In Foreign intervention, Media critique, Ukraine

By Kollibri terre Sonnenblume,

Published on macska moksha press, Jan 29, 2023:

We publish this piece chiefly to expose the extent of the war mania that afflicts those widely considered liberal and even progressive. Benjamin and Davies have spent decades dedicated to antiwar causes, with particular attention to criticizing “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” the US government. They’ve been putting their values into action for the greater good, taking risks, and swimming upstream no matter how strong the current gets.
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As a lifelong unreconstructed pacifist, I don’t take kindly to people bashing peace activists.

Pacifism is, to me, an ethical stance, not a political one. It is neither right nor left and refuses allegiance to any state or leader. Parties dedicated to one side or another in a conflict—the belligerents—invariably accuse pacifists of aligning with their opponent, but that’s wrong. Pacifism decries the harmful actions of all belligerents in a conflict, and demands that their harmful actions stop. Such a demand is not about supporting the political ideology or leader of any side. I personally define pacifism as, “opposition to the gratuitous injury of living things,” and for me that extends to plants and animals as well.

The current conflict in Ukraine has inflamed pro-war passions in the West. You have to go back to 9/11 for an event that catalyzed this much gung-ho support for war across the political spectrum. Those seeking peace are in a distinct minority, and are regularly accused of being on Russia’s side, or being “Putin lovers” or “pawns of Putin,” or other playground taunts. Just to make it abundantly clear: I don’t personally support any country or head of state. My own politics could be described as anarchoprimitivist. I believe that, for the sake of a livable planet and equitable social relations, we should be voluntarily dismantling industrial civilization towards the eventual goal of living at a hand-made level of technology. This would include phasing out the nation state, whether it’s capitalist, socialists, or other. The massive scale of war-making in the nation-state era has been nightmarishly gruesome. To me, there are no good guys in the hall of nations.

The war in Ukraine has been exposing political and cultural divisions that already existed, and has been widening the gaps. Where before some differences might have been easy to ignore, now they have burgeoned into bitter rifts expressed with increasingly shrill rhetoric. I’ve lost a few friends, as I did during Russiagate, the now-debunked but still popular conspiracy theory that played a key role in building the frothing anti-Russia sentiment that makes opposition to this war so unpopular.

It is hard to overstate the danger of our moment, as tensions rise between two nuclear powers. War-boosters seem unaware that war brings out the worst in people, and that the strained atmosphere of conflict makes accidents more likely. The results of even a limited nuclear exchange would be unspeakably horrific, and everyone would suffer. Nuclear winter would kill far more than humans. In such an environment it wouldn’t matter who was “wrong” or “right” or “who started it.”

We need a peace movement and peace activists more than ever, literally for the sake of our collective survival. Those who attack the peace movement and peace activists are at best victims of brainwashing but at worst giving aid to the war-mongers, who value nothing but their own power and profits and will play with lives like they’re game pieces on a Risk board.

By “attack” peace activists, I don’t mean “critique” or “debate.” No movement or activist is perfect, and yes, we need healthy dialogue to make movements and activists the best they can be. This is an area where we have a lot of room for improvement, admittedly. By “attack” I mean denigrate, mischaracterize, tear down. I find such actions despicable in the best of times, and in times like these, reckless.

So I was sickened by the latest from Eric Draitser on Counterpunch. It purports to be a “review” of the book, “War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict,” by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies but it is no such thing. As Draitser’s example demonstrates, there’s a difference between critics and detractors.

By critics, I mean those who would engage the text in good faith to show where it is lacking (whether by accidental ommision or seemingly purposeful exclusion), to make correction, or to mention new information that impacts the book’s claims. The best critics have always been those who are aware that in this big, complicated world, nobody gets everything right, and sometimes the most important question to ask is, “What if I’m wrong?” As a lifelong writer, I have enjoyed engaging with honest critics, who can help me to see my limitations as well as my strengths.

I have the book and would describe it as a good primer both for those who know little about the Ukraine conflict’s background, and for those who have been following it since 2014 or earlier. It’s certainly a more accurate representation of the situation there than 99.99% of what you get in Western establishment media, which is dominated by propaganda. Benjamin & Davies are even-handed in assigning blame and they don’t make anybody into a hero. I’m sure they missed some details; it’s a complicated situation far away. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more discussion of non-violent options available to both Russia and Ukraine, such as David Swanson lists in his March 2022 article, “30 Nonviolent Things Russia Could Have Done and 30 Nonviolent Things Ukraine Could Do.”  In a similar vein, Vijay Prashad suggested that Russia could have hosted an international conference before 2022 on the dangers of Nazism as a way of pointing out the presence of such forces in Ukraine, and of asking the international community to help address the situation. (This conference could have also provided a venue for exposing Nazis in the US police. So the book is not exhaustive. This is why we consult multiple sources.

In contrast to critics, detractors just show up to dunk. Too often they’ve already made up their mind before they’ve read a word, and their “reviews” are just frameworks for launching offensives.

Such is the case with Draitser’s piece on the book in Counterpunch. It does not read as being “in good faith,” but as someone with an axe to grind. No, it is not being serious to say, “Benjamin and Davies have done a tremendous disservice to the people of Ukraine resisting an invasion, the people of Russia living under (especially those resisting) a criminal regime, and the international Left as a whole.” This is the language of a political fighter making a political argument—of someone who has taken a side in the conflict, and who is wishing for the victory of one side and the defeat of another one. Draitser is certainly entirely free to do this. But presenting it as a “serious analysis of the war and its attendant complexities” is disingenuous, and for that reason it would be a waste of my time to go through it point by point.

I will just say that yes, there are pro-Putin people in the world, and some who are rooting for Russia to win, but it’s false to put Benjamin and Davies into such a category. They make it very clear, repeatedly, that they condemn the choice by Russia and Putin to go to war. They are certainly not, “upholding Putin’s left flank,” as Draitser absurdly suggests.

Who does Draitser’s polemic benefit? The weapon-makers, not the peace-makers. With the Doomsday Clock at ninety seconds to midnight,  peace-making has never been more important. In this context, Draitser’s attack is imprudent and irresponsible. Instead of taking aim at those bringing us to the edge of oblivion, he targets those trying to pull us back from the brink. I find it abhorrent.

I am disappointed that Counterpunch published this piece. But as I mentioned at the beginning, previously small differences are now widening into bigger gaps. Just a few weeks ago, they published the pro-weapons, skeptical-of-peace statement from the Ukraine Solidarity Network, which Gerald Horne characterizes as a “pro-war formation.”I can see which way the wind’s blowing.

Benjamin and Davies have spent decades dedicated to antiwar causes, with particular attention to criticizing “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” the US government. They’ve been putting their values into action for the greater good, taking risks, and swimming upstream no matter how strong the current gets. I stand with them and their efforts, and I denounce what I see as a hit piece in Counterpunch. For that reason, this is my final contribution to Counterpunch. As a committed pacifist, I will not share any more of the fruits of my labor with a website that privileges this kind of content. I graciously thank Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank for publishing so much of my work over the years, and hope that my exit will be understood as a sincere protest in good conscience.

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