All of the worst atrocities in human history have been perpetrated by people convinced they were in the right. People act according to the mores of their era and group. There is nothing more dangerous that the inability to see that it is reasonable for others to have a different view or interest.
The Guardian has been publishing calls for NATO to declare war on Russia. Twitter is awash with fanatic “liberals” arguing there can be no negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine, and the war must only end with Ukraine recovering all territory including Crimea.
The most crazed sometimes go further and suggest the war may only end with regime change in Russia.
It does not require any special degree of intelligence to see the dangers of insisting on the unconditional surrender, and the personal incarceration or death, of those with their finger on the big red button, in a war against a nuclear power.
The 20th century saw two terrible “world wars”. The first was the result of Imperial rivalries and dynastic power, and it is difficult to discern any morality in it at all (though the propaganda fabrications about Germans bayonetting Belgian babies are a template that has been, with slight variations, repeated by western media in every war right up until today).
The Second World War, however, was as close to a justified war as can ever be found. Fascism and Nazism were truly evil doctrines, while the Western forces that opposed them were on the brink of a golden but short-lived era of social democracy and meaningful working class empowerment.
The problem is that this has become the template for thinking about war in the West – that we are always the “goodies” and the opponents are truly evil, and that total war must be fought leading to unconditional surrender, with even the most horrendous atrocities (Dresden, Hiroshima) justified within the overarching moral imperative.
We have seen straightforward imperial wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, each of which the media has tried to manipulate to fit that thought pattern. It also drives the continual propaganda that the war in Ukraine comes from an invasion by an evil Russian regime and was “illegal and unprovoked”.
Now as you know, I hold that Russian incursion or invasion was illegal, both in 2014 and 2022. But unprovoked it most certainly was not.
It is interesting to return to the World War II precedent here, because it has never been understood to detract from acceptance of the evil of Nazism, to attempt to understand how it happened.
Every schoolchild of my age was taught the “Causes of World War II”, and the first cause was always the extremely punitive Treaty of Versailles.
The insistence on unconditional surrender in World War I, the entirely unfounded claim the whole conflict of World War I was Germany’s fault, the annexations, cruel financial reparations and blow to national pride of military suppression, were all universally acknowledged by historians as mistakes that were of great help to Hitler.
Interestingly, today’s history school curricula in the UK spend much more time on World War II than we used to, and are much less nuanced. The causes of the war feature much less if at all, and heroic Britnat tales of a brave struggling people (which are not of course untrue) feature much more.
With Ukraine, we are not allowed to acknowledge any of the factors that provoked Russia. Not NATO expansion and forward positioning of missiles, not glorification of Nazism, not suppression of Russian language and political parties, not shelling of Russian civilian areas.
In fact it is apparently traitorous to mention any of these things: a crime against the overarching goal of total victory.
This establishment and media narrative is countered on social media by others who take an opposite and equally uncompromising view. They believe Russia must fight to a total victory in Ukraine, depose Zelensky, and humiliate and weaken NATO, thus dealing a blow to US Imperialism.
While a much smaller group, the pro-Russian extremists can be every bit as bloodthirsty as the NATO hawks.
The problem is that all these people on both sides, fuelled by the righteousness of their own belief, are blind to the immense human suffering of the war. They don’t seem to care that many times the amount of suffering so far would be required in order for either side to achieve total victory.
Whereas in the real world both sides are bogged down in a barely moving battle of attrition. The idea of “total victory” is impractical nonsense.
As for those actually making the decisions, for Western politicians a continuing war is a win-win. It drains Russia, their designated enemy. More importantly, it provides the massive opportunities for concentrated political power and super-profits from the public purse that only war can bring.
So far the UK has provided £4.1 billion of weaponry to Ukraine, without a mainstream political dissenting voice. If total victory is the aim, that is just an appetiser.
Yet we have the pretend opposition Labour Party stating that £1.2 billion a year cannot possibly be found to lift the two-child benefit cap and relieve child poverty.
That is one reason wars are so good for the wealthy who control us. Weapons expenditure is beyond control or criticism. To date £5 billion has been spent on the Ajax light armoured vehicle project without a single vehicle ready to enter service having been produced.
There is no telling how much Trident is eventually going to cost, though at least 125 billion. The war in Ukraine provides yet more evidence that our nuclear deterrent does not actually deter anything.
Though I suppose the Ukraine war does radically improve the chances that at least we might get our money’s worth from Trident by blowing the whole world to pieces.
I can see no logical refutation to my constantly repeated argument that the war in Ukraine has shown that Russia cannot speedily defeat a much smaller, weaker and extremely corrupt neighbouring state, so the incredibly high expenditure on “defence” by NATO is not really needed.
The idea that Russia, which is taking a long while to defeat Ukraine, could be a serious threat to the entire NATO alliance is plainly utter nonsense.
But Russia can of course eventually defeat its much weaker and smaller neighbour. Ultimately Ukraine cannot win this war, and somehow the West has to come to terms with that. Ukraine is quite simply going to run out of people able and willing to fight.
Ukraine’s use of US cluster weapons was perhaps the first major dent in the blue and yellow public opinion so carefully manufactured in the West. As the horrible war continues on with no real Ukrainian victories to cheer, the “who started it” question will fade in the public mind.
I still think it was unwise of Putin to start this war, as well as illegal. If his goals are limited, then this is a good time to move to cash in his gains.
You may be surprised to know that I have a certain degree of admiration for Bismarck. Apart from a genuine claim to have invented the foundations of a welfare state, Bismarck’s use of war was brilliant.
Bismarck stuck to defined and limited objectives, and did not allow spectacular military success to lead him to expand those objectives.
The purpose of his two wars against Austria and France was to unify Germany, and he succeeded in very quick wars, immediately ended. Humiliating or punishing France or Austria played no significant part in his thinking. Bismarck had limited goals, achieved them and stopped the fighting immediately.
This horrible war will end with Russia retaining Crimea. There is no point in arguing about it. Whether the Donbass remains theoretically part of Ukraine remains to be seen, but de facto Russian autonomy there will be established. I suspect that more important to Putin than the Donbass would be territory further south which secures the approaches to Crimea.
There has to be a territorial settlement. That is what diplomacy is for. The total war options are in themselves terrible and bring massive nuclear risk.
The idea of either side fighting through to total victory is, quite simply, madness. Sanity must be imposed on those who seek to profit from continuing war, or seek to engulf the world in the flames of ideology and righteousness.
Ask this one question of those who insist on total victory for one side or the other. “How many dead people is that worth?”. Insist on an actual number. For total victory either way, anything less than 1 million is utterly unrealistic. It could be much, much worse. Do you really want that?
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