My entire adult life I have been protesting against my own country’s invasions of other countries — first Vietnam, which went on for years, and then our first invasion of Iraq in 1990 and then Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq again in 2003. It was always extremely clear that whatever the sins of the invaded country, the U.S. was committing a war crime. It was very easy to figure out what to do as an immediate response: Make a sign and show up at a demonstration! You know, like some of the Russian people just did — except I never needed any courage to do it. In this town, when they arrest protesters, they use pink plastic handcuffs, put you on a parked bus for a couple of hours, and then release you. Pink plastic!
We protested so often, my sister Nancy and I made a permanent all-purpose protest sign. Look at us. We’re happy! At that moment, our joy at being with like-minded souls transcended our deep anger. We had accommodated to living in the Belly of the Beast. Our country was evil, but we were good.
I must confess that, now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, I’m flummoxed. I don’t know what action to take against this unprecedented and terrible event. So I was relieved that Medea Benjamin, that great peace activist, was convening activists from many countries on Saturday to speak online on Zoom about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I announced the event in my last blog.
I thought, “These people will tell me how to understand this terrible situation. They’ll tell me what I can do.” I guess a lot of people felt like I did because almost 2,000 people joined the webinar.
I was very disappointed. There were a lot of platitudes about peace. A lot of repetition. Many speakers talked about NATO’s actions being the cause of Putin’s aggression. The speakers didn’t say this excused Putin’s invasion, but it made it understandable. I got the feeling that the speakers, like me, were more comfortable looking at what our side did wrong, even though it’s the other side that has committed an act of war.
Speakers kept repeating “War is never the answer” like a mantra. I’m not saying we should send American troops to Ukraine. But what IS the answer? What can the U.S. government do? What should it do? If I know that, then I can contact my elected representatives and urge you to contact yours, I can write letters, spread the word. What actions can my government or I take in response to Putin invading Ukraine?
Speakers on the Saturday webinar also told us that economic sanctions that might hurt ordinary sanctions are not the answer.
It turned out that the answer to the question of what we can do was: We can all go to a protest demonstration next Saturday.
But when I marched in protest of my own country’s criminal actions, there was always the possibility that we would affect what our government does. Certainly, during the Vietnam War, as the crowds marching grew and grew, we did help to end our country’s invasion. But marching in protest of the criminal actions of a far-off tyrant? I’m not sure what the point is. Putin doesn’t give a damn what the American people think.
And I have to say that I don’t agree that “War is never the answer.” If you take it to its logical extreme, does that mean the Ukrainians shouldn’t take up arms to defend themselves?
I don’t see how anyone can maintain that “War is never the answer” after World War II. Britain acted on that principle with Hitler in 1938 by accepting Hitler’s annexation of territory on the condition that he went no further. But of course, Hitler had no intention of honoring the Munich Agreement and, when he invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. War WAS the answer.
And the idea of the United States entering World War II was extremely unpopular before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But if we hadn’t entered the war, it is difficult to imagine how Hitler would have been defeated. Again, the U.S. going to war WAS the answer.
Here I pose that basic Buddhist question: what are the appropriate actions that the U.S. and its allies can take? What is appropriate to this situation? I don’t think it’s big peace marches in the U.S. But I probably will go in hopes of hearing something that enlightens or inspires me.
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