“All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”
A few weeks ago, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was beginning, I reminisced about growing up in the 1960s and practicing duck and cover drills in elementary school.
The idea behind duck and cover was when a nuclear bomb was dropped in the vicinity of our school, we could take cover under our desks to protect ourselves from the force of the explosion.
During one such rehearsal, I asked our teacher, Mrs. Platt, whether crouching under a desk would protect us from being buried alive (or otherwise) by the force of an atomic blast. Not to mention being lacerated by shards of glass from the near floor-to-ceiling windows in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, when I voiced these concerns, I was told to keep any doubts to myself.
Sixty years later, the world finds itself again on the brink of nuclear war. Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed his nuclear forces on high alert. He has suggested that he might use nuclear weapons if the United States and its NATO allies directly intervene with military force in Ukraine, or if they directly threaten Russia. In that event, it’s possible Putin could order the use of tactical nuclear weapons against NATO forces.
Given the history of mutual miscalculations in scenarios involving nuclear weapons, we believe the threat of nuclear war is much closer than the mainstream media might have you believe. For instance, in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear war was averted by the decision of a single Soviet submarine officer. Two decades later, in the midst of provocative war games carried out by US forces, it was averted once again by another Soviet officer who guessed (correctly) that what appeared to be an American missile attack was a false alarm.
But despite the fact that we’re possibly living in the most dangerous time in human history, there seems to be none of the nuclear foreboding that children who grew up at the height of the Cold War experienced. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has announced that he favors sending US troops into Ukraine to fight Russia. Meanwhile, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has called for a US-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine. Both actions would engage American forces in direct conflict with Russian forces.
Kinzinger is far too young to remember the nuclear angst of Baby Boomer generation. But Coons should know better; he’s old enough to have likely practiced duck and cover drills as a child.
A full-fledged nuclear war with both Russia and the United States exchanging missile strikes on each other’s cities would quite literally end most life on our planet. Those unfortunate few humans and animals who don’t perish immediately would either die of radiation poisoning or eventually starve to death.
And while it’s true that a “limited” nuclear war wouldn’t necessarily end life on earth, it could still kill millions if not billions of people due to widespread crop failures. Not to mention that it could easily escalate.
While President Biden and other western leaders have wisely not followed the advice of Coons or Kinzinger, they’ve done everything short of direct military intervention to back Putin into a corner. In addition to some of the most stringent economic sanctions imposed against any country, Biden and other western leaders have labeled Putin a “war criminal” and called for regime change in Russia.
We should undoubtedly be grateful that the American public doesn’t favor direct US military involvement in Ukraine. An opinion poll taken earlier this month showed only 22% of Americans support the deployment of US troops to Ukraine to fight Russian forces.
But that number could change rapidly. One of the lessons we’ve learned over the years is that “war fever” can catch on very quickly. Indeed, war propaganda has been used to persuade us of the righteousness of positions that are frankly ludicrous.
Take the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, for instance. In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush framed what he called a “War on Terror” in terms of absolute good versus absolute evil. The forces of freedom and democracy – the United States and its allies – were, as Glenn Greenwald puts it, “defending the world against despotism and mad, primitive barbarism.”
Bush’s framing was successful. By the time Bush started the second Iraq war in 2003, opinion polls showed large majorities of Americans approving it.
But perhaps Americans are wiser now. Since Russia’s invasion began, western media coverage has been extraordinarily one-sided, with pro-Russian voices systematically drowned out. In a remarkable disclosure, US officials recently admitted that America is fighting an “information war” with Russia. Perhaps with fresh memories of such memorable media fabrications as “Russiagate,” Americans finally no longer believe what the government and mainstream media wants them to believe.
And that, in our view, paves the path to a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine conflict. If Ukraine President Zelensky wants his country to continue as an independent political entity, we believe he’ll need to promise permanent neutrality, to never join NATO, and to memorialize these commitments in the Ukrainian Constitution. He’ll also need to cede Luhansk and Donetsk, the regions of Ukraine Russia recognized as independent states just days before its invasion. Not to mention Crimea, which wasn’t even part of Ukraine until 1954.
Indeed, on March 7, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov relayed exactly those demands from Putin. But they’ve been largely ignored. Instead, the unspoken policy of the United States and its allies seems to be to “fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” as former Assistant Secretary of Defense Chas Freeman, Jr. puts it.
As the United States and its allies enforce increasingly stringent sanctions against Russia, and pour arms into Ukraine, the thought has crossed our minds that perhaps Russia’s nuclear arsenal doesn’t function any better than the rest of its military, which has constantly demonstrated poor training, logistics, and tactics in its war in Ukraine.
Perhaps if Putin decides to press the red button in his nuclear suitcase, it will look a lot like the Joker’s Harpoon Gun in a Batman movie. The first time the Joker shoots the gun, a flag emerges that reads “Bang.” (The second time he fires it though, the flag shoots out of the barrel, impaling the target.)
Unless the Biden administration and its allies have rock-solid intelligence indicating that the Russian nuclear threat is non-existent, they need to stop poking an old man armed with existentially powerful weapons with sharp sticks.
It’s time to negotiate a peaceful settlement to this conflict. Let’s give peace a last chance.