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St. Paul, Minnesota. People rally to support the Ukrainian people and Ukraine's sovereignty and stop the war that Russia is waging against them. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Opposing War: Standing Together for Peace

War is hell, and when we wage it—when we dehumanize an enemy, thus allowing ourselves to commit mass murder—we dehumanize ourselves.

Robert C. Koehler

The soul of humanity cries out from the crowded streets of Moscow, from steps near the Kremlin, as a man—an artist in the deepest sense—brings the slaughter of civilians in Bucha back to the home country...not by killing a bunch of Russians, but by posing, publicly, as dead himself, with his hands tied behind his back.

If the West merely keeps shipping weapons to Ukraine, but stays out of the conflict otherwise, the bloody conflict will just go on, the slaughter will continue.

Let this man's spirit flow across the whole planet.

War is hell, and when we wage it—when we dehumanize an enemy, thus allowing ourselves to commit mass murder—we dehumanize ourselves. This unknown Russian man, in posing as someone killed in Ukraine, is bringing awareness home: Look what we're doing! Let us reclaim our humanity.

Such awareness is an affront to those in power. In Russia, under Putin, it's illegal. Thousands of Russians have been arrested for protesting the Ukraine invasion. I believe this matters with an enormity well beyond the scope of conventional reporting, especially war reporting. War is about much more than strategy and tactics, winning and losing. To wage war is to be infinitely less than who we truly are, yet this is how the world has organized itself.

To wage war is to destroy the planet.

So the question here is how should the Western world, including NATO, respond to Russia's Ukraine invasion, which, if addressed solely with the impulse to wage war back, could result in the onset of World War III: Mutually Assured Destruction, a.k.a., MAD, could come to life! If the West merely keeps shipping weapons to Ukraine, but stays out of the conflict otherwise, the bloody conflict will just go on, the slaughter will continue.

Ramzy Baroud, noting the total failure of the wars that NATO, led, of course, by the U.S., has perpetrated in the last three quarters of a century—from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Libya, etc., etc.—ponders the West's hypocrisy in condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Not only have they lost all their wars, but they have ravaged the countries they attacked, killed millions, displaced millions more . . .

"Yet," he writes, "enthusiasm for war remains high, as if over seventy years of failed military interventions have not taught us any meaningful lessons. . . . . Billions of dollars have already been allocated by Western countries to contribute to the war in Ukraine.

"In contrast, very little has been done to offer platforms for diplomatic, nonviolent solutions."

Perhaps even more unsettling is the West's "eagerness to fund war and the lack of enthusiasm to help countries rebuild.

"After 21 years of U.S. war and invasion of Afghanistan, resulting in a humanitarian and refugee crisis, Kabul is now largely left on its own. Last September, the UN refugee agency warned that 'a major humanitarian crisis is looming in Afghanistan, yet nothing has been done to address this 'looming' crisis, which has greatly worsened since then."

This paradox has not been addressed. War remains a whoop and a whistle. Onward, Christian soldiers. The consequences are somebody else's problem—and more to the point, from a journalistic perspective, they aren't that interesting. Or they're too complex. Unless Russia does it.

It's so easy to get corralled into the notion that there's only one choice: Kill back.

To counter this notion, I begin by quoting from the manifesto written of an organization called Defend the Sacred. It was written by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and one of the founders of the movement to resist construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a movement that became global.

"Humans," the manifesto states, "have begun to separate themselves from nature, and to stand as a dominant species that is trying to control the natural world, unleashing global devastation. The result of this fundamental separation is an environmental crisis and an inner crisis, violence against the Earth and interpersonal violence, which are two sides of the same coin. We now unite as a planetary community to stand together for the sacred; to midwife a transition to a world in which humanity will no longer dominate but cooperate with all life."

We now unite as a planetary community to stand together for the sacred . . .

Is this not the heart of the matter, the opposite of killing and killing back? Ending the Ukraine invasion is a global hope, a global cry; and nonviolent resistance to the weapons of war is a larger part of the process than is usually acknowledged or understood. This means diplomacy, of course, but it also means courageous non-cooperation on the part of as much of the public—Russians, Ukrainians, global citizens everywhere—as possible.

We do not truly know how powerful this sort of opposition can be, but ask yourself: Why did the Russian parliament recently pass a law prohibiting protest against the war? Why have thousands of protesters been arrested, possibly brutalized, and may face consequences as dire as 15 years in prison? Because the leadership is scared. Public compliance is crucial to the waging of war. The power we commoners wield is enormous, if only we knew it.

As Gene Sharp has written: "Ultimately, therefore, freedom is not something which a ruler 'gives' his subjects." Freedom is claimed, though often at a cost.

The global war machine is berserk. Power and profit think they rule, and too often those who stand in the way know only one choice: weaponize, fire back, feed the God of War. This usually has an opposite effect, prolonging the war, expanding the death toll. Many fear the West's shipment of weapons to Ukraine will have this result and simply leave another country in ruins.

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

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