Escalatory Pressures in the Russia-Ukraine War

W.J. Astore

It’s time for a Christmas truce followed by negotiation

Three articles related to the Russia-Ukraine War caught my attention today.

The first, at NBC News, argues that Patriot missile batteries are not enough to defend Ukraine. The article urges the U.S. to provide Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine to enable attacks deep into the interior of Russia, including most especially bases where strategic bombers are located. The subtitle to this article is especially provocative: “Western limitations on providing Kyiv with long-distance offensive capabilities are becoming nonsensical.”

Did you get that? It’s “nonsensical” to be concerned about providing offensive weaponry that would exert more escalatory pressure on this war. 

The second article, also at NBC News, suggests that Ukraine in the near future may possess the military wherewithal to take Crimea from Russia. Some concern was expressed that Putin could respond with nuclear weapons if Russia’s hold on Crimea was threatened.

The third article from the British Guardian addresses recent Russian attacks on Kharkiv, as follows: “Kharkiv left without power, heating and water as Russian attack causes ‘colossal’ damage, says mayor. Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, is without power, heating and water after Russian missile strikes on Friday morning caused ‘colossal’ damage to infrastructure, its mayor Ihor Terekhov said.”

What this all adds up to is a war that is growing increasingly dangerous and destructive not just for Ukraine and Russia but possibly for Europe and indeed the world.

Meanwhile, a friend sent me this article from Vox about a recent party in Washington D.C. focused on Ukraine and the war. The party’s invitations were sponsored by major U.S. weapons contractors, in this case Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

Invitation obtained by Vox for a party supported by big hitters in the military-industrial complex

Strangely, I heartily approve of this invitation because the sponsors are, for once, obvious. Can’t say that I blame the corporations: they know a great opportunity when they see it.

What Russia and Ukraine need are not more pressures to escalate but more reasons to talk, to negotiate, to put an end to this war before it truly runs out of control.

Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. see more weaponry as the answer. One thing is certain: you won’t get an argument on that from those “supporters” listed on the invitation above.

Can we not, as Vera Brittain argued, find the courage to end these cycles of vengeance and violence? We must learn to say “no” to killing. “No” to war. In that spirit, I signed a declaration calling for a Christmas truce in Ukraine. Here’s an article from Codepink on the effort.

Here’s hoping for a Christmas truce that gains traction.

Testament of Youth

W.J. Astore

Perhaps the most powerful antiwar film that I’ve seen is “Testament of Youth” (2014), based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of the same title. I watched it soon after it first came out, and I rewatched it this past week after Russia invaded Ukraine. The film rips your heart out with its depiction of the costs of war: battered and bloodied bodies, blasted and shattered nature. It’s set during World War I and recounts Brittain’s heartrending loss of her fiancé, her brother, and other close friends. Brittain is played brilliantly by Alicia Vikander, who pours her heart and soul into every scene.

Especially powerful is the scene near the end, where Brittain passionately denounces war and the way it demonizes and dehumanizes the enemy, even as “patriots” (including her younger self) send young men off to fight and die in the name of honor. Even if you haven’t seen all that leads up to this scene, it retains its power (you may need to click and watch on YouTube):

“No to killing. No to war.”

Near the end of Brittain’s memoir, she passionately asks us to find another way, a better way, than the murderous one of war. She seeks to “rescue mankind from that domination by the irrational which leads to war,” to lead an “exultant fight” against war that would enlarge the soul of humanity.

Earlier in her memoir, she quoted from the war diary she kept that “It is impossible to find any satisfaction in the thought of 25,000 slaughtered Germans, left to mutilation and decay; the destruction of men as though beasts, whether they be English, French, German or anything else, seems a crime to the whole march of civilization.” How right she was, and remains.

One aspect of this film I truly appreciate is that it shows the costs of war without glorifying battle. In fact, there are no spectacular battle scenes; no rousing music; nothing to distract us from war’s many horrors. The movie does not romanticize war in any way, which makes it that much more effective.

I’m astonished this movie isn’t better known. It is worth 100 “Avatars” and “Titanics” and Marvel/DC superhero movies. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked; antiwar films are rarely that popular, no matter how powerful, no matter how well-crafted, no matter how true.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Think about its message. We need to ask ourselves, again and again, why we as humans simply can’t say no to war.

Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth”