There is war in Ukraine. So once again, we get to witness just how ruthless states can be when they see their self-preservation at stake. The warring powers leave no doubt that they alone decide when their existence is on the line and what that entails for their people. And yet, the same people, across the globe and especially in Europe, feel morally obligated to take sides.
Have they lost their minds?
Of course, some are wise enough to find neither side deserving of their precious moral support. But in the end that isn’t any better. After all, even if they are lucky enough not to find themselves in the crossfire, the war makes perfectly clear that their lives are completely at the mercy of state powers, and how bloody the consequences can be once those powers decide the time has come for a reckoning of their antagonistic interests. And yet, the very same people imagine that they are in fact the judges of right and wrong, even though the authorities they are in reality forced to obey are perfectly willing and able to send them off to kill and die. How can they look at corpses and devastation and actually feel compelled to ask: “But are they allowed to do that?”
The only reason this question is not often heard is because, at least in the West, the answer is so obvious: Russia has attacked Ukraine, so Ukraine is merely defending itself, and is thus the good side, deserving of unconditional moral support. So, to repeat: wartime is a time when states show the horrors they are capable of inflicting. The kind of devastation, killing, and dying happening in Ukraine is what always happens when states assert their elementary rights against enemies who, for whatever reason, they can no longer tolerate: they squander the lives of their own people and those of their enemies. They demonstrate just what these lives count for in war, which is nothing at all. And that is supposed to be a compelling reason to take sides? To hope deep down that the right side will win?
They must indeed be out of their minds…
Two military superpowers are clashing in Ukraine. They have amassed enormous stockpiles of weapons capable of destroying the planet and everyone on it, and they have drawn the plans and made the preparations to deploy them. In the “case” of Ukraine, we can see the shift from diplomatic blackmail to military destruction that the two superpowers have mapped out in their respective military doctrines. But diplomacy goes on: the conflict is escalating in a way that both sides swear should never be allowed to happen, while warning each other that it is about to happen, thereby threatening to make happen.
Why in the world should one take sides in the face of that, where it becomes so painfully obvious how states see and handle the brutal relations between themselves, their self-proclaimed right to exist, and those subject to their power? To declare both sides to be in the wrong isn’t any better, for it grossly fails to recognize this very relationship between people and the state, not just in war. The two world powers involved proudly refuse to recognize any rights other than those they claim for themselves, as incarnations of “God’s own country” in the one or other version. For those who have been cast in the role of cannon fodder and cheerleaders, to morally condemn both parties is a completely inadequate, indeed ridiculous reaction to the brutality that states — from the meekest to the mightiest — display when they see themselves in the right and their enemies in the wrong.
It is another story entirely when people do not think and judge as humanitarians struggling with their conscience over which side they should take, but as citizens whose states makes clear demands on their conscience, regardless of their own private moral quibbles. In that case, people are already on the one or the other side regardless of whether they themselves take a side. That’s the real reason why impartiality is considered an unacceptable position in wartime: those who take the wrong side in their hearts and minds exclude themselves from the nation that has taken sides in practice and is a party to the slaughter. States make sure to provide their citizens with ample material, images and information about the victims of war that elicit their empathy. However, what they are also supposed to elicit — usually successfully — is something else entirely: images of the horrors of war are not intended to make people recognize their powerlessness in the face of the states’ authority to destroy entire populations, but to make them see themselves as representatives of the powers that rule over them. Accordingly, people don’t just pity the victims and abhor the aggressors, but also demand weapons for the politically correct side and embolden those who are forced to fight — and those who do so voluntarily — to commit acts of war.
Refraining from making such theoretical mistakes and refusing to take sides in war will neither protect you from the horrors of war nor spare you the warmongering of your fellow citizens. But at least it is possible to explain (to yourself and to anyone willing to listen) the war and its reasons, both the principles of imperialistic war in general as well as those of the current conflict, which has the potential to turn into World War III.
That is certainly no reason for hope, but hope is merely one form of wartime moralism anyway. Still, at least you can prevent your capacity for rational thought from becoming the plaything of mighty, armed dogmatists.
© GegenStandpunkt 2022