There is no alternative to war: a dogma to be questioned

It is likely painful for everyone to see how far over the years our ways of thinking have drifted not only from each other but also from what we took for granted, perhaps rashly, in a period of intense collective involvement, not only political but also personal and existential. Of course, after the dissolution of that season, each went his own way; different and often divergent paths, marked for years by inconsistent and often ridiculous figures and characters, incapable of creating radical mutual misunderstandings. Not least because then in fact their operations did not diverge much. But now that there is the massacre of migrants in the midst of it, world war at the gates and the imminent destruction of human life on earth, regaining that afflatus that had held us together is more difficult for everyone. Now we are told to defend Western values against the barbarism coming from the East.

Meanwhile, on the southern front that separates us from the world of the submerged, we enforce those same values by entrusting the suppression of thousands and thousands of lives to the silences of the desert and the sea (which sometimes screams, unheeded, when shipwrecks occur too close to ‘our’ shores). While on the Balkan ‘route’ we entrust to national, intergovernmental (Frontex) and private police forces a hand-to-hand combat with those enemies of our values,[a combat] made up of beatings, theft of money and paltry valuables, destruction of documents and mobile phones, abandonment in the snow of naked and barefoot people, scratched by barbed wire that has already [been] tried dozens of times to get through, along with wives and children, old people and children. We are full of lagers (death camps), not only in Libya, but also on the internal borders of Europe, and we pretend not to see them.

However, I take for granted – there are those who demand it – the rule not to reduce what precedes to what follows; otherwise – it has been said – we would have to go back to Cain (who may have had his ‘good reasons’, but that is no justification) and Abel (who may have done something too…). So, tabula rasa of the past, although for me the first aggressor in this conflict was not Putin’s Russia against Ukraine, but this one against its own population in the Donbass, because of pro-Russian language, culture and sentiments. Since 2014, there have been 14,000 casualties of war in the Donbass. Some, admittedly, among Kiev’s (Nazi) militias, others in its army, many among the militias (not free of Nazi presences too) of the regions that aspired to autonomy, and still others among Russian support troops. But most [were] among the civilian population of those territories, Ukrainian but Russian-speaking, forced for eight years to live like rats in the cellars of houses bombed every other day. And by whom?

By those who were waiting, or rather, working, for Putin’s Russia to go to war. On the other hand, NATO had long been arming Ukraine as if it were already one of its members, and Merkel herself (not a ‘warmonger’) admitted that the Minsk agreements, which provided for a strong, albeit indefinite, autonomy for the Donbass, had been signed and disregarded ‘to stall’: waiting for a war provoked by the states already included in NATO, ‘barking’ at the borders of the Russian Federation.

But for more than a year now, Ukrainian troops have been firing 9,000 shells a day – so much so that they have even exhausted the US supply of bullets – on territory they consider their own. And the Russian troops fire just as many across the frontline, at a country they consider an enemy, even though they have never declared war on it. We know, we are told every day by TV and newspapers, the damage and deaths the Russians cause, even deliberately, but do the 9,000 Ukrainian (i.e. NATO) shells only hit military targets? Don’t they also destroy buildings and infrastructure, don’t they kill people, don’t they pollute fields, rivers and groundwater, now [that bullets are] even bullets with depleted uranium? The very ones that caused 8,000 tumors and 400 deaths among the Italian soldiers who were engaged in Serbia at the time and who knows how many – they say 30,000 a year, since then and ‘forever’ – among the civilian population. The same [bullets with depleted uranium] with which Iraq and its population have also been devastated forever….

What sense then does it make to defend – indeed, to want to regain – the borders of a territory just when it is being destroyed? What ‘love of country’ is it that drives one to turn a part of it into a giant Chernobyl? We see on TV many witnesses of the persecution inflicted by the Russians, mostly on populations that the Ukrainian government had also already taken care to persecute. But how will Ukrainian Russian-speaking refugees, ‘refugees’ in Russia out of love or by force, be treated if they are ever allowed to return to those tortured territories, once they are returned to their motherland? And when? And how?

The right to self-defence is invoked. Sacrosanct. But defence of what? Of a territory that in the meantime is being destroyed and rendered uninhabitable by those who claim it, making those on this side of the front also pay the price for this destruction by Russian artillery and rockets? What will be left of Ukraine after a victory that the more it is invoked, the more distant it looms?

The fact is that we are talking of a conflict which is costing hundreds of thousands of dead (How many? It is not known. We have the estimates, often fictitious, circulated by the Ukrainian government, but also those of the US intelligence services leaked by the Russians, also probably fictitious) as if the alternative were only between ‘victory’ and ‘surrender’. What victory? Putin’s surrender? His unseating by Prigozin and associates? The dissolution of the Russian Federation and its transformation into an immense Libya at the disposal of the appetites of NATO, China, Turkey, Pakistan and – why not? – Isis? Or, extreme – but no longer so extreme – an atomic bomb unleashing Armageddon? Or what surrender? The permanent military occupation of a population we are told is indomitable by mercenary troops, or [by] ignorant, or impatient troops recruited from the fringes of the Russian empire? A permanent Grozny in the centre of Europe, destined to multiply by a hundred, all the way to the Atlantic coast of Portugal?

It is all too clear, then, why no one goes so far as to explain what victory means and what surrender means at this juncture. What is not challenged in this way is a dogma: not Kant’s perpetual peace, but the idea that to every war there is no alternative but more war.

Instead, there are alternatives. First, the ceasefire: the saving of tens if not hundreds of thousands of other human lives and the few habitats that are still viable, and the removal of the atomic ‘option’. Then the mediation: yesterday the Minsk agreements, today a solution that safeguards the minimum living conditions of the populations returned to their territories. With an international guarantee of their autonomy, while waiting for the border obsession to ease. Then, perhaps, reconstruction. But which [reconstruction, on irreversibly polluted soil? And paid for by whom? And how? With a new Versailles at the expense of the Russian population? And the weapons? Troops, vehicles and nukes along this new Iron Curtain that divides Europe from itself? But which no longer separates capitalism (and ‘democracy’) from communism (and ‘totalitarianism’), but [separates] two empires, no less harmful to each other than to their subject populations, from Siberia to Tierra del Fuego.

And then what? Are we not on the threshold of a climate and environmental catastrophe? And is it perhaps with bombs, cannons, tanks and rockets that we intend to foil it? And is not this – foiling it – the priority task of those who govern us? Anywhere and everywhere? But how many ‘staunch environmentalists’ have forgotten this?

Guido Viale