Anyone who is seriously concerned about the current war in the Ukraine and wants to contribute to peace needs to carefully consider how the world came to the point it is in today. In this process our priority must be to understand in what way our own country has contributed to the problem, and do everything we can to educate ourselves and our fellow citizens in order that we can collectively alter those processes in our own country that have contributed to and are contributing to war.
While the immediate cause of concern may be Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, it is important to consider the possibility that Russia’s actions are a predictable and understandable response to a US foreign policy that for decades has pursued so-called “national security” through expanding military power and threats. In reality this US “national security” policy is truly an international insecurity policy. In our globalized world the truth is that everyone will be secure or no one will be secure, and there is no security to be found in weapons of war. If we, the people of the United States truly want peace, we must truly understand what peace is, how it can be truly pursued, and honestly seek peace with Russia as well as all other countries.
There are several obstacles to this that immediately confront us. First and foremost too many people in the United States treat war and peace as if it was like weather — something to talk about and pray about but not something we can do anything about. This means that too few people in the United States feel a sense of responsibility for war and peace, and thus too few take responsibility for what our own government is doing in this regard. People who don’t feel responsible have no need to truly educate themselves. Thus we have a situation that President John F. Kennedy decried more than half a century ago in his very important commencement address at American University. In that speech he said that despite the fact that world peace is the most important subject on earth, it is something upon which “ignorance abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived.”
There is a demand that we have to make of ourselves and others. The demand is that we stop engaging in what one might call spectator politics, where we do nothing more than trade political opinions, and instead engage in real politics, which means seeking to have an effect on our political situation, by coming together, educating ourselves, and encouraging collective action to achieve peace.
We start here with some education by examining two quotations. At the time these statements were made they concerned the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, but they are so relevant that I have only had to substitute “Russia” for “the Soviet Union” to make the point. The first quote below is from President Kennedy’s American University speech.
“….. Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament — and that it will be useless until the leaders of Russia adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must re-examine our own attitudes — as individuals and as a Nation — for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace should begin by looking inward — by examining their own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, toward Russia, towards the course of the Cold War and towards freedom and peace here at home.” President John F. Kennedy, American University Commencement Address, June 1o, 1963.
Taking up what President Kennedy suggested, let us begin to examine our attitude towards the course of the Cold War. The second quote does this. It is from a book of essays by one of the great American statesmen of the 20th century, George Kennan. In this quote Kennan, describes the Cold War thinking that was dominating and still dominates American culture.
….. I find the view of Russia that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective, but dangerous as a guide to political action.
This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country; this routine exaggeration of Moscow’s military capabilities and of the supposed iniquity of Russian intentions: this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another great people — and a long-suffering people at that, sorely tried by the vicissitudes of this past century; this ignoring of their pride, their hopes — yes, even of their illusions (for they have their illusions, just as we have ours, and illusions too, deserve respect); this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of Russian conduct and our own, this failure to recognize, finally, the communality of many of their problems and ours as we both move inexorably into the modern technological age: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims; these, believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naivety unpardonable in a great government. I use the word naivety, because there is a naivety of cynicism and suspicion, just as there is a naivety of innocence.
And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions — until we correct our tendency to see in Russia only a mirror in which we look for the reflection of our own virtue — until we consent to see there another great people, one of the world’s greatest, in all its complexity and variety, embracing the good with the bad, a people whose life, whose views, whose habits, whose fears and aspirations, whose successes and failures, are the products, just as ours are the products, not of any inherent iniquity but of the relentless discipline of history, tradition, and national experience. If we insist on demonizing these Russian leaders — on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction — that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or for us. George Kennan, THE NUCLEAR DELUSION: SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS IN THE ATOMIC AGE, 1982.
So how do we start to correct these childish distortions? We noted above that in today’s globalized world we will all be secure or we will all be insecure. This is a result of the fact that the world today is such that whatever we do to others will be done to us in return. Thus the age-old maxim, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” today is not just a moral imperative. It is a practical necessity. If we want others to treat us peacefully, we must treat them peacefully. If we want to be understood, we must understand. Absolutely key in this process is paying attention to how the other side sees the world.
To begin to understand the current crisis in the Ukraine and approach it in a spirit of peace, there is no better place to begin that by carefully reading the speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave in explaining the Russian decision to recognize the independence of the two Ukrainian Republics that had rebelled against the government in Kiev. The text of the speech is posted below.