My Message to an American Father About the Ukraine War

A friend recently sent me an article that was published in The Atlantic by a Ukrainian journalist. The title and subtitle read as follows:

UKRAINE HAS CHANGED TOO MUCH TO COMPROMISE WITH RUSSIA

My generation has tasted freedom and experienced a competitive, vibrant political life. We can’t be made a part of what Russia has become.

— By Illia Ponomarenko

I don’t particularly recommend this article, but it you want to read it, try this link.

My friend asked me what I thought of the article. From his wording, I inferred that he was impressed and was inclined to accept the article’s conclusions, as well as the unstated policy implications for Americans: Keep supporting this war!

When I wrote back to my friend, I had only glanced at the article, but I’ve since read it, and it does exactly what the title leads you to expect.

I can empathize with the person who wrote the article. He experienced an attack on her country and her community, and no doubt has friends and loved ones who have been wounded or killed in this war. But she believes that the continuation of the war will help her country, her community, her loved ones, and herself. It will not. It will only lead to more destruction.

With the permission of my friend, I’ve removed his name, made a few minor edits, and am copying here what I sent him:

Dear _______,

My patience is very low at this moment, so forgive me if I’m more direct, even blunt, than I might otherwise be.

I’ll take a quick look at the article, but really, based just on the title and subtitle, I want to say: you’re missing the big picture and buying far too readily into a highly propagandized narrative.

The US created this war for no reason other than to expand NATO right up to a 1200 mile border with Russia. The US broke up peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia during the first days of the war — negotiations that likely would have brought Ukraine back to its pre-invasion borders. And as a result of these American actions, the war continued and roughly 500,000 Ukrainians have died or been seriously injured or maimed, and 8 million have fled the country.

The Ukrainian far right, acting in accord with the Kyiv government, has now created what is in important respects a terror state — no free press, no elections, people are being grabbed off the street, beaten, and sent to the front to serve. Ukrainian men who fled to Poland and Lithuania may now be forced back into Ukraine — where they don’t want to be — to serve and quite possibly to die.

The next step is for US allies, and then perhaps NATO itself, to send in troops to directly engage with Russia — on its border, in a conflict that Russia perceives to be existential yet is not at all significant to the West or, frankly, to you, in any direct, meaningful, skin-in-the-game way.

Whether or not the article is explicitly arguing for direct NATO engagement, that is where it will lead and that is where The Atlantic’s neocon editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, may want it to lead — to a direct NATO-Russia war. Because there is no way that Ukraine can win with just western weapons — which weapons, in fact, the West does not have to give anyway. We’re largely tapped out. (By the way, you can read about Jeffrey Goldberg here. See especially the final section, which pertains to the role he played in promoting the American war in Iraq.)

I assume you know that Russia just announced that it is going to undertake a practice exercise in the use of tactical nuclear weapons. This was announced in response to French statements about possible troop entry into Ukraine, and also in response to recent British statements that Ukraine can use its Storm Shadow missiles to attack targets inside Russia. If you think Russian consideration about the use of tactical nukes in response to NATO involvement is a sheer bluff — as our media like to report without any basis — you need to think again.

There are plenty of people in Ukraine who would want peace now — but most are afraid to speak. And even if that were not the case, which it is, you need to think about your own family. I’m not joking. If NATO goes in, tactical nukes may be used; if nukes are used, it will be impossible to reliably contain escalation; if escalation occurs, you, your wife, and your daughters may be killed.

There is no reason for any of this to continue — no reason for the US, none for Ukraine.

Please forgive the sharp edge, my friend.

Ben

So, what was I telling my friend? I have long emphasized that the interests of the Ukrainian people are aligned with the interests of the American people — that the best thing for everyone is that the war be ended now through a negotiated settlement. I have emphasized that to be compassionate to the Ukrainian people means to end the war, not to support its continuation. Many Ukrainians understand that. If you doubt this, read this article in the Daily Beast. The title is “Frontline Ukrainians Fear New Aid From U.S. Will Be a Disaster.”

But even if every Ukrainian wanted the war to continue, and believed that continuing the war would lead to Ukraine’s salvation, it would not make it true. People closest to a conflict have a detailed knowledge of events that they witness first hand, and they may have certain insights that outsiders lack. But they also may be blinded by passion, or they may see the events in granular (and often traumatic) fashion, and fail to understand the context of how things reached that point. Their grasp of the big picture may be obstructed by the painful quotidian experiences they are enduring. The expression, “Not seeing the forrest, for the trees,” can readily apply. They may be subject to domestic war propaganda. And they may be afraid to speak out and say what they really believe.

So, I have always emphasized that what is good for Ukraine is good for America — and what is good for everyone is the exact opposite of the policies that American, Ukrainian, and European governments are pursuing.

But that is not the only thing I was saying to my friend. I also was strongly emphasizing to my friend that as a father and husband, as an American citizen, and as a self-responsible person who also should value his own life and safety, he has an obligation to protect things closer to home. And this is true regardless what he might think about those in other lands. Yes, there is a balancing act here — one must not be indifferent to the suffering of others — but one also must have a clear grasp about the dangers closer to home and take everything in to consideration when deciding what to do.

At times, viewing one’s own situation clearly can lead to real moral quandaries. It can lead to difficult and painful decisions in which one trades one’s own safety for the safety of others, or the safety of others for the safety of oneself. Fortunately, this is not the case with respect to the American and European role in the conflict in Ukraine. In this situation, thankfully, to end the war helps Americans, Europeans, and, above all, the Ukrainian people.

In my book on the Ukraine war, I emphasized that a desire to do good can lead to great harms — the classic story of the messianic do-gooder who travels to a remote land to save the day but ends up creating a disaster for himself and everyone else. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions — and that certainly applies to the misguided beneficence of both Americans and Europeans with respect to the Ukraine war. In my book, I said that America’s claimed generosity to Ukraine was destroying the alleged beneficiary:

Even from a blinkered American perspective, the whole Western plan was a dangerous game of bluff, enacted for reasons that are hard to fathom. Ukraine is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a vital security interest of the United States. In fact, Ukraine hardly matters at all. From an American perspective — and I say this with no disrespect for the Ukrainian people — Ukraine is irrelevant. Ukraine is no more important to the citizens of the United States than any one of fifty other countries that most Americans, for perfectly understandable reasons, couldn’t find on a map without a lot of random searching. So yes, Ukraine is irrelevant to America. And if the leaders of the United States and NATO had acknowledged that obvious fact, none of this would be happening.

If you haven’t read my book yet, you can read it here on Medium, free of charge, in essay format. Or if you want to buy it, here’s the Amazon link. You can also order it from your independent bookstore, or other large chains. Or you can read about it on the book’s website. The book is now out in seven translations — German, French, Italian, Polish, Danish, Dutch, and Slovenian — and has sold a total of 50,000 copies.

Since I wrote to my friend, two important things have happened.

First, Russia called in both the French and British ambassadors to Moscow for immediate consultation. The exact things said were not disclosed, but it is known that the Russians issued a warning to the British, and told them that if British Storm Shadow missiles were used as Britain had suggested — to attack targets inside Russia — Russia would consider British military forces anywhere in the world, including in Britain itself, legitimate targets for missile attacks by Russia.

Second, as I understand it, the British, French, and also the Americans — notwithstanding their public bluster — have taken these Russian threats seriously and have backed away from their more bellicose postures. For an update on all this, the first half of this episode of the excellent geopolitics podcast, The Duran, is worth hearing:

The sequence of events that just occurred is of great importance to all of us. It involved the risk of a major escalation, including the use of nuclear weapons — but, to my knowledge, no mainstream western media reported it adequately.

Yet again our media are failing us.

This is one more indication that — instead of remaining independent and fulfilling their societal responsibilities — our media have become, in effect, a propaganda wing of the state, continuing to serve as cheerleaders for a war that should have ended long ago.

Ben