Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

veterans-afghanistan

A Vietnam veteran participates in an anti-war protest in front of the White House on December 16, 2010 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

US and Russia's Imperialist Wars Are Waging Global Devastation

It is humbling to admit how much the U.S. and Russia share.

Winslow Myers

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declared that he wants Russia weakened. Of course he meant militarily weakened. Still, his words summoned an echo of Versailles in 1919, when the complete humiliation of Germany planted the seeds for the next world war. Unlike 1919, we inhabit a nuclear world, where humiliating other nuclear nations may be infinitely more dangerous. 

First, those in power in our own country have launched their own imperialist wars with murky motives against Vietnam, Iraq, and others going back into our distant past.

Putin has done criminal harm on a colossal scale. But Putin and his minions are not all of Russia. I have had friendly Zoom conversations with Russians who are just as interested in peace and representative government as we are. While Putin seems to be far from interested in democracy, it is hard to imagine that he is not interested in avoiding nuclear war. 

Sharing that interest with Putin means staying humble about our own faults and refusing simplistic good guy versus bad guy scenarios. There are no good and bad nuclear weapons. Everyone is human and fallible. Preventing escalation requires confronting Putin's arrogance without humiliating him, even as he fails to humiliate Ukraine.

It is humbling to admit how much the U.S. and Russia share. First, those in power in our own country have launched their own imperialist wars with murky motives against Vietnam, Iraq, and others going back into our distant past. 

Second, accountability. The Russian state does not hesitate to poison or murder its critics without consequence. But the U.S. also has a systemic accountability problem. Our police too often get away with racist murder. The richest among us find ways of paying no taxes at all. No politician has been made accountable for the costs and consequences of war and torture. Our previous president seems to possess an impenetrable Teflon coating that repels all attempts at legal accountability for corruption.

Third, the U.S. and Russia share delusion and nostalgia, including the dream that endless arms races will bring us the security we long for. Putin is soaked in grievance about the breakup of the Soviet Union and thrives on fantasies of restoring Russia to 17th century glory. He has tried to keep his citizens in a state of delusion about the invasion of Ukraine. 

America too suffers from nostalgic delusion. Vast numbers of our citizens, encouraged by politicians eager to ride to power on the whirlwinds of deception, believe nonsense about voter fraud. Anti-scientific Covid misinformation has led to numbers of deaths higher than any other nation

Too many white Christians, threatened by inevitable demographic change, long for a version of national greatness that never was, again encouraged by politicians and commentators who have mainstreamed formerly extremist racist ideas. 

No national culture, whether in Russia or America or China or anywhere can thrive if it bases its religious or political principles in fear, lies and exclusion. Just as many in Russia may be accepting Putin's delusion that Ukrainians are all Nazis worthy of extermination, many in the U.S. along with their supposed political representatives have bought into delusions of conspiracy because they have felt threatened and humiliated by unaccountably rapid economic and cultural change. 

The U.S. Supreme Court clings to nostalgic interpretations of a Constitution that was conceived in a different world. The framers would recoil at the Court's definition of money as speech, or if they could see how a gross distortion of the meaning of a well-regulated militia and the right to bear arms has resulted in a nation awash in 400 million guns where mass killings are routine. If Democrats and Republicans stereotyped each other to the extent that those guns were used to resolve our cultural differences, it would make Ukraine look like a picnic, and yet that may well be the direction of our drift.

American and Russian military arrogance were equally humbled in Afghanistan. Whoever "wins" in Ukraine, there will be no genuine victory. War between nations is really civil war in the sense that all the attacks by all sides are against the common good. Besides the harm to the Ukrainian people themselves, the war has caused a global food crisis, because so many nations depend upon the bounty of Ukrainian agriculture. Our real challenges, like preventing nuclear apocalypse and sustaining the biosystem that supports us, transcend both the quarrels of nations and the conflicts within them.

National pride has strengthened the arm of Ukrainian resistance. But as Teilhard de Chardin asserted, "The Age of Nations is past. It remains to us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside ancient prejudices and build the earth." 

We—humanity and the planet—are between an old unworkable story and an emerging one. In the old story, nature is a resource to be exploited in support of economic prosperity dependent upon an illusory model of infinite natural resources, and both nature and other humans are best controlled according to the principle of might makes right. 

In a possible emerging planetary story, we have the chance to see that we have more in common than what divides us, based in the challenges we face together. Tanks, fighter jets and nuclear missiles—and the greed, hatred and paranoia motivating their endless deployment—do nothing to address the death of coral reefs, the breakdown of ocean ecosystems and fisheries, the rise in sea levels, the mass migrations of refugees. 

Because our global situation transcends "us and them," there's a relationship between the opposites of humility and humiliation. Keeping our own faults in mind, we can avoid the arrogant temptation to humiliate the Russian nation. Both we and they are in need of radical self-examination. The U.S. may be alienated from Russia at the moment, but we still need to join each other as soon as we can in both disarmament and ecological initiatives. Our very lives depend on it.


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

Winslow Myers

Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Board of Beyond War, a non-profit educational foundation whose mission is to explore, model and promote the means for humanity to live without war. Myers writes for PeaceVoice.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Fulton County Subpoenas of Trump Allies Offer Hope 'That Justice Will Ultimately Be Served'

"The coordinated attempts by former President Donald Trump and his associates to discount and ignore the will of Georgian voters during the 2020 election cannot be swept under the rug," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·


Russian Official Makes Nuclear Threat Over US Support for Ukraine War Crimes Probe

Another official responded to Western sanctions by suggesting that Russia could reclaim Alaska.

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Denounced for Imposing New Sanctions as Iran Nuclear Talks Falter

One Middle East expert accused the U.S. administration of "continuing and embracing Trump's max pressure policy, while expecting a different result."

Brett Wilkins ·


Under 'Draconian Abortion Ban,' Woman in El Salvador Sentenced to 50 Years for Pregnancy Loss

Laws like El Salvador's are "now being replicated in states across the U.S.," noted one observer.

Julia Conley ·


Warren, Sanders, and Others Blast Biden's 'Failure' on Federal Cannabis Policy

While commending Biden's pardons and commutations, six senators wrote that "much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo