Ukraine needs our hearts – and our heads too

by | Blog

As I’ve never been to Ukraine or Russia or speak the languages, what can I usefully say about this detestable war beyond expressing my outrage at yet another invasion and again feeling grievous disappointment that instead of the peace dividend promised after the collapse of the Soviet Union last century we see another round of increased military spending in 2022?

Friends who live in Central and Eastern Europe who are equally horrified by the current conflict warn me of the complexities of the region, ones they wish British politicians could grapple with before pronouncing without much historical self-awareness

So here, for what they are worth, are my largely uninformed reflections – platitudes if you will – that may tinkle the odd bell with those equally troubled but feeling rather helpless if not actually hopeless.

First, that when we see the shocking images of Ukraine’s destruction and the plight of its refugees we are obviously right to express our humane solidarity. How we do that in practical terms is for each of us to decide.

Second, that while we respond to these promptings of the heart, we also need to engage our minds. Providing food, clothes and the offer of shelter is good, but the prevention of wars which always produce dead, damaged and displaced human beings is better.

In this I take my cue not only from the likes of Larry Wilkerson and Scott Ritter, but from Major General Smedley Butler who coined the phrase “war is a racket”. When Butler died in 1940 he was the most decorated Marine in US military history, yet his book [1] became a classic denunciation of those who profit from war.

President Dwight D Eisenhower was a bit of a soldier too and his warning about the power of the military-industrial complex is as compelling today as when he made it in 1961:

However long the Ukraine conflict continues, the politically powerful arms manufacturers in Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere will do lots of business. When it ends, they won’t stop pressing governments for yet more of our hard-pressed income to come their way.

This new report by Professor Anna Stavrianakis of Sussex University details the role of the UK government in promoting arms exports.

The third point to make is that this relatively local war in Europe shows us in painful detail what conflicts have been like in more remote places, including Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. What we see happening to people in Ukraine is what we Brits, as part of NATO, did to folk in those countries and what our arms sales, training and undercover operations do to enable Saudi Arabia to be doing this moment to families in Yemen.

Fourth, the revelations about Roman Abramovich, Lord Lebedev and Oleg Deripaska lift the lid on the City of London as a dirty-money recycler and our capital as the home of the lawyers, PR outfits and reputation managers who in the Home Counties and their second and third homes are not in need of Boris Johnson’s “levelling up”. They are already doing very well and have been shown to express their gratitude by their generosity to the Conservative party and the promotion of its tawdry values.

While we are doing what we can individually for Ukrainian refugees we must also take responsibility for challenging and changing that corrupt and corrupting state of affairs – and that means engaging in real politics.

Five, the conflict – elements of which are a proxy war between Russia and the United States and its allies including us in Britain – also points up fundamental shifts taking place in the world economy and in geopolitics. These are already impacting us through inflation and changes in the patterns of trade and diplomacy.

So we need British politicians of stature who understood these profound movements and who are prepared to challenge many of the cozy and complacent assumptions that are a barrier to progressive change. That requires us to find those of character and capability who will address these urgent issues – and give our support to them. Suggestions welcome!

Finally, and as a tiny step towards peaceful conflict resolution, can we aspire to a little perspective, one daily denied us as Murdoch, Harmsworth and their tame politicians and scribblers demonize Russia?

A friend recently hoping to watch a film of the Bolshoi Ballet performing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was told the showing had been cancelled because of Ukraine. That’s just a mild example of what’s been going on to restrict our freedoms in the face of anti-Russia hysteria.

Contrast that with what really happened in the Second World War when Dame Myra Hess and her fellow musicians raised the spirits of those being bombed in London by performing lunch-time concerts at the National Gallery.

Was there any concession then, during the London Blitz, to anti-German hysteria? No, Dame Myra and her colleagues who had very good reasons to oppose Hitler and Nazism played Bach, Beethoven and Brahms even as enemy planes flew over Trafalgar Square and their audience – many in uniform – were suffering aerial bombardment.

Yes, this is a time for generous action.

It’s also one for serious thinking and sober reflection. Perhaps Dame Myra can help.