War crimes and the path forward in Ukraine
Great and enlightening post. I see nothing in US policy that suggests we are interested in ending this war. And that bothers me a lot.
I'm a new subscriber. I appreciate the perspective you bring to current events which frequently runs counter to much of the mainstream. Being aware of counter arguments helps me better understand my own views about the world. By sampling a cross section of views, such as your own, my goal is to find balance in a media ecosystem that often thrives on misinformation and disinformation.
Another fair and insightful post; thank you very much for your wisdom and integrity as always. I have only one thing to add and ask: I applaud the US newspapers which publish those harrowing pictures of the civilian war victims, and the journalists and photographers who risk their lives to take and/or report on them. However heart wrenching and traumatic they may be, the world needs to see them to truly understand how horrific war can be. But does anybody remember similar front page pictures of the, say, Iraqi civilians, maimed or killed during the American invasion of Iraq by bombs, rockets or artillery shells, published by the US newspapers? I don’t and am curious to know. This is not a cheap shot at “whataboutism”. I truly believe that had we seen similar pictures of innocent Iraqis killed by our military as part of “collateral damage” on our papers, they might have sparked a similar outrage on the part of US public, which, in turn, might have put pressure on the Bush administration and held it accountable. Instead, New York Times and others were too busy buying and disseminating the government propaganda about the non-existing WMDs and Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to 9/11 that was used to justify the invasion.
"Hatred is increased by being reciprocated, and can on the other hand be destroyed by love."
The first part is made obvious yet again by current events (and reveals the folly of the retributive impulse), and the second is often overlooked but aligns with experience if only one looks closely. . . .
The notion of a war crime is an artificial construct. There is in reality no such thing as a crime free war. War itself is one huge crime against humanity. We are shocked when war breaks out and it doesn't resemble the game we think it is. Then we vow never to let such a thing happen again. And then we forget and glorify it and do it all over again.
I do not believe in some big genocidal plan from Kremlin. Sure, Russian military and Russian military doctrine are (and have always been) artillery heavy and dumb bomb heavy. Inevitably this will lead to more civilian deaths.
But Bucha and others seem much more about lack of leadership, low morals, desperation, and so on. I have listened to several interviews with local survivors and they seem to go: when Russian arrived, first 3-4 days they were more or less "normal", then they started to break into apartments, then started to loot and steal, then they beat up somebody, then somebody dissepeared, then they started to drink heavily and then all things went downhill.
Briefly: Before dehumanization comes depersonalization, which is what a military does to soldiers. Part of that process is the extinction of personality. Thus soldiers become fighting/killing machines that follow orders - like a robot. That's the goal of leadership.
From no-self to executing the enemy can follow. [Again, the movie "Fury" covers this subject well.]
In the beginning the battlefield was actually a field, which was in fact the entire space one inhabited. If you were on the field you were in a battle - to survive. Rules? Kill or be killed. From this terror/horror all human behavior (group and individual) and emotion comes. But now the battlefield has changed because of technological and cultural progress. However, not so our emotional mechanisms.
Wars end when, yes, like a wildfire, when the fuel is gone. So what is the fuel? And what is the remedy?
War is not like a football game, where if you commit a foul a penalty will be assessed during the game. Instead, we attempt to assess a penalty in the form of "stiffer sanctions." But that won't stop the atrocities. As you point out, the atrocities will stop when there is peace, and sanctions aren't taking us there. Unfortunately, I don't see anything we can do at this point that will lead to peace. The fire will just have to burn itself out.
The paragraph that begins "War is horrible" makes a point that I have been championing for years: that the concept of "war crime" absurdly and bizarrely supports the idea that there are fair and unfair ways of slaughtering each other. I wrote about this in my Psychology Today Cui Bono blog post, "War as a Game." In that post I suggest that rules of "fair fighting" in war are a carry-over from instincts about hand-to-hand ritualized aggression. But the ways that modern technology can kill from a distance disallows for the appeasement gestures found in ritualized aggression. Consequently, I find it absurd that today the US Law of War Manual distinguishes fair and unfair ways to kill people. It says it is allowable to blow limbs from your enemy's body with a grenade. But disallowed are weapons that injure by fragments that are non-detectable by X-rays. It is allowable to slice open your opponent with a bayonet, causing his intestines to fall out of his body onto the ground. But using chemicals that burn your opponent's eyes and skin is not allowed. How about if we do away with the concept of "war crimes," which undermines the truth that war itself in any form is a crime against humanity.
It's one of the best pieces on this topic. It has the potential to break the spell of seeing the conflict in black & white. Thanks!
Now, I just have to figure out how to convince my friends it is worth purchasing the subscription.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, I left off the r in his name. Also, this brings into focus the work on how the left and right hemispheres of the brain process experience that Dr. Iain McGilchrist has pioneered. Especially, the way that McGilchrist discusses the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The left hemispheres all or none thinking really leads to this demonizing the other way of thinking.
This reminds me of EO Wilson's book "On Human Nature" where he quotes from Aleksand Solzhenitsyn's book "The Gulag Archipelago" "If only it were all so simple, If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
And in addition THERE ARE about 10% of Ukrainian forces who are fierce neo Nazis similar to the ones we have in our military and police . Robert, model how a mindful leader would talk about these events and what would they do about them?
Specifically to Bob (and others) w/r/t Buddhism/meditation/mindfulness, etc. as a solution.
There's been reference here to the Vietnam war (crimes), as well as to Iraq and so on and so forth. Recall in 1963 a Buddhist monk burnt himself to death in protest, peacefully. That worked out how?
And but so here we are again. Sorry Mr. Wright, maybe Buddhism isn't true? Nevertheless, keep at it. I love your intellect, writing, and intention. Cheers.
The gates for atrocities also seem to be open when the military structure and chain of command breaks down. Therefore, the situation of the Ukrainian military and the many para military groups operating there may also be part of the reasons. Here is another expert analysis of the war situation by Jacques Baud:
At one point he says that war should be left to the military. Good point. Right now the war seems to be run by politicians, the media, comedians, and the Ann Applebaums of the world. Watching the propaganda tsunami we are witnessing right now, British politician George Galloway observed that ‘everybody has gone Ukraine crazy’. And considering the wars, conflicts, and atrocities in other parts of the world, he was wondering what is special about Ukrainians.
How can a good boy commit war crimes? Steven Weinberg once observed that good people do good things, and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things it needs religion. Or propaganda we could add here and now.
Only just a month ago we lived in a world that has been all woke, when professors had to issue trigger warnings, when we were concerned about correct speech, when we wanted to remove hate speech from Facebook, etc. Now all of a sudden notions like bravery and heroes who want to fight to the last man are admired. And the woke don't even notice that there are only two kinds of women in Ukraine, pregnant and with children. How did that happen? How would that woke world would have received Ann Applebaum’s petition? By the way, Reuters reported that neither the US military nor the Pentagon can confirm the Ukrainian accounts of the atrocities. Because they don't know. But the media and Ann Applebaum seem to know better than NSA and CIA who has done what, and what needs to be done now.
Also until recently the measures taken during the pandemic have been justified because we wanted to save lives. Where has that sentiment gone?
In his autobiography Eric Kandel tells the story how it came that he wanted to study psychology. Because of what he experienced as a 9-year old in Austria in 1938. People in Austria went to the opera, read Plato and Goethe; in a word, it looked like a civilised country. Then suddenly, from one day to the next, they forced their Jewish fellow citizens to clean the sidewalks with a toothbrush. Don’t we right now experience a similar turnaround?
“That’s why some of us wanted to see a serious diplomatic effort to avoid this war.”
I recently watched a seminar on game theory. They also played the Russia-Ukraine game, and it turned out that immediate capitulation would have been the 'best response' for Ukraine. Most rational. Nash equilibrium.
Fred Kaplan only mentions two possibilities for the massacre at Bucha: either a part of a Kremlin genocide plan or lack of Russian leadership in the field of battle. But there is a third explanation: retribution by ultra nationalist Ukrainian soldiers against perceived Russian collaborators. This last explanation is at least as credible as the retribution killings mentioned in this article in Trostyanets. The difference is that Bucha is west of Kiev, where Russian supporter may be in the minority, and Trostyanets in in the east just outside of Karkiv, where the ultras have less of a presence. The killings in Bucha were (possibly) against Russia sympathizers, whereas in Trostyanets against the ultras. These killings illustrate, in fact, the deep divide within Ukraine which is being exploited by sinister forces who-should-not-be-named.