NO TIME TO DIE IN THE NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE
On March 15th Press Correspondent Jen Psaki met with a barrage of questions about whether or not the United States administration was doing “enough” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What should we be expecting when the stakes are so high? It would be better to ask if we’re doing enough to prevent war with nuclear-armed Russia, but it is too late for that: we’re already in it! Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was not the beginning — this war began in Afghanistan, this war began in Iraq, this war began in Kuwait when the US and the rest of its allies christened the new form of imperial conquest. We should not think that we can prevent armageddon, for the sake of the planet and the entire human project, we should consider ourselves already within the disaster and turn our attitude towards mitigating the harm it causes and postponing its escalation – something Professor Slavoj Zizek calls a leap into the apocalypse.
In February of 2003, Colin Powell appeared before the UN to inaugurate a new form of international warmongering. Iraq was falsely depicted as a hotbed of anti-US sentiment and a threat to global security which could not go unanswered. The Bush administration spun a tale of an embattled, democracy-loving Iraqi populace yearning to breathe free and eager to fight alongside US forces. Nowadays this is considered “faulty intelligence” but at the time it was just what the US needed to justify “major combat operations” which would cost more than a million lives and cause immense devastation across Iraq all with neither a formal, congressional declaration of war nor broad support from the international community. Announcing his intention to invade, former President Bush said the following: “The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.” The words continue to echo across world history up to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which he justifies by claiming: “If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia. We cannot but react to this real danger, all the more so since, let me repeat, Ukraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country.” This is a mirror reflecting us darkly, and we ought to take a long, hard look. Russia’s current adventure implements a military maneuver the United States pioneered and perfected – the pretense of removing hostile and extra-national threats (from fighting Al-Qaeda to ‘Denazification’), rejecting the declaration of war in favor of terms like “invasion” or “combat operations,” as well as mercilessly targeting civilian areas with heavy ordinance and air power. And so Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky again calls upon the US to institute a ‘No-Fly Zone.’ We must resist the temptation to escalate as we stare into the abyss of world catastrophe and do all we can to delay the inevitable.
A HOUSE DIVIDED
Despite such dire stakes the United States is heavily involved in this conflict. The White House boasts of its heinous brace of sanctions levied against the people of Russia, cratering their economy and immiserating the lives of a civilian populace as disconnected from the levels of military decision making as our own. Furthermore, President Biden continues to commit small arms and weapon systems to Ukraine and the surrounding NATO countries – actions which could only push a diplomatic solution with Russia further away. But America is far from united over a course of action; Mitch McConnell blames the present state of affairs on a lack of US mettle, citing our withdrawal from Afghanistan as “an invitation to the autocrats of the world.” While his introspective inclination is commendable, we must recognize this particular assertion for what it is: absolute malarkey. It is much more likely that our invasion and imperial occupation of Afghanistan, the language we used to construct an international framework of neo-colonialism, and the blatant disregard for international peace which we have perpetuated for decades provided Mr. Putin with just the sort of rhetorical and political framework he needed to attempt his own rendition. In fact, some of Minority Leader McConnell’s more fringe colleagues take up even more aggressive positions. Both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorne openly decry the legitimacy of the embattled Ukrainian government, voicing overt support of President Putin’s actions. It may seem appalling, especially to those of us committed to peace, but why should we expect our representatives to condemn Putin’s actions in Ukraine? After all, that would open our own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or even our ongoing campaigns in Somalia, Yemen, and Syria to the same criticisms which we levy against the Russian state.
WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS
Let us return to the question with which we opened: have we done enough (to deter Russian imperial ambition, to bring an end to the war in Ukraine, to prevent nuclear disaster)? So long as we continue to think that the true disaster lies ahead, as though it were something which we could prevent, then we enable ourselves to continue the policies and attitudes which led us to the current moment. In other words, so long as we think there’s time, we never really have to change anything. If we hope to exorcize the demon of nuclear war, we must be critical of our governing institutions now more than ever. We must not argue for the prevention of war. As we have already determined; war is happening. Though they may take different sides, both the Republicans and the Democrats want to see this war won and they are doing their best to get us to take up their cause. But there is no winning in nuclear war. The anti-war public must refuse such conscription by establishing space outside of these arguments wherein war is not ignored but rather indefinitely postponed. As Professor Slavoj Žižek describes in his landmark text Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, what we must do now is a total perspective inversion. Rather than looking ahead at a potential crisis while continuing the practices which generated it, we must accept that the moment of destruction inevitably lies ahead. Only from this perspective we may be willing to do anything and everything to postpone annihilation as long as possible. To leap forward we step back and run into it, here, we run forward and leap in order to help us take a crucial step back. We have already failed to avoid or prevent involvement in this conflict, indeed, the whole world watches as this invasion unfolds – will this war be the one? Now our task is to recognize this moment for what it is. Žižek does not argue that we should stick our head into the sand nor that we should accept that bombs will drop, and people will die. Rather, we should know wholeheartedly that this is the last minute ‘till midnight and do all we can to keep the clock from ringing the final hour. We can no longer accept policies that will encourage or enable further militarization – there is no winning this war. If we argue for the prevention of war, then we subject ourselves to the already ascendant discourse which has relegated peacefulness to unseriousness or irrelevance. We have done enough, and now we must do less. We must demand an end to US arms deals to Eastern Europe, we must put a stop to increased militarization at Russia borders (especially through NATO), and instead we should divert these funds to aiding Ukrainian refugees as well as refugees caused by our wars abroad. The long-term goal must be putting a stop to the United States’ bellicose international policy. So long as we continue to enforce US interests from the barrel of the gun, we encourage other nations to do the same. The time has long-since passed to avoid disaster, but we’ll be able to hold on so long as we earnestly pursue peace.
About the author: Ian Mooney is a Doctoral Student at the University of Kentucky Philosophy program focusing on Peace Studies and contemporary political epistemologies. He publishes independently at Medium.