Ukraine and the American perspective
By April Vega, Managing Editor
If the news in recent weeks has left a sick feeling with you, you’re not alone. The invasion of Ukraine has come up in most of the online spaces, news outlets and conversations I’ve participated in lately. Anxieties are high as people witness the scenes coming out of the warzones and worry about the possible slippery slope; if this escalates as other nations get involved, what could the end result be?
But with all of the discourse — God, I hate online discourse — I’ve seen a lot of takes that don’t really make a lot of sense to me gain some popular traction. Notably, some pundits and politicians (conservative and liberal alike) are advocating for American military involvement in the form of a no-fly zone for Russian craft over Ukraine. It’s a really, really bad idea, and here’s why.
As the invasion began and things began to unfold, the coverage I watched conveyed a sense of horror and shock to see the tides of war wash over cities that are, to say, more familiar with the European and European-American lore and culture than other scenes of conflict.
A CBS correspondent said on air that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
The Telegraph contributed that, “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations.”
A Ukrainian general was met with utmost sympathy on BBC after stating, “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair … being killed every day.” Many European countries spin their immigration policies on their head, now extending to refugees resources and opening doors that they had refused Syrians in the years just before, with some turning non-white Ukrainian migrants away.
While the Ukrainian state has an ignored problem with literal neo-Nazi presence in its politics — including the long-championed Azov battalion currently being the world’s only state-endorsed neo-Nazi military division — the racism implicit in our coverage of this crisis is a whole other article.
The thing is, war for the American and European spheres didn’t really stop with the world wars. It left our cultural line of sight of reality as we exported it overseas into second- and third-world countries.
In World War II, one of the most terrifying conflicts in America’s culturally celebrated history, German deaths took out 8–9% of the pre-war population. Comparably, modern reports suggest that Vietnamese deaths from 1963-74 took out 12–13% of the pre-war population.
Similar conflicts funded and endorsed by the U.S. and NATO (a military alliance formed primarily to contest Soviet and Russian power) in the interest of thwarting the USSR have led to disastrous statistics of mortality with huge proportions of civilian deaths. After the Soviet collapse, as American imperialism became a dominant and uncontested military power, the same has happened with our involvement in the Middle East.
The point of this isn’t to place blame or say that for once Europe deserves to have war take place on its soil. The point is that we have forgotten what war is like, especially the threat of nuclear outbreak. This invasion began because of NATO’s extending presence violating a decades-old agreement — the fight isn’t what the peoples involved actually want, while both the Ukrainian, Russian and American governments participating in the conflict are so oligarchic in nature that violently punishing the populations for state decisions is impossible to justify.
I don’t think it’s a big scathing position to say “War Bad” and that we should avoid it, but the general public and to an extent many of our representatives during the Cold War knew this and took it to heart, while the hunger and enthusiasm we’ve developed for military action after 9/11 has changed that for us.
War is easy. Peace takes a lot to maintain, and war is just so much easier to create than it is to diffuse. But it is brutal. We’re seeing it now as footage of hospitals and reactors being bombed spread across our screens. But it’s not new to the world, only to us. Vladimir Putin is unleashing a similar terror on less powerful, more annexable people as we have for decades.
We’ve forgotten what war looks like because as we’ve personally distanced ourselves from it we’ve celebrated our place in it as the world’s police, and we as a people do not want to find ourselves deep in tension with a nuclear superpower again. Establishing a no-fly zone wouldn’t prevent Russia from engaging further.
The second that America or any NATO-affiliated troop plant anti-air in the region, we are dipping ourselves into dangerous water; if we end up actually shooting down a Russian plane, then a wider international conflict breaks out with Russia situated with Ukraine at its center; any pretense we had working in the interest of the country’s citizens is out of the window, and $5 per gallon will be one of our lesser concerns.
As of now, NATO’s stance is that it won’t hear Ukraine’s appeal for membership for several more years, and the country has recently rescinded its interest in joining. So what’s the best case scenario here? As far as non-violent action goes, do we accept Crimea as Russian, accept that Ukraine isn’t a part of NATO (but is packed full enough with North Atlantic guns and bombs that it doesn’t technically matter) and establish enough transparent peace to replace millions of displaced people?
I’m a 22-year-old ABEC major; I don’t know. Hardly any Americans know what the right move is, and it might not even be our place to. But I do know that, historically, American military intervention never improves a situation, and it’s not going to help now.