Why is “Civilization” Supposedly Most at Stake in Ukraine?
Dear readers: I am doing a Tuesday piece instead of a Thursday one this week due to some travel.
Beware of distraction. Look for the shit that’s going while they’ve got you looking at something else.
Case in point: the dominant US media wants you to think that human civilization is at stake above all and most urgently in Ukraine, which was criminally invaded by Russia with no small US provocation one year and two weeks ago. In the name of Western “democracy” and its struggle with Russian “autocracy,” the media beats the drum for the US to send Ukraine tens of billions worth of military and other assistance.
What’s that all about? Yes, Ukraine, one a nation of 44 million (a population not that much larger than that of California) was criminally and brutally attacked and the fascistic and sociopathic Vladimir Putin regime has committed horrible atrocities there. But is decent civilization any less urgently at stake in occupied Palestine, where the heavily US-backed and US-armed apartheid state of Israel kills Arabs with impunity and where Jewish-supremacist “settlers” recently undertook a state-backed West Bank “pogrom” that one right-wing Israeli commentator has likened to the Third Reich’s Kristallnacht?
Is decent civilization any less urgently at stake in the long France- and US-tortured island nation of Haiti, where more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line, while approximately half live on less than $1.25 per day and armed gangs terrorize the populace? How about in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to 96 million people, where tens of thousands of children, some as young as six years, toil for a pittance in the eco-cidal mining of copper, gold, coltan, cobalt, and diamonds. The human and environmental catastrophe generated by US-led global capitalism in the DRC is almost never mentioned in the dominant US media. (Nor is responsibility for that catastrophe ever properly given to the US, whose CIA assisted the assassination of the left-nationalist DRC prime minister Patrice Lumumba for the sin of trying to break his nation out of Third World subordination to the US-led neocolonialist West.)
What about Yemen, a country where “18 million people, including 9.2 million children, lack access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services”? The country “continues to experience regular outbreaks of cholera, measles, diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases,” UNICEF reports. This is a result of years of bombardment by the US-backed and US-armed be-header kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I could go on with other horror stories from the world capitalist system’s nonwhite periphery, upon whose misery and exploitation the planet’s rich white nations have long parasitically profited.
What about the US itself? Is decent civilization at stake right here in the “homeland” (what a lovely imperial term) by any chance? This violence-plagued asylum of mass alienation has already hosted 102 mass shootings so far this year (as of 1:37 pm on Monday, March 6, 2023). The US ratio of 120.5 firearms per 100 residents, up from 88 per 100 in 2011, far surpasses that of other countries around the world. The next closest nation for firearms to persons is Yemen, at 53 per 100, followed by Serbia and Montenegro at 39 per 100. The USA is the only country on Earth with more civilian owned firearms than people.
The giant US racist police state continues to kill US-Americans, especially non-white ones, at its previous excessive rate in brazen defiance of the national anti-racist and anti-police brutality uprising the followed the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020. (A Guardian report last year was properly titled “ ‘No Progress’ Since George Floyd: US Police Killing 3 a Day”). In Atlanta, Georgia, scene of an especially egregious police state murder during the George Floyd Rebellion – the killing of the Black man Rayshard Brooks by two white police offers on June 12th of 2020 – the eco-fascist police state is turning one of the metropolitan area’s biggest remaining green spaces into a giant training complex for militarized policing. Police recently shot dead Manuel Teran, one of the many activists protesting the construction of this “Cop City.”
The not-so “semi-”fascist organization called the Republican Party makes sure that no legislation that might stem the gun violence and reign in murderous police brutality can get out of the US Congress. A Christian fascist majority on the Supreme Court and a vast army of right-wing judges across the federal judiciary are in place to veto anything halfway decent that might come out of the executive and legislative branches on these or any other issues.
No country incarcerates a higher share of its population than the USA, which disproportionately fills its vast network of prisons and jails with Black and brown people.
The U.S. has recently declared war on its female population by reimposing the female enslavement of forced motherhood in vast portions of its territory. Eleven states now ban abortion in all or nearly all cases: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Nine states have passed strict abortion laws that are under legal challenge and in judicial limbo: Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Two states have passed pre-viability bans: Florida (15 weeks) and Georgia (6 weeks).
“For over six months,” my fellow Substacker Jessica Valenti writes:
“Americans have been suffering under abortion bans that they didn’t vote for and don’t want. Women left bleeding for days. Cancer patients and raped children denied care. Burst ectopic pregnancies….[There are widespread] conservative efforts to ban abortion medication …twenty Attorneys General [have] threatened retail pharmacies to keep [abortion] medication out of their states, even though they’re standard treatment for miscarriages…. doctors [are being] forced to choose between giving their patients adequate care or prison time….pregnant women [are being] kept in an Alabama jail in order to ‘protect’ their fetuses.”
Not content with winning the end of women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion with the Trump-made/Handmaid Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, Christian fascists are on the verge of winning a women-hating ruling from a specially handpicked far-right federal district judge in Amarillo, Texas. His decision, expected any day now, will nationally ban the critical first abortion drug that is used in half of the nation’s abortions. The second largest retail pharmacy firm in the United States, Wallgreens (with 8,082 stores across all 50 states) has recently shown its contempt for women by agreeing not to sell the drug, mifepristone, in 20 states, including even some states where abortion is legal.
Meanwhile, Republican legislators in 44 states have proposed bans on teaching the roles that racism, ethnic cleansing, genocide and sexism have played in US history and society past and present. Eighteen “red” (try brown) states have passed such white-nationalist and patriarchal laws, which seek to make nonwhite and female persons’ subordinate status in the US unintelligible as the result of anything more or other than personal and cultural failure. This white nationalist legislative onslaught comes straight out of the fascist playbook.
The frontrunners for the presidential nomination atop the rightmost of the nation’s only two viable political parties, both militantly capitalist and imperialist, are Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump, a clumsy fascist who literally tried to overthrow previously normative bourgeois democracy and rule of law in 2020-21, and Ron DeSantis, a dedicated neo-Nazi who has turned the state of Florida into the most chilling laboratory for 21st Century fascism this side of Hungary. Among the growing field of candidates challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, not a single one has mentioned Trump’s attempted fascist putsch! The Christian white nationalist Mike Pence keeps mum about January 6th despite how Trump’s minions literally and seriously called for him to be hanged during the Capitol Riot.
When does the US media and political class call for the spending of vast taxpayer sums to liberate the people of Palestine, Haiti, the DRC and other nations and people on the wrong side of the imperial capitalist order? When does it address the unmitigated absurdity of the notion that a nation torn with as much internal oppression, violence, imprisonment, plutocracy, mass psychosis, alienation, abuse, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, and fascism as the United States of America has any business telling other peoples and nations how to conduct their affairs, much less claiming qualifications to spread and defend democracy and freedom abroad.
Let’s return to my opening question: why does Ukraine matter so much to the US war media and the ruling class that owns that media and most of the nation’s politicians? The contrarian American historian Andrew Bacevich provides much of the answer in a recent essay in The Nation:
‘How is it that this particular conflict puts civilization itself at risk? Why should rescuing Ukraine take priority over rescuing Haiti or Sudan? Why should fears of genocide in Ukraine matter more than the ongoing genocide targeting the Rohingya in Myanmar? Why should supplying Ukraine with modern arms qualify as a national priority, while equipping El Paso, Tex., to deal with a flood of undocumented migrants figures as an afterthought?…Of the various possible answers to such questions, three stand out and merit reflection. The first is that “civilization,” as the term is commonly employed in American political discourse, doesn’t encompass places like Haiti or Sudan. Civilization derives from Europe and remains centered in Europe. Civilization implies Western culture and values. …What makes Russian aggression so heinous, therefore, is that it victimizes Europeans, whose lives are deemed to possess greater value than the lives of those who reside in implicitly less important regions of the world. That there is a racialist dimension to such a valuation goes without saying, however much US officials may deny that fact. Bluntly, the lives of white Ukrainians matter more than the lives of the non-whites who populate Africa, Asia, or Latin America.
The second answer is that casting the Ukraine war as a struggle to defend civilization creates a perfect opportunity for the United States to reclaim its place at the forefront of that very civilization. After years wasted wandering in the desert, the United States can now ostensibly return to its true calling….“America is back,” Joe Biden declared on multiple occasions during the first weeks of his presidency, and the Ukrainian president has been only too happy to repeatedly validate that claim as long as the flow of arms and munitions to sustain his forces continues. This country’s disastrous post-9/11 wars may have raised doubts about whether the United States had kept its proper place on the right side of history.
One final factor may contribute to this eagerness to see civilization itself under deadly siege in Ukraine. Demonizing Russia provides a convenient excuse for postponing or avoiding altogether a critical reckoning with the present American version of that civilization. Classifying Russia as a de facto enemy of the civilized world has effectively diminished the urgency of examining our own culture and values. Think of it as an inverse conception of whataboutism. Shocking Russian brutality and callous disregard for Ukrainian lives divert attention from similar qualities not exactly uncommon on our very own streets.”
(Sorry for the length of that quote. And yes, I put this exact same quote in a Substack essay I published last week. But it’s too good not to read a second time.)
Bacevich might have elaborated on what he means by saying that Washington “wasted years wandering in the desert” atop the West. I take that to indicate that the US lost much of its global leadership credibility in Europe by insanely invading and occupying Iraq against European wishes (if with Washington’s pet British pit-bull on its side) and putting the malignant NATO-bashing lunatic Donald Trump in the White House for four years.
I think Bacevich’s passage leaves out some key parts of the story: US capitalist interests linked to an inter-imperialist struggle with Russia over Ukrainian resources; Washington’s desire to send a message to the rising superpower China on the United States’ determination to limit imperial rivals’ freedom to function as hegemonic powers in their own region (never mind that the US is free to maintain hegemony in the Western hemisphere and indeed around the world under US doctrine); Washington’s service to US fossil capital interests seeking to increase their share of gas and oil sales to Europe; the desire of some US planners to weaken and perhaps even collapse the Putin regime.
Still, Bacevich is really on to something there. He is quite right to highlight the all-too downplayed racial aspect of the imperial double standard here.