia requires war.
(Or write the same thing substituting Ukraine for Russia.)
But so is this:
A threat of war does not require war. Russia is threatened with war. Russia does not require war.
(Or write the same thing substituting Ukraine for Russia.)
The disagreement is over the major premise. The syllogism is not actually a very useful tool for thinking; merely for a primitive sort of thinking about thinking. The world is actually complex, and someone could build a case for this one, too: “A threat of war sometimes requires war, depending.” (They’d be wrong.)
That the threat or war, and even actual war, in many cases has not required war in response but been defeated by other means is a matter of record. So the question is whether this time was different from all of those times.
Here’s another disagreement. Which of these is true?
“Opposing one side of a war requires defending the other side.”
“Opposing one side of a war could conceivably be part and parcel of opposing all sides of all wars.”
This is a factual question, too, a matter of record. Those of us who have spent all these many months denouncing every war act by both sides of the war in Ukraine can show each side all the accusations we’ve received of supporting both their side and the other side — and all the evidence that they are all mistaken.
But maybe it doesn’t matter whether someone fantasizes that I’m cheering for NATO and secretly in the pay of Lockheed Martin. They simply want an answer to the staggeringly slam-dunk drop-the-mic win-the-whole-internet brilliant inquiry of “Well what the eff then could Russia have possibly, possibly done?”
Before I describe what Russia could have done, both in the moment of maximum crisis and in the previous months and years and decades, it’s worth digging up some ancient Greeks one more time:
Russia had to defend against NATO. Attacking Ukraine was guaranteed to provide the biggest boost NATO had seen in a lifetime. Therefore Russia had to attack Ukraine.
Maybe the syllogism can be helpful after all? The two premises are perfectly true. Can anyone spot the illogic? It seems not, at least not in the first year and a quarter. The U.S. set the trap and Russia simply had no choice but to take the bait? Really? How insulting to Russia!
Over a year ago I wrote an article called “30 Nonviolent Things Russia Could Have Done and 30 Nonviolent Things Ukraine Could Do.” Here’s the Russian list:
Russia could have:
Continued mocking the daily predictions of an invasion and created worldwide hilarity, rather than invading and making the predictions simply off by a matter of days.
Continued evacuating people from Eastern Ukraine who felt threatened by the Ukrainian government, military, and Nazi thugs.
Offered evacuees more than $29 to survive on; offered them in fact houses, jobs, and guaranteed income. (Remember, we’re talking about alternatives to militarism, so money is no object and no extravagant expense will ever be more than a drop in the bucket of war spending.)
Made a motion for a vote in the UN Security Council to democratize the body and abolish the veto.
Asked the UN to oversee a new vote in Crimea on whether to rejoin Russia.
Joined the International Criminal Court.
Asked the ICC to investigate crimes in Donbas.
Sent into Donbas many thousands of unarmed civilian protectors.
Sent into Donbas the world’s best trainers in nonviolent civil resistance.
Funded educational programs across the world on the value of cultural diversity in friendships and communities, and the abysmal failures of racism, nationalism, and Nazism.
Removed the most fascist members from the Russian military.
Offered as gifts to Ukraine the world’s leading solar, wind, and water energy production facilities.
Shut down the gas pipeline through Ukraine and committed to never building one north of there.
Announced a commitment to leaving Russian fossil fuels in the ground for the sake of the Earth.
Offered as a gift to Ukraine electric infrastructure.
Offered as a gift of friendship to Ukraine railway infrastructure.
Declared support for the public diplomacy that Woodrow Wilson pretended to support.
Announced again the eight demands it began making in December, and requested public responses to each from the U.S. government.
Asked Russian-Americans to celebrate Russian-American friendship at the teardrop monument given to the United States by Russia off New York Harbor.
Joined the major human rights treaties it has yet to ratify, and asked that others do the same.
Announced its commitment to unilaterally uphold disarmament treaties shredded by the United States, and encouraged reciprocation.
Announced a no-first-use nuclear policy, and encouraged the same.
Announced a policy of disarming nuclear missiles and keeping them off alert status to allow more than mere minutes before launching an apocalypse, and encouraged the same.
Proposed a ban on international weapons sales.
Proposed negotiations by all nuclear-armed governments, including those with U.S. nuclear weapons in their countries, to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Committed to not maintaining weapons or troops within 100, 200, 300, 400 km of any borders, and requested the same of its neighbors.
Organized a nonviolent unarmed army to walk to and protest any weapons or troops near borders.
Put out a call to the world for volunteers to join the walk and protest.
Celebrated the diversity of the global community of activists and organized cultural events as part of the protest.
Asked the Baltic states that have planned nonviolent responses to Russian invasion to help train Russians and other Europeans in the same.
I discussed this on this radio show.
I’m sure it’s in vain, but please make a real effort to remember that this was in an article about what each side could do instead of the insanity of organized mass-murder, risking nuclear apocalypse, starving the globe, impeding climate collaboration, and ruining a country. Please make a real effort to remember that we all have always been painfully aware of all the U.S. aggression toward Russia. So, the answer to “How dare I suggest that Russia behave better than the horrible worst-government-on-Earth of the country where I myself live, the United States?” is the usual one: I spend most of my time demanding that the United States behave better, but if the rest of the world can find it within itself to behave so well that life on Earth is preserved despite every effort of Washington, I’m going to be grateful for that — and I’m certainly not going to discourage it.
Maybe the Russian peace activists so bravely opposing their nation’s warmaking, as we all must oppose our own, are deeply misguided, but I don’t think they are.
So, why is it so impossible to even make each other understand where we’re coming from, you Russia-Had-No-Choicers and I? You suspect that either Ray’s old outfit is slipping me cash or that I’m scared of getting called a “Putin Lover” — as if I haven’t had plenty of death threats for opposing a war on Iraq that I would have traded in a heartbeat to simply be called an “Iraq Lover.”
My suspicions of you may be as wildly off as yours of me, but I don’t think they are, and I mean them with total respect.
I suspect that you think if one side of a war is wrong, the other is probably right — and right in every detail. I suspect you opposed the U.S. side of the war on Iraq but not the Iraqi side. I suspect you oppose the U.S. side of the war in Ukraine, and that you think it simply follows that whatever the Russian side does is admirable. I imagine the two of us going back to an age of dueling. I’d be screaming “Stop this idiotic barbarism, you two!” and you’d be hurriedly asking around to determine which idiot was the good one and which the evil one. Or would you?
I suspect that you don’t want to give any thought to the years that the two sides spent failing to prepare unarmed defenses, and that you think that no matter what Russia did to appeal to the morality and fairness of the world, the world would have spat at Russia and grabbed some popcorn to watch the U.S./NATO buildup. Yet, even with Russia committing hideous murderous acts, we’ve nonetheless seen much of the world — and many of the world’s governments! — refuse to side with NATO, despite enormous pressure, and despite the horrible embarrassment of having to seem to defend, or being accused of defending, Russia’s warmaking. We’ll never know how the world would have responded had Russia used massive and creative nonviolent action, had Russia joined international bodies of law, had Russia signed onto human rights treaties, had Russia sought to democratize world institutions, had Russia appealed to the world to reject U.S. imperialism in favor of a world run by the entire world.
Maybe the Russian government doesn’t want to fall under the rule of law any more than the U.S. government does. Maybe it wants a balance of power, not a balance of justice. Or maybe it thinks like most people in Western society — even many who have acted as peace activists for years — that war is the only answer in the end. And maybe nonviolent action would have failed. But there are two weaknesses in that thought that I think are indisputable.
One is that we are now closer than ever to nuclear apocalypse, and when we’re gone we won’t really get to argue who was more in the right than whom.
The other is that the U.S./NATO build-up was over decades and years and months. Russia could have waited another day or 10 or 200, and in that time it could have begun to try something else. Nobody picked the timing of Russia’s escalation other than Russia. And when you pick the timing of something, you had a choice to give something else a try first.
Even more importanly, unless both sides admit some wrong and agree to some compromise, the war will not end and life on Earth might. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t agree on that much.
Essay by David Swanson, World BEYOND War, May 24, 2023
- Sent to WNPJ by the WNPJ member group Madison World BEYOND War: firstname.lastname@example.org
Part #2: See the essay above, 'Dear Russia-Had-No-Choice Friends', an attempt to correct what I see as the mistaken idea that the Russian government simply had no possible choice other than to invade Ukraine.
(2nd essay by David Swanson, World BEYOND War, May 25, 2023 - sent to WNPJ by the WNPJ member group, Madison World BEYOND War - email@example.com)
Of course, it is equally mistaken that Ukraine had no choice but to wage this war. I say “of course” only because I and many others have been repeating ourselves ad nauseum for over a year, not because you agree. And I publish this not primarily to see whether it produces more or fewer denunciations and withdrawals of email subscriptions and donations from people who sign their nasty notes “Ex-Friend” than yesterday’s did. Nor do I publish it under the delusion that it will cross the sufficient-repetition-barrier and persuade everyone. Rather, it is my hope that just possibly a small number of people will give the idea of opposing all war a bit more thought if they see a pair of articles opposing both sides of the current for-or-against, which-side-are-you-on, obey-or-the-enemy-wins madness.
But what in the name of the holy flag of war could Ukraine possibly have done? As with the same question about Russia, this question is suppposed to be so powerful that no answer should even be attempted.
As with every side of every war, the existence of all human history prior to some bombing is supposed to be eliminated from thought. We’re supposed to travel back in our magical time machines to consider what Ukraine could possibly — I mean, for godsake, possibly — have done when bombs were falling, but not aim our time machine for the day or week or decade before, as that would be silly. As I consider this narrowing of the question to be dangerously misguided, I will choose to answer what Ukraine could have done in the leadup to that moment as well as in that moment.
To begin, we should remember that U.S. and other Western diplomats, spies, and theorists predicted for 30 years that breaking a promise and expanding NATO would lead to war with Russia, and that President Barack Obama refused to arm Ukraine, predicting that doing so would lead toward where we are now — as Obama still saw it in April 2022. Prior to the “Unprovoked War” there were public comments by U.S. officials arguing that the provocations would not provoke anything. (“I don’t buy this argument that, you know, us supplying the Ukrainians with defensive weapons is going to provoke Putin,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) One can still read a RAND report advocating creating a war like this one through the sorts of provocations that senators claimed wouldn’t provoke anything. Ukraine could have simply committed to not joining NATO. This might not have been simple. Zelensky might have had to keep some campaign promises rather than kiss up to some Nazis. The point is that if we take Ukraine as a whole and ask whether it could have done anything, the answer is obviously yes. The U.S. facilitated a coup in Ukraine in 2014. The war began years prio to February 2022. The U.S. has torn up treaties with Russia. The U.S. has put missile bases into Eastern Europe. The U.S. keeps nuclear weapons in six European nations. Kennedy took missiles out of Turkey to resolve a similar crisis rather than escalate it. Arkhipov refused to use nukes or we might not be here. The U.S. could have behaved very differently in Eastern Europe in recent years. Ukraine could have taken no part in it, could have rejected the manipulation of its government and committed to neutrality. A reasonable agreement was reached at Minsk in 2015. Ukraine could have abided by it. The current president of Ukraine was elected in 2019 promising peace negotiations. He could have kept that promise, even though the U.S. (and rightwing groups in Ukraine) pushed back against it. Russia’s demands prior to its invasion of Ukraine were perfectly reasonable, and a better deal from Ukraine’s perspective than anything discussed since. Ukraine could have negotiated then. The U.S. and its NATO sidekicks have been preventing the ending of the war, not just by providing the weapons for one side of it, but by blocking negotiations. I don’t mean just cracking down on Congress Members who dare to utter the word “negotiate.” I don’t mean just producing a whirlwind of propaganda claiming the other side is monsters with whom one cannot speak, even while negotiating with them on prisoner exchanges and grain exports. And I don’t mean just hiding behind Ukraine, claiming that it’s Ukraine that does not want to negotiate and that therefore the U.S., as loyal servant to Ukraine, must go on escalating the risk of nuclear apocalypse. I mean also the blocking of possible ceasefires and negotiated settlements. Medea Benjamin & Nicolas J.S. Davies wrote in September:
“For those who say negotiations are impossible, we have only to look at the talks that took place during the first month after the Russian invasion, when Russia and Ukraine tentatively agreed to a fifteen-point peace plan in talks mediated by Turkey. Details still had to be worked out, but the framework and the political will were there. Russia was ready to withdraw from all of Ukraine, except for Crimea and the self-declared republics in Donbas. Ukraine was ready to renounce future membership in NATO and adopt a position of neutrality between Russia and NATO. The agreed framework provided for political transitions in Crimea and Donbas that both sides would accept and recognize, based on self-determination for the people of those regions. The future security of Ukraine was to be guaranteed by a group of other countries, but Ukraine would not host foreign military bases on its territory.
“On March 27, President Zelenskyy told a national TV audience, ‘Our goal is obvious—peace and the restoration of normal life in our native state as soon as possible.’ He laid out his ‘red lines’ for the negotiations on TV to reassure his people he would not concede too much, and he promised them a referendum on the neutrality agreement before it would take effect. . . . Ukrainian and Turkish sources have revealed that the U.K. and U.S. governments played decisive roles in torpedoing those early prospects for peace. During U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘surprise visit’ to Kyiv on April 9th, he reportedly told Prime Minister Zelenskyy that the U.K. was ‘in it for the long run,’ that it would not be party to any agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and that the ‘collective West’ saw a chance to ‘press’ Russia and was determined to make the most of it. The same message was reiterated by U.S. Defense Secretary Austin, who followed Johnson to Kyiv on April 25th and made it clear that the U.S. and NATO were no longer just trying to help Ukraine defend itself but were now committed to using the war to ‘weaken’ Russia. Turkish diplomats told retired British diplomat Craig Murray that these messages from the U.S. and U.K. killed their otherwise promising efforts to mediate a ceasefire and a diplomatic resolution.” Russia has been proposing negotiations. Numerous nations have been proposing negotiations for months, and dozens of nations made that proposal at the United Nations. At any point, Ukraine could have negotiated. Since pretty much everybody’s peace proposal has a great deal in common with everybody else’s, we all know more or less what a negotiated agreement would look like. The question is whether to choose it over endless dying and destruction. The notion that negotiating peace would simply produce lies from the other side followed by more war which would somehow be worse than this war, is of course a notion playing in the minds of both sides. But there are reasons for both sides to reject it. If a negotiation is successful, it will include initial steps that can be publicly taken by each side and verified by the other. And it will lead toward ever-greater trust and cooperation. In other words, “negotiation” is not simply another word for “ceasefire.” But there would be absolutely no downside to an immediate first-step of a ceasefire.
Ukraine could always have invested in developing plans for a massive unarmed resistance to invasion. It still could.
Ukraine could always have joined and supported international treaties on human rights and disarmament. It still could.
Ukraine could always have committed to neutraility and friendship with both sides, the U.S. and Russia. It still could.
Over a year ago I noted some things Ukraine was doing and could be doing:
Change the street signs.
Block the roads with materials.
Block the roads with people.
Put up billboards.
Talk to Russian troops.
Celebrate Russian peace activists.
Protest both Russian warmaking and Ukrainian warmaking.
Demand serious and independent negotiating with Russia by the Ukrainian government — independent of U.S. and NATO dictates, and independent of Ukrainian right-wing threats.
Publicly demonstrate for No Russia, No NATO, No War.
Use a few of these 198 tactics.
Document and show the world the impact of war.
Document and show the world the power of nonviolent resistance.
Invite brave foreigners to come and join an unarmed peace army.
Announce a commitment never to align militarily with NATO, Russia, or anyone else.
Invite the governments of Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and Ireland to a conference on neutrality in Kyiv.
Announce a commitment to the Minsk 2 agreement including self-governance for the two eastern regions.
Announce a commitment to celebrating ethnic and linguistic diversity.
Announce an investigation of right-wing violence in Ukraine.
Announce delegations of Ukrainians with touching media-covered stories to visit Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and a dozen other countries to draw attention to all victims of war.
Engage in serious and public negotiations with Russia.
Commit to not maintaining weapons or troops within 100, 200, 300, 400 km of any borders, and request the same of neighbors.
Organize with Russia a nonviolent unarmed army to walk to and protest any weapons or troops near borders.
Put out a call to the world for volunteers to join the walk and protest.
Celebrate the diversity of the global community of activists and organize cultural events as part of the protest.
Ask the Baltic states that have planned nonviolent responses to Russian invasion to help train Ukrainians, Russians, and other Europeans in the same.
Join and uphold major human rights treaties.
Join and uphold the International Criminal Court.
Join and uphold the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Offer to host disarmament negotiations by the world’s nuclear-armed governments.
Ask both Russia and the West for non-military aid and cooperation.
Ukraine could support those unarmed defenders eager to be allowed in to protect nuclear powerplants.
Ukraine could declare success — as it’s been doing for over a year, and leave it at that, turning now to the negotiating table.
But Ukraine and Russia both will have to admit wrongdoing and compromise if the war is to end. Even if they want to go on entertaining a delusion of blamelessness, they will have to do this. They will have to allow the people of Crimea and Donbas to decide their own fate. And then Ukraine and NATO and Raytheon could declare a victory for democracy with some actual basis for doing so.