Antiwar, Apathy, and War Hawks

Part 2: Enabling the Warmaking of Empire

Read Part 1.

Back in February of 2003, an estimated 10 million to 15 million people hit the streets around the world in opposition to a war on Iraq. US president George W Bush dismissed the protesting masses as a “focus group.” Bush and his partner in crime, UK prime minister Tony Blair, invaded Iraq and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, as well as thousands of the invading troops.

Unfortunately, 20 years later, the Rage Against War Machine rally in Washington DC didn’t draw near enough numbers to make an impression. One estimate put the numbers between 1,000 and 3,000 people, which has to be majorly disappointing for the antiwar movement. The rally has been for the most part ignored by the monopoly media, much as the W Bush and Blair governments paid scant heed to the antiwar protestors in 2003.

Why the low turnout? Did W Bush crush the soul of the antiwar movement?

While the number of protestors in the US and Britain seemed impressive in 2003, when one considers the numbers as a percentage of the population, then one might conclude that either many more people were insouciant or worse that many more people supported the war machine.

TP Wilkinson interviewed Joan Roelofs, author of The Trillion Dollar Silencer: Why There Is So Little Anti-War Protest in the United States. As to the paucity of antiwar protest, Roelofs postulated:

There is a heritage of violence and its glorification in the US, perpetrated by propaganda, the educational system, and the adoration of family members who have been in the military. In addition, there are other reasons for supporting the military, including fear (of being considered unpatriotic, etc.), distractions, and interests. My book is mainly about the interests and the military connections pervading our social, educational, cultural, and economic institutions.

Or does a segment of the antiwar movement pursue a wrongheaded strategy?

On 11 April 2022, important antiwar activist David Swanson wrote:

Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and was attacked. Therefore every country should have nuclear weapons.

NATO didn’t add Ukraine, which was attacked. Therefore every country or at least lots of them should be added to NATO.

Russia has a bad government. Therefore it should be overthrown.

These lessons are popular, logical — even unquestionable truth in many minds — and catastrophically and demonstrably wrong.

Swanson tries to dismantle the argument that “every country that gives up nukes gets attacked.” He states Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Those nukes were Soviet nukes, and Ukraine never had control of these nukes. All of the nukes were removed to Russia under a 1994 agreement. Swanson acknowledges, “Now, it is true that Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program and was attacked.” Libya gave up its program, but it never had nukes, and Swanson eludes the question of whether Libya would have been attacked if it had succeeded in the development and retention of its nukes.

Swanson: “And it is true that numerous countries lacking nuclear weapons have been attacked: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. But nuclear weapons don’t completely stop India and Pakistan attacking each other…”

Comment: The key words here are “don’t completely stop” attacks. What has not transpired is an all-out attack. Dangerous as a pin-prick attack might be, there is a undeniably large difference between such attacks and launching a major military offensive. Granted, a pin-prick attack is risky and might indeed provoke a heightened response leading to great devastation, but both sides certainly must be aware that if a certain red line is crossed and a nuclear exchange is precipitated that it is goners for all sides. Such is the ineluctable outcome of nuclear war.

Swanson: “… don’t stop terrorism in the U.S. or Europe…”

Comment: Terrorism is a damnable scourge. What Swanson points to is retail terrorism, and it is tiny in destructive magnitude compared to the wholesale terrorism of nation states such as the US. One must not condemn one form of terrorism, retail, and neglect to condemn the far greater wholesale terrorism. Indeed, all terrorism that targets civilians must be condemned. Thankfully, terrorists do not have nukes … yet. There are still, however, unrecovered broken arrows out there.

Swanson: “… don’t prevent a major proxy war with the U.S. and Europe arming Ukraine against Russia…”

Comment: Proxy wars speak more to madness and false bravado. In the case of the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, it speaks to cowardice — the abject refusal to own up to the crime one committed, even though every politically aware person knows the US did it with the considerable aid of Norway and also the investigation’s cover-up carried out by Sweden and Denmark. The reality is a nation that presents itself as an exceptional and indispensable beacon on the hill, but it doesn’t have the gumption to own up to what it did.

Swanson: “… don’t stop a major push for war with China…”

Comment: Pushing for and carrying out war are different animals. As it stands, US-NATO-Ukraine are headed for a major defeat, and that precludes an attack on China in the near and longer term.

Swanson: “… don’t prevent Afghans and Iraqis and Syrians fighting against the U.S. military…”

Comment: What is the choice?: either capitulate and live on one’s knees or resist with honor. Besides, the US is hamstrung from using nukes, particularly against less militarily potent countries that do not possess nuclear weapons because overtly using WMD would thoroughly undermine (if that isn’t the case yet) the attack on an Iraq that was fundamentally disarmed. And it would/should result in a massive condemnation of the US and the fracturing of its alliances.

Swanson: “… and have as much to do with starting the war in Ukraine as their absence does with failing to prevent it.”

Comment: Looks like Swanson is destroying his own argument here. The Ukrainians don’t have nukes, so Russia need not employ nukes. If Ukraine had had nukes, would Russia have invaded? Just imagine a nightmare scenario of neo-Nazis having control over nukes.

Swanson: “Among Russia’s excuses for invading Ukraine was the positioning of weaponry nearer its border than ever before. Excuses, needless to say, are not justifications…”

Comment: Who decides what is a justification or an excuse? Swanson? He needs to define what the difference between an excuse and a justification is and why a particular case is neither one or the other; merely stating so is thoroughly uncompelling. Is not removing a credible threat being stationed ever closer to Russian territory justifiable? Apparently not to Swanson.

Swanson: “… and the lesson learned in Russia that the U.S. and NATO will listen to nothing other than war is as false a lesson as those being learned in the U.S. and Europe.”

Comment: Sounds like a strawman argument. So who is saying that “the U.S. and NATO will listen to nothing other than war” and that this is the lesson Russia has learned? Swanson is, arguably, absolving the US and its NATO minions because provoking a war is more-or-less warmaking by intention. If setting up the situation knowing that it will lead to war is not sufficient to qualify as a “lesson learned,” then the flow of weapons from the US-NATO into Ukraine is undeniably a “lesson learned.”

Did the US intentionally provoke the war? There are numerous pronouncements by politicians and media calling it a proxy war, for example, by German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said: “We are fighting a war against Russia…,” by Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton, who serves on the House Armed Forces Committee, by the Washington Post, by Fox News: “Tucker: We are at war with Russia, whether or not Congress has declared it,” by the Cato Institute, by Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, etc. It is indeed a proxy war, a war the US, Canada, and Europe finance with Ukrainian blood to try and weaken Russia.

The goal is to break up Russia and exploit its resources.

Swanson: “Russia could have supported the rule of law and won over much of the world to its side.”

Comment: Which law says that Ukraine cannot join NATO? Which law says that the US cannot station weapons in Ukraine and point them at Moscow? Which law? The laws of the rules-based order? Swanson assumes the rule of law works in this world. But Swanson knows well, for instance, the purposeful miscarriage of justice against Julian Assange. Why should Russia fare any better under the law than Assange? The US regards international law with impunity. The US has not enacted Article 6 as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; it is not a member of the ICC; it even ignores rulings by the World Court against it. Russia is well aware of this. Israel is a serial violator of international law, yet it is backed by the US and many of the NATO countries, so Swanson appears to be talking from the ether here. Julian Assange has been awaiting justice for over a dozen years, yet Swanson laments that Russia “chose not to” have pursued the legal route. Before proposing solutions such as turning to the courts, first it has to be demonstrated that law works. The law throughout history, up to the present day, has been clearly and demonstrably hit-and-miss. Why would Russia submit its security to such a flawed process?

Swanson: “In fact, the United States and Russia are not parties to the International Criminal Court.”

Comment: Why would Russia bind itself to the ICC when its main adversary refuses to join? What sense would that make? Why would Russia sign the Ottawa Treaty on the prohibition of landmines when the US refuses? Why would Russia denuclearize if the US doesn’t? Moreover, why does Swanson grant that the ICC is an impartial administrator of justice?

Swanson: “The U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014, the U.S. and Russian efforts to win over Ukraine for years, the mutual arming of conflict in Donbas, and the Russian invasion of 2021 highlight a problem in world leadership.” [italics added]

Comment: A contradiction? Why did Swanson earlier make the argument that Russia could appeal to the rest of the world through law when there is a problem in world leadership? Again, no mention was made of NATO encroachment toward Russia. Is not the eastward spread of NATO (facilitated by a US-backed coup in Ukraine) the greater precipitating invasion? And did not the US-fueled coup in Ukraine beget the Russian invasion?

Furthermore, what needs to be stated is that there is no Russian encroachment toward Europe or the US. Europe and the US do not find themselves ringed by Russian military bases. Knowing this, it is undeniably clear who the intrusive, provocative party is.

Swanson: “Of 18 major human rights treaties, Russia is party to only 11, and the United States to only 5, as few as any nation on Earth. Both nations violate treaties at will, including the United Nations Charter, Kellogg Briand Pact, and other laws against war. Both nations refuse to support and openly defy major disarmament and anti-weapons treaties upheld by most of the world.”

Comment: Again, if a major belligerent such as the US rejects treaties, then countries targeted by the US, such as Russia, might feel compelled to abstain from such treaties that would tie their hands vis-à-vis an antagonist. This may well hamper the ability of a country to defend itself. Consider also treaties signed by Russia and not signed by the US, such as “Protection from Torture, Ill-Treatment and Disappearance,” “Employment and Forced Labour,” and “Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.” Therefore, to criticize both parties and without pointing out key differences points to a bias. To the point, there is no equivalence between the US and Russia.

Swanson: “… the United States actually keeps nuclear weapons in five other nations and considers putting them into more, while Russia has talked of putting nukes in Belarus.”

Comment: As they say: talk is cheap or, more aptly, actions speak louder than words. Hence, there is no equivalence between militaristic actions actually carried out by the US and rumors about what Russia might do. Besides, if Russia did move nukes into Belarus, criticism must take into consideration why Russia did so because every nation has a right to ensure its security, and that is why the special military operation was launched against Ukraine: because Russian security concerns were ignored.

Swanson: “Russia and the United States stand as rogue regimes outside the Landmines Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Arms Trade Treaty, and many others.”

Comment: What if the USA signed? Is the reason that Russia has not signed because it objects to handcuffs on its military operability, or is the reason for Russia not signing because the US will not? Why did Russia get the bomb? Because the US had it. Swanson completely misses this point. Russia signed the Outer Space Treaty; the US is the only country to reject it.

Swanson: “The United States and Russia are the top two dealers of weaponry to the rest of the world, together accounting for a large majority of weapons sold and shipped.”

Comment: Has Swanson considered that Russia might very well stop selling weaponry if the US and all other countries agreed to this? Should Russia stand aside and allow the US to reap monster profits from weapons sales to further finance its own arsenal? Would that be a prudent move by a nation exposed to incessant US warmongering against it?

Swanson: “Meanwhile most places experiencing wars manufacture no weapons at all. Weapons are imported to most of the world from a very few places. The United States and Russia are the top two users of the veto power at the UN Security Council, each frequently shutting down democracy with a single vote.”

Comment: It is poor argumentation to argue against the use of a veto right by a UN Security Council member nation without analyzing what the veto was used for and whether the veto use was valid or not. Consider, for example, what happened when China and Russia abstained from the UNSC Resolution 1973 calling for a ceasefire and setting up no-fly zones in Libya. NATO members reinterpreted the resolution, invoked the Farcical Responsibility to Protect principle, (Obviously farcical because what about the responsibility to protect Palestinians from Israeli killing sprees? Protect the Yemenis from (instead of bolstering) Saudi attacks. Etc.) and attacked Libya which wound up being destroyed by the attackers. Arguably, if either Russia or China had used its veto, the carnage and devastation in Libya could have been averted. Besides, if one country flagrantly wields the veto to the detriment of the other what choice is left to the other? Reporting an equivalence in criticism to both parties when one party is the preponderant warmaker suggests a superficial analysis.

Swanson: “Russia could have prevented the invasion of Ukraine by not invading Ukraine.”

Comment: How should one respond when someone states the obvious? But sure, allow Ukraine and NATO to deny Russia their desired security. If Russia permitted that would it be a smart move on Russia’s part — inviting NATO to set missiles up near its border?

Swanson: “Europe could have prevented the invasion of Ukraine by telling the U.S. and Russia to mind their own business.”

Comment: That would be nice, but it would also be absurd. Since when does Europe tell the US what to do rather than bending over when ordered to do so by the hegemon?

Swanson: “The United States could almost certainly have prevented the invasion of Ukraine by any of the following steps, which U.S. experts warned were needed to avoid war with Russia:

  • Abolishing NATO when the Warsaw Pact was abolished.
  • Refraining from expanding NATO.
  • Refraining from supporting color revolutions and coups.
  • Supporting nonviolent action, training in unarmed resistance, and neutrality.
  • Transitioning from fossil fuels.
  • Refraining from arming Ukraine, weaponizing Eastern Europe, and conducting war rehearsals in Eastern Europe.
  • Accepting Russia’s perfectly reasonable demands in December 2021.”

Comment: If Russia’s demands were “perfectly reasonable,” why is Swanson inordinately finding fault with Russia? Is Russia militarily encircling the US? And why does Swanson think that the US wanted to prevent the invasion? Why does Swanson not put the whole onus on the US-NATO where it belongs and demand that they should have accepted the “perfectly reasonable” security demands sought by Russia?

Swanson: “In 2014, Russia proposed that Ukraine align with neither the West nor the East but work with both. The U.S. rejected that idea and supported a military coup that installed a pro-West government.”

Comment: Again, why is he criticizing Russia so much? If Russia had supported a military coup to overthrow the government in Mexico and installed an unfriendly regime that placed missiles pointed at the US, what would have been the American response? Informed people are well aware of what happened when Soviet missiles were stationed in Cuba.

Swanson: “But refraining from expanding NATO would not have prevented Russia attacking Ukraine because the Russian government is a noble philanthropic operation.”

Comment: Snarky criticism from Swanson exposes either Russophobia or a US-centric bias. What removing an offer of NATO membership to Ukraine would have done is remove a Russian objection and address Russian security concerns. Plus, Russia would have been cast as a bad faith actor had it subsequently invaded Ukraine. What Swanson fails to acknowledge is the widespread reputation of Putin for not bluffing; succinctly, he means what he says.

Also consider why Russia was not admitted into the purported defensive alliance of Nato? What better way to remove an adversary than to join with them.

Swanson: “It would have prevented Russia attacking Ukraine because the Russian government would have had no good excuse to sell to the Russian elites, the Russian public, or the world.”

Comment: Does Swanson mean an excuse, or does he mean justification? Whatever, it presupposes that Putin wanted to attack Ukraine, and that the security proposals that his government proffered were just a ruse. Swanson offers no substance to his speculation. It appears rather that Swanson is providing an excuse for the US. Although he is critical of US warmaking, he lessens criticism against the US by providing a justification/excuse in the form of a reified Russian bogeyman for the US — all without irrefutable substantiation.

In Part 3: Voices from the antiwar movement.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.