How To Avoid Awful Decisions

While I should be returning to Free Talk Live this upcoming Monday, I used to do a fair bit of writing. Somewhere between working a full-time job and being able to express myself on radio, however, that mostly fell aside, except for a few things written here or there during special circumstances (like my bid for Cheshire County Sheriff).

For those who prefer to live instead of vigilantly watching a 24 hour-a-day news cycle whose chattering has little-to-no actual impact on their daily lives, the big news of the year (thus far) is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and it’s important to discuss this topic. By a wide margin, the response people most desire to see from the United States and its European allies are sanctions against Russia–sanctions that I am against, because sanctions are not an alternative to war; sanctions are a prelude to war.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider sanctions. The stated goal of sanctions, as confirmed by even the most double-talking statist, is to squeeze the people of a nation such that they pressure their government to change course. Already, we see a strong reason that any rational person should condemn the use of sanctions: rather than punishing the people who are responsible for the transgression, sanctions deliberately seek to punish people who are innocent bystanders. 

Before anyone reading can spout off with silly platitudes about all governments ultimately requiring the consent of their people in order to take action, let’s rewind to the United States in 2003, and re-evaluate how much it actually mattered whether you or anyone else wanted war with Iraq. We can also go back further, to World War 2, when FDR won re-election by campaigning on how he had “kept the United States out of World War 2”, only to almost immediately involve the United States in World War 2.

We can’t evaluate the past too closely yet, but we will be doing so, because I have no doubt that people are out there, shaking their heads (if not closing this tab) and mumbling “Japan dragged the U.S. into World War 2, not FDR!” or some nonsense like that. We’ll revisit this shortly, because the attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither did the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Back to sanctions, though. I oppose sanctions because they, by definition, target and punish innocent bystanders. For obvious reasons, I oppose military intervention. Escalating a conflict to include more combatants has never made a war less destructive or deadly. The time has long passed (if it ever actually existed, and considerable historical evidence suggests it never existed) that wars were fought on battlefields between armies.

That is how we prefer to think of the Middle Ages, after all, and even more modern wars, such as the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. We imagine them as two armies neatly opposed to each other, ready to smash into one another with bows, swords, guns, and bayonets at the sound of a horn, trumpet, or the waving of flags. While things like that probably happened, the next part of the story rarely gets told. The victorious army went on to ransack the nearest village, looting its treasures, killing its men, and raping its women–punishing the innocent bystanders whose only “crime” was being extorted into paying the taxes with which kings paid their soldiers.

There was considerably less raping and looting in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, more recent conflicts paint a much bleaker picture of the human condition. World War 2, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, the War in Iraq–these histories are written in the blood of the innocent as much as the guilty. If we could send the U.S. army into some barren field so that they could shoot at the Russian army, and the Russian army could return fire, until one or the both of them were destroyed, I would have no problem with it, because these members of the military volunteered for that idiocy. I would object to it no more than I object to boxing or MMA. If someone wants to enter an arena and beat the hell out of someone else, and all parties consent to it, then have a good time. If they knowingly agree that death is a possible (even likely) outcome, I still have no objection.

Let the stupid play their stupid games and win their stupid prizes.

War, however, is not equivalent to boxing. In boxing, both parties have consented. A quick look at the numbers shows that, for every member of a military that was killed, two civilians were murdered during World War 2. While World War 2 is garish for countless reasons, it remains one of the best examples we have of why war is so horrific–and it’s appropriate to think about today, with many calling a possible war with Russia “World War 3.”

So if I oppose war and I oppose sanctions, what do I think should be done?

I Don’t Know

I have no idea what “should” be done to end the situation peacefully. I can’t even begin to imagine scenarios where the situation could be ended peacefully. But, and I can’t stress this point enough, I don’t have to have a working solution to point out that your solution is immoral and ineffective.

This seems to be what I encounter most online. “Oh, so you have no plan? You have no idea? And yet you want to criticize sanctions? Sanctions are the best plan we have, moron!” and things of that nature.

Let’s imagine this asinine, childish mindset in other circumstances.

My girlfriend and I are preparing to go out for the evening. She has suggested we go to the local gun range dressed as scarecrows with targets on our chest, and to then stand perfectly still in the area at which people will be shooting guns. Although it would be very easy to come up with better evening plans, let’s assume for a moment that I can’t think of anything else we could do. I don’t require an alternative to say, “That’s stupid, and I’m not doing it.”

Let’s imagine that my shed has caught on fire. Nearby, we have a 5-gallon jug of gasoline. That I don’t have a water hose handy doesn’t mean that my friend’s suggestion of throwing the 5-gallon jug of gasoline into the fire is a good one. Nor does it mean that my failure to suggest “calling the fire department” as an alternative means that we must throw gasoline on the fire.

It’s very easy to see how childish these arguments are. That, because I have no solution that isn’t “sanctions” or “war,” we must therefore go with a stupid, destructive, immoral option. “Doing nothing and coming up with a rational, effective plan” is a viable option. We may not have forever to delay before we come up with the idea of “calling the fire department” about a burning shed, but I can guarantee you that throwing a jug of gasoline onto the burning shed absolutely does not buy us more time in which to think.

This point must be beaten into the ground, because peoples lives are on the line here. We are watching a burning shed, and some of us are saying, “Give us more time to come up with a solution.”

Meanwhile, the hysterical are freaking out, and the only thing they can come up with is to throw gasoline on the shed, because “at least it’s doing something instead of standing around thinking!”

Yes, making the problem worse is definitely “doing something.” I can’t disagree with that. But if you are arguing that we must impose sanctions because we must act–now!–then you are simply saying we don’t have time to think of working solutions, and instead have to do the first thing that we come up with, which is throwing gasoline onto the fire.

American Hubris

If we woke up today, and “some country called Russia” had “invaded some country called Ukraine” and there was no historical context, no geopolitical maneuvering, and no subtle machinations, then things would be easier. However, as alluded to previously, these events, like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, did not happen without context.

FDR had done everything in his power to manipulate Japan into attacking. Supplying Japan’s enemies with weapons and money, hitting Japan with embargoes… The United States may have been a non-combatant prior to Pearl Harbor, but it’s historically ignorant to suggest that the United States wasn’t on the side of the Allies. It unequivocally was, and was doing everything it could to avoid combat while taking part in the war. FDR did not keep the United States out of the war prior to Pearl Harbor; he merely kept the United States out of combat. This is not to say that I think the Japanese attack was justified; whether it was justified is irrelevant.

To properly understand the situation in Ukraine and Russia, we don’t even have to look back to the Cold War, to the 60s and 70s, or even to the 80s or 90s. Our task is much easier. We just have to look back to 4 years ago, under President Trump, and consider one very simple, oft-repeated phrase:

“… colluding with Russia.”

Language is important, and it reveals a lot without people really meaning it to. There are countless ways for me to describe hitting my hand on my desk. Here are just a few:

  • I accidentally smacked my knuckles on my desk.
  • I slapped my desk in excitement.
  • I banged my hand on the desk.
  • I drummed my hand on the desk.
  • I pounded the desk with my fist.

In all of these examples, I “hit my hand on my desk.” Yet each of these statements paints a very different picture than the others.

No one ever accused George W. Bush of “colluding” with Tony Blair. No one ever accused the United States of “colluding” with Mexico and Canada. “Colluding” isn’t something that one friend does with another. One colludes… with the enemy.

While “…with the enemy” isn’t part of the literal definition of “collusion,” “…with the enemy” is likely to be one of the most popular follow-ups to the word “collusion.” Even “conspiring” doesn’t have the adversarial implications, and this is why Trump was never accused of “conspiring” with the Russians, even though “conspiracy” is part of the definition of “collusion.” It was never an accident that the word “collusion” was used, over and over, without fail.

That reason is that the overwhelming majority of Americans–civilians, military, and politicians alike–consider Russia to be an adversary. Throughout my life of watching events play out, it has repeatedly struck me that Putin has described the United States as Russia’s “partners,” and I laugh at the notion that the average American would characterize Russia in such a fair way.

The United States looks down on Russia. Even if Americans did not consider Russia to be an enemy (which it does, at the very least unconsciously, hence the overwhelming reliance on the word “collusion” to describe anything Trump may or may not have done with Russia), they would never consider Russia to be an equal, just as they do not consider China to be an equal, and never will.

The United States has deeply embedded in its cultural zeitgeist “We are the best. Everything we do is just. We can do no wrong. We are better than everyone else.” When you add that arrogance and disgusting conceit to the reality that Americans also view Russia (and China, if we’re being honest) as enemies (or, in the case of China, at the very least a potential enemy), a situation was created between the United States and Russia that caused Ukraine to be the rope in a global tug-of-war.

So no, I don’t have a solution to what is happening in Ukraine right now. I will say, however, that the situation was almost entirely created by the United States being unwilling to treat Russia as an equal and as a partner, rather than as an enemy. Ukraine is, sadly, the one paying the price, rather than the politicians who created this mess. But that’s always the case, isn’t it?

It’s always the innocent bystander, and never the government, that is killed.