Can war ever be justified?
Strategies for world peace
On September 21, 2022, there was a public webinar debate on the proposition, “War Can Never Be Justified.” Arguing the affirmative was David Swanson, author, activist, journalist, and radio host; and executive director of World BEYOND War. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and U.S. Peace Prize recipient. Arguing the negative was Arnold August, a Montreal-based author of three books on US/Cuba/Latin America. His comments on geopolitical issues appear on TelesurTV and Press TV. He is a Contributing Editor for The Canada Files; and he is a member of the International Manifesto Group. The debate was moderated by Youri Smouter, host of 1+1, a topical history and current affairs program on YouTube; he is based in Southern Belgium.
David Swanson put forth a hypothetical case. Imagine that we are citizens of a social democratic country that is invaded by a totalitarian country. What can we do? What has the best chance for the best results, for discouraging future invasions? The answer to these questions, Swanson maintains, is non-violent action. The alternatives are not simply responding with violence or doing nothing; there is a third option of responding with non-violent action.
Swanson maintains that there are many examples of successful non-violent campaigns, which in general are more likely than violence to succeed. The are many examples in which military occupations have been brought to an end by non-violent campaigns. He invites all to the Website of World BEYOND War, which provides a list of examples of successful non-violent campaigns.
With respect to the Russian military operation in Ukraine, Swanson maintains that Russia could have taken more steps for peace, such as evacuating more people. The Russian military operation, he argues, gives NATO an excuse for expansion.
In addition to discussing particular instances of war, Swanson also pointed out that war is an institution and an industry with many negative consequences, including nullifying the cooperation that is necessary to address many common problems of humanity.
Arnold August argued against the proposition; that is, he maintained that war sometimes is justified. For example, today the USA and its allies wage war against Russia through its proxy, the Nazi-infested Zelensky regime. The US/NATO military war against Russia seeks to weaken Russia and undermine the growing Russia-China alliance and to contain China’s increasing influence in the world.
The war began not on February 24, 2022, but eight years ago, when the USA backed a pro-Nazi coup in Ukraine, with the goal of keeping Ukraine in the U.S. sphere. This resulted in ethnic cleansing and the shelling of the Russian-speaking Donbas area, with more than 14,000 lives lost and 1.5 million displaced persons.
August cites Dan Kovalik, an American lawyer and professor of international human rights, who maintains that Ukraine repeatedly violated cease-fire agreements in the Donbas region, and that Russian intelligence services were reporting that Ukraine was planning a massive invasion of Donbas. Kovalik concludes that “Russia was put in a position that it had no choice but to intervene.” Kovalik further maintains that the Russian military operation was consistent with the UN Charter, as collective self-defense against an imminent attack.
August further maintains that the United States has carried out a cultural war in the ideological terrain against Russia, intensified since 2014, but dating to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917; and against China, since the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Thus, the United States has conducted a long ideological war against communism, which now is a dimension of the current US/NATO war against Russia, often carried out in a subliminal and symbolic form; and which today includes a cultural war against China, an open ideological war against communism in China and the Communist Party of China.
Prior to World War II, the Western nations were more concerned about the Bolshevik Revolution than the emergence of fascism in Germany. Similarly, the West today allies with Ukrainian Nazis in opposition to Russia. Even though Russia today is no longer communist, it has an influential communist party, and it stands against Nazism and U.S. world hegemony. In this situation, the people in the NATO countries should consider abandoning support for the US/NATO war and support the Russian position on Ukraine.
The cultural war against Russia since February 24, 2022, has included the ideological maneuver of equating communism and fascism, using the 1939 USSR-Germany nonaggression pact as evidence. But as Michael Parenti points out, Moscow had made repeated overtures toward the Western states for collective security agreements to contain Nazi aggression. But the overtures were rebuffed by the West, so the USSR signed an eleventh-hour nonaggression pact with Hitler to prevent an immediate attack by German forces. Thus distorting history, the West carries forward its endless ideological war against communism.
The social media and cable news networks like CNN are in the vanguard of the cultural war against communism. In response, Putin is at the forefront in waging a battle of ideas against the spurious equation of World War II fascism and the USSR. Seen from this perspective, the Russian special military operation in Ukraine is justifiable. The narrative that falsely equates fascism and communism, if it takes hold among the peoples, could lead to World War III, launched by US/NATO against Russia and possibly China in the name of anti-fascism.
Another aspect of the US/NATO war against Russia is the economic war, the imposition of economic sanctions. The sanctions are not justified, as is indicated by the fact that governments representing 90% of the world population have refused to go along the with sanctions.
August declared that we in the NATO countries must pressure our governments to push Ukraine to negotiate a peace settlement that takes into account Russia’s concerns. And we should support the Russian special military operation.
In the question/answer period, August put forth another example of a justified war: Cuba’s sending of troops to Angola, at the request of the Angolan government, to lend support to the military struggle against the expansionist apartheid regime of South Africa. The Cuban military intervention was critical in beating back the aggression of the South African government in Southwest Africa.
By way of further elaboration
August places the debate in the necessary context of imperialism and the need for nations to defend themselves against Western imperialism. He defends the right of Russia to defend itself against Western imperialism, and the right of Angola, with Cuban support, to defend itself against the military aggression of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He maintains that aggression made necessary the taking up of arms in these two cases.
I would like to elaborate on this point through reference to anti-imperialist revolutions that used the strategy of the armed struggle to establish sovereign nations, namely, the People’s Republic of China, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Cuba. If we in the West were not blinded by imperialist propaganda, and if Western leftist intellectuals were not so ethnocentric, there would be little doubt concerning the significant gains of the four revolutions. These gains include: the establishment of people’s democracy, ensuring that delegates and deputies elected by the people have control over the political process; the establishment of dynamic productive economies, directed by state planning, and combining private capitalistic enterprises and state-owned companies; the protection of fundamental human rights with respect to health, education, housing, and nutrition; and the development of foreign policies based on the principles of respect for the sovereign equality of nations and mutually beneficial trade among nations.
With consciousness of these realities, we can see that the armed struggle was justifiable in the colonial/neocolonial situation; and that armed struggle can have significant beneficial consequences. If the technical and political conditions are right, revolutionary wars against colonial and imperialist powers are justifiable.
In addition, these four countries today are prepared to defend themselves against further imperialist aggression. They have developed conventional armed forces; and they have the organizational capacity for resistance to any possible military occupation, which certainly would include violence directed at the occupying armed forces. It can reasonably be argued that this armed preparation for self-defense has constituted a deterrent to imperialist military aggression against these four nations.
Furthermore, China and Cuba, along with other self-declared socialist nations and nations with progressive administrations, are in the vanguard in the construction of world peace. They are leading the world in the development of an alternative world-system, characterized by respect for the sovereignty of nations and mutually beneficial trade among nations. This alternative is emerging in theory and practice, and there can be little doubt that such an alternative, more sustainable world-system would not be emerging, if it were not for the leadership role of the four nations that took control of their states via armed struggle. And surely there can be little doubt that mutually beneficial trade is the best guarantee for world peace, inasmuch as a nation has little interest in attacking another nation with which is has a beneficial trading relation.
The historical, cultural, and epistemological context
I am suggesting, then, that cooperation in the construction of a more just and politically stable world, being developed in practice today by anti-imperialist nations, including states that arrived to power via revolutionary war, is the best road to world peace. This is generally not the frame from which we develop peace initiatives, because we in the West for the most part are unaware of the role of colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism in creating and sustaining global inequalities. But the peoples and movements of the Third World are unable to forget this fundamental fact, and indeed, they have a duty to remember it.
Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank broke through the Western cultural blindness. Looking at the history of the modern world-system, they described the economic role of the colonized regions and peripheralized zones, which was to provide forced labor, cheap raw materials, and markets for the surplus manufacturing and agricultural goods of the advanced economies of the colonizing and imperialist powers. They advanced beyond Marx’s understanding, which was to be expected, inasmuch as Marx wrote before the anti-colonial movements reached maturity, a fact that many Marxists today do not fully appreciate.
But Wallerstein and Frank, even though they advanced understanding of the Western superexploitation of the world, shared with Western intellectuals a serious limitation: they did not see that the colonized were responding to colonial domination with a great project designed to negate imperialism, dismantle the neocolonial world-system, and construct a new world economic order, more just and sustainable. To grasp this phenomenon of anti-imperialist alternative construction, we have to study the teachings of the revolutionary leaders of the four socialist nations, who led their nations to the vanguard of the world struggle for a more just and sustainable world characterized by peace and prosperity, explaining to the people as they led them. Such study must be the foundation of our hopes for world peace, if they are to be grounded in realism and to avoid idealist and utopian conceptions.
It may seem that the Western left today is awakening. But the so-called left today has a superficial understanding of the dynamics of neocolonial domination and revolutionary transformation. It puts forth ahistorical and anti-empirical concepts. And it attacks persons, past and present, rather than seeking to understand a post-colonial and post-imperialist transformation of structures. The so-called left today misses the point: the once-colonized peoples are constructing a more just world of peace and prosperity, and we intellectuals in the West have no moral option but to seek to understand this process and to educate our peoples concerning the need for the nations of the North to participate in the project of alternative construction.
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