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Demonstrators in Hamburg, Germany at a rally on Spielbudenplatz hold signs reading "No War. 4ever Peace" and "Stop War! Stop Putin!" on Thursday, March 3, 2022. (Photo: Daniel Reinhardt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Transcending the Certainties of War

Despite what we may learn from media coverage, there are ways to confront war, to confront hell—without participating in it.

Robert C. Koehler

Peace, in the deepest sense—in the midst of war—requires a clarity and courage well beyond the boundaries of linear understanding. The warning lights flash. World War III has entered the red zone.

This is not about blame, but it is about accountability—in all directions. Peace! It's an ongoing, collective process, a crucial force needed especially in the midst of conflict.

Can we stare into hell and refuse to see...an enemy?

This is the deep, haunting need that is now required, as we clutch tomorrow, hold it tight, vow to protect it with our lives. But it's far too easy, instead, to surrender to a certainty that the other guy—Russia, with the smirking face of Vladimir Putin—is 100 percent wrong, acting solely out of greed and delusional grandeur, which is something we would never do (and have never done). And it goes without saying we are blameless in all this. On with the show!

"Twenty-four hour cable news coverage of the ugly war in Ukraine is keeping Americans hyped up and dumbed down," writes Gerry Condon of Veterans for Peace. "The very real horror of war is on the screen for all to see. The bombed-out buildings, the mounting civilian casualties and the frightened refugees speak their own truth."

None of this horror should be minimized, bandaged over, for the sake of "peace," as cynics assume. But, as Condon notes, "we rarely see the victims, the grieving families and the terrified refugees when the invader is the U.S. The 'shock and awe' U.S. terror bombing campaign on Baghdad was described by one network TV anchor as a 'beautiful thing to see.'" We also fail to notice three decades of Western minimization of Russian concerns—of Russian existence.

"The decision to spurn the possibility of peaceful coexistence with Russia at the end of the Cold War is one of the most egregious crimes of the late 20th century," writes Chris Hedges. Instead, he notes, we spiraled into "a furious frenzy of the Russia-hating that has been central to US culture ever since World War II."

This is not about blame, but it is about accountability—in all directions. Peace! It's an ongoing, collective process, a crucial force needed especially in the midst of conflict. It's about bridging gaps, listening to everyone, creating the future. A conflict isn't simply "solved," but understood and transcended. In this context, meet Yurii Sheliazhenko, executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, a board member of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection and a member of the board of directors at World BEYOND War.

Speaking from Kyiv with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Sheliazhenko—in an incredible interview—tells the world that there is no military solution to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. More than that, he describes how peace as a force is confronting the invasion: ". . . brave Ukrainian civilians are . . .  blocking streets and blocking tanks, just staying in their way without weapons. . . . to stop the war. In Berdyansk city and Kulykіvka village, people organized peace rallies and convinced the Russian military to get out."

Despite what we may learn from media coverage, there are ways to confront war, to confront hell, without participating in it. Sheliazhenko does not speak abstractly. What is necessary right now is not the cancellation of Russia but a unification of the world.

"War profiteers of the West are the same threat to democracy as the authoritarian rulers of the East," he said.

"Instead of breaking the last bonds of humanity out of rage, we need more than ever to preserve and strengthen venues of communication and cooperation between all people on Earth, and each individual effort of that sort has a value."

Every last soul on this planet is a participant in the peace process! This is a message emerging from Ukraine. What's needed in this moment, of course, is a negotiated ceasefire, a Russian pullout. To that end, here's part of the text of a letter Code Pink has written to President Biden and Congress (your signature welcome):

"There is no military solution to the conflict over Ukraine, a country caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and Russia, the world's two most heavily armed nuclear nations. While the U.S. and the world are rightfully denouncing Putin's invasion of a sovereign country, the shelling of civilians, the destruction of homes and hospitals, and threats of nuclear attacks, the major role the U.S. has played in exacerbating the conflict that led up to Russia's invasion must also be acknowledged and addressed.

"By breaking promises not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, by placing offensive missiles in Romania and Poland that could reach Russia in minutes, by arming Ukrainian forces, by continuing to 'modernize' the U.S. nuclear arsenal and by withdrawing from key nonproliferation treaties, the U.S. exacerbated the conflict that led up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We know that Russia must withdraw its troops and commit to respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the United States must be ready to make compromises and support negotiations between Ukraine and Russia . . ."

The letter concludes with a list of commitments the U.S. needs to make to help a negotiated ceasefire happen. Here's what I would add, in solidarity with Yurii Sheliazhenko: Sign—and honor—the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! It's time to step into the future, fellow residents of Planet Earth. Nuclear weapons are not a "deterrent." They're either an accident waiting to happen or a geo-psychopath's last result. And the time to tuck them into history and move toward real peace is N-O-W. We can turn the invasion into the spark for global salvation.

Noting that the European Union is considering opening its doors to Ukraine, Sheliazhenko expressed joy at the possibility of such a uniting, but added that a "consolidation of the West should not be a consolidation against a so-called enemy, against the East. East and West should find the peaceful reconciliation and should pursue global governance, unity of all people in the world without armies and borders."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club.  He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a “peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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