Over the past eighteen months, I’ve often found myself under scrutiny for not outrightly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Any acknowledgment of Russia’s stance—that the hasty expansion of NATO played a role in the current conflict—earns labels: indifferent to Ukraine’s plight, a “Putin” apologist, a victim of Kremlin misinformation.
After much contemplation, I’ve traced the origins of my heresy to formation and am ready to lay it all bare here, now.
For the majority of my life, my views on Russia were unremarkable, mirroring the balanced and enlightened perspective expressed by the leader of the free world a year after a significant international crisis.
The root of this crisis, I believe, lies not in Russian misinformation but in the West’s—particularly America’s—insistence on casting themselves as incapable of error in their own narrative, preferring denial and deceit and self deception to self awareness. Like Dr. Morbius on the Forbidden Planet; we face the consequences of being unable to accept responsibility for empowering our darker inclinations.
Let me elaborate.
In the aftermath of the “Bay of Pigs” debacle, Fidel Castro, fearing a second invasion attempt by the United States, invited the Soviet Union to station intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. What has been conveniently overlooked since then is that the Soviet Union agreed to this primarily to match a provocation—the deployment of Jupiter-C intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Turkey.
Kennedy understood that the issue at hand was strategic competition. While it is remembered that the resolution required Russia to remove missiles from Cuba, the simultaneous removal of Jupiter C’s from Turkey is often forgotten.
Look it up!
Nuclear strategists, in their quest to avoid a worst-case scenario, tended to increase the total firepower of their forces, inevitably triggering another round of escalation from their rivals. The problem with the whole doctrine was distinguishing between “effective deterrence” and escalation. Is it truly escalation when the enemy is merely doing what you would do, if placed in their position?
As a child, I found this grim situation easy to comprehend, it was well depicted; both in the news and in Doctor Who.
On Skaro, the Thals and the Kaleds were locked in a similar struggle. The Doctor assists the Thals, leaving the Kaleds reduced to a small group of strategic planners trapped in a nuclear command centre.
However, the Kaleds’ story didn’t end there. Despite the Doctor’s help, the Thals fail, and the Kaleds, led by Davros in a motorised wheelchair, transform into the Daleks, a species that seeks security through the fanatical pursuit of dominance justified by a doctrine of exceptionalism.
In my first essay for Pearls & Irritations last August, I explained that turning point in my thinking. I said I had taken the lesson to heart and concluded that nuclear states are doomed to the tragedy of the Kaleds, appointing their own Davros and morphing into Daleks.
The President of the United States, emerging from a crisis, back then, was the person who unequivocally made the case for what would become my position then and now.
“Too many of us think peace is impossible, too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous defeatist belief… No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue… We can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science, space, economic and industrial growth, culture, and acts of courage. Among the many traits the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war… (Sigh, if only) Almost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other… (Amnesia again, see my essay prior on the war in Poland 1918-1920.),.. And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more (than Russia) in the Second World War..
“It is an ironic but accurate fact that the two strongest powers are the most at risk of devastation.
“We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle with suspicion on one side breeding suspicion on the other, and new weapons begetting counter weapons.
“Above all, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. In the nuclear age, such bankrupt policies would be evidence only of a collective death wish for the world.”
Those were the words of President John F. Kennedy on June 10, 1963. A year after his speech, Washington and Moscow signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Gore Vidal once referred to his homeland as the “United States of Amnesia.” Events since Kennedy’s speech well illustrate just how forgetful the United States can be, it gave me Cold War PTSD.
Similarly, sadly, it is the critics who have forgotten the missiles and the lesson of Skaro.
Tuning in for a moment to the gestalt of social media, I might also put it in ways shown in the postscripts below. Before we cross this river, I will have a say.
To those who presumed they knew better and to paid spinners from the complicit media and to the think tank zombies caught up in the samsara of power and empire.
You’re wrong and the doctor was right.
We live on a planet where pushing an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war is suicidal.
After the rockets fly it’s too late to “Make Love, not War”.
FYI BTW We are the ones currently losing, imho.
PPS. American anti Soviet cartoons during the war with the bolsheviks 1918-1920 became the basis of the first “Red Scare”.