Thomas Knapp: Don’t Look to Politicians for Peace

At this point in my life, I’ve been consistently opposed to war for about twice as long as I spent as a Marine infantryman (with precisely the attitude toward war you would expect). The change was incremental and took a few years, but I consider my decision to march in the streets against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq to have been moral, and my decision to march in formation toward participation in the 1991 Gulf War to have been immoral.

Every international conflict tests that conviction: Will THIS be the one war that makes me reconsider and conclude “hey, THIS war, unlike any other I’ve witnessed, is unavoidable, necessary, and just?”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not that war.

Like all other wars in my lifetime (I was born during the US misadventure in Vietnam), this one is a violation of every worthwhile human value, a brawl between overgrown street gangs with delusions of grandeur. It was avoidable, it is unnecessary, and it is unjust.

Where I find myself in disagreement with many who oppose this particular war but have supported others is the notion that there are any  “good guys” to be found among the political decision-makers who brought this conflict upon us.

There’s been quite a bit of harrumphing and table-thumping in UN, EU, and NATO circles over the invasion as a “violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.”

“National sovereignty” is a prettified way of saying “mutual respect between authoritarian gangs’ for each others’ turf claims.” That respect goes right out the window any time one gang wants something and another gang won’t hand it over.

Coming as it does from regimes which have spent the last 25 years militarily violating “Serbian sovereignty,” “Afghan sovereignty,” “Iraqi sovereignty,” “Libyan sovereignty,” “Syrian sovereignty,” etc., the “sovereignty” outrage rings a bit hollow.

Putin’s playing by the same rules they’ve set for themselves. Their problem with him isn’t that he’s breaking the rules. It’s that his goals conflict with their goals. They’re special and entitled, he’s gauche and disreputable. They’ve got a classy country club, and he showed up in spandex shorts and a Slayer t-shirt.

My sympathy, in this conflict as for all others, is reserved for the non-combatants caught up in the gangs’ turf disputes, not for the gangs themselves, or for the gangs’ grandiose “sovereignty” claims.

If you prefer peace and prosperity to war and poverty, none of these people are your friends.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

7 thoughts on “Thomas Knapp: Don’t Look to Politicians for Peace

  1. Jared

    While I appreciate the boilerplate anarchist assessment of governments as violent gangs of authoritarian thugs and recognize that hypocritical NATO and US foreign policy contributed to the circumstances leading to the situation in Eastern Europe, not all unjustified regimes are created equal. I’ll take a Zelenskyy over a Putin. You don’t have to love either of them or believe in the office they hold, but one political leader is a lot closer aligned than the other to the interests of peaceful noncombatants and civilians defensively taking up arms to protect their communities, homes, and livelihoods from invasion by a hostile foreign power. However problematic the idea of “sovereignty” is, the Ukrainian government has a better claim to legitimate civil authority over the nation of Ukraine than Putin does.

  2. Traditionalist

    I find the anarchist boilerplate unconvincing, but my sympathies are with Russia and Putin. Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and the USSR for over a thousand years and has been a nation state for only the last 30. The current regime there, one of the most corrupt in the world, was installed through a coup only 8 years ago, heavily supported and upheld the whole time by foreign agents from the CIA and NATO and neonazi militias. That’s not a great case to make for sovereignty. Russian is spoken universally by everyone in Ukraine, while Ukrainian is spoken by only some of the population. Putin makes a poignant critique of the moral decadence of the West:

    “The importance of a solid support in the sphere of morals, ethics and values is increasing dramatically in the modern fragile world. In point of fact, values are a product, a unique product of cultural and historical development of any nation. The mutual interlacing of nations definitely enriches them, openness expands their horizons and allows them to take a fresh look at their own traditions. But the process must be organic, and it can never be rapid. Any alien elements will be rejected anyway, possibly bluntly. Any attempts to force one’s values on others with an uncertain and unpredictable outcome can only further complicate a dramatic situation and usually produce the opposite reaction and an opposite from the intended result.

    We look in amazement at the processes underway in the countries which have been traditionally looked at as the standard-bearers of progress. Of course, the social and cultural shocks that are taking place in the United States and Western Europe are none of our business; we are keeping out of this. Some people in the West believe that an aggressive elimination of entire pages from their own history, “reverse discrimination” against the majority in the interests of a minority, and the demand to give up the traditional notions of mother, father, family and even gender, they believe that all of these are the mileposts on the path towards social renewal.

    Listen, I would like to point out once again that they have a right to do this, we are keeping out of this. But we would like to ask them to keep out of our business as well. We have a different viewpoint, at least the overwhelming majority of Russian society – it would be more correct to put it this way – has a different opinion on this matter. We believe that we must rely on our own spiritual values, our historical tradition and the culture of our multiethnic nation.

    The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags as we say, go right ahead. The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all. It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones – all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.

    This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. Looking at what is happening in a number of Western countries, we are amazed to see the domestic practices, which we, fortunately, have left, I hope, in the distant past. The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past – such as Shakespeare – are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what colour or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

    Countering acts of racism is a necessary and noble cause, but the new ‘cancel culture’ has turned it into ‘reverse discrimination’ that is, reverse racism. The obsessive emphasis on race is further dividing people, when the real fighters for civil rights dreamed precisely about erasing differences and refusing to divide people by skin colour. I specifically asked my colleagues to find the following quote from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by their character.” This is the true value. However, things are turning out differently there. By the way, the absolute majority of Russian people do not think that the colour of a person’s skin or their gender is an important matter. Each of us is a human being. This is what matters.

    In a number of Western countries, the debate over men’s and women’s rights has turned into a perfect phantasmagoria. Look, beware of going where the Bolsheviks once planned to go – not only communalising chickens, but also communalising women. One more step and you will be there.

    Zealots of these new approaches even go so far as to want to abolish these concepts altogether. Anyone who dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact, risk being ostracised. “Parent number one” and “parent number two,” “’birthing parent” instead of “mother,” and “human milk” replacing “breastmilk” because it might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender. I repeat, this is nothing new; in the 1920s, the so-called Soviet Kulturtraegers also invented some newspeak believing they were creating a new consciousness and changing values that way. And, as I have already said, they made such a mess it still makes one shudder at times.

    Not to mention some truly monstrous things when children are taught from an early age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa. That is, the teachers actually impose on them a choice we all supposedly have. They do so while shutting the parents out of the process and forcing the child to make decisions that can upend their entire life. They do not even bother to consult with child psychologists – is a child at this age even capable of making a decision of this kind? Calling a spade a spade, this verges on a crime against humanity, and it is being done in the name and under the banner of progress.

    Well, if someone likes this, let them do it. I have already mentioned that, in shaping our approaches, we will be guided by a healthy conservatism. That was a few years ago, when passions on the international arena were not yet running as high as they are now, although, of course, we can say that clouds were gathering even then. Now, when the world is going through a structural disruption, the importance of reasonable conservatism as the foundation for a political course has skyrocketed – precisely because of the multiplying risks and dangers, and the fragility of the reality around us.

    This conservative approach is not about an ignorant traditionalism, a fear of change or a restraining game, much less about withdrawing into our own shell. It is primarily about reliance on a time-tested tradition, the preservation and growth of the population, a realistic assessment of oneself and others, a precise alignment of priorities, a correlation of necessity and possibility, a prudent formulation of goals, and a fundamental rejection of extremism as a method. And frankly, in the impending period of global reconstruction, which may take quite long, with its final design being uncertain, moderate conservatism is the most reasonable line of conduct, as far as I see it. It will inevitably change at some point, but so far, do no harm – the guiding principle in medicine – seems to be the most rational one. Noli nocere, as they say.

    Again, for us in Russia, these are not some speculative postulates, but lessons from our difficult and sometimes tragic history. The cost of ill-conceived social experiments is sometimes beyond estimation. Such actions can destroy not only the material, but also the spiritual foundations of human existence, leaving behind moral wreckage where nothing can be built to replace it for a long time.”

  3. Richard Winger

    England conquered Ireland in the 16th century, and for the most part England and Ireland speak the same language. Does that mean it’s OK for England to invade the Republic of Ireland and bring it back under London’s control?

    Just as England was responsible for Ireland’s starvation in the 1840’s, the Soviet Union was responsible for Ukraine’s famine in 1932.

    Ukraine was briefly independent in 1918.

  4. Traditionalist

    One major difference is that Ireland was not part of Britain prior to that, and existed independently for many centuries. Not so with Ukraine. It had been part of Russia as long as Russia existed. Indeed, Kiev was once the capital of Russia. You’re also apparently assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Russia intends to annex Ukraine. It’s more likely that they’re trying to restore the elected Ukrainian government that was overthrown in a coup in 2014.

  5. Richard Winger

    The 2019 Ukraine election for president and parliament was an eminently free and fair election. It was more free and fair than any federal election in the United States in the last 100 years.

    East Prussia was German-speaking since the 12th century. Does that mean Germany has a right to invade it? It’s now half in Russia and half in Poland.

  6. Traditionalist

    In addition to the 2014 coup, more recently the leader of the leading opposition party Opposition Platform For Life, Viktor Medvedchuk, was jailed, and his television stations seized.

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