It just so happens, in the midst of the march to war over Ukraine, this week we’re teaching Berkeley in the Sixties and The Port Huron Statement in the Tale of Two Depressions course.
In 1962, the Students for a Democratic Society were concerned about the effects of “a half-century of accelerating destruction,” especially the policy of nuclear deterrence.
Deterrence advocates, all of them prepared at least to threaten mass extermination, advance arguments of several kinds. At one pole are the minority of open partisans of preventive war —who falsely assume the inevitability of violent conflict and assert the lunatic efficacy of striking the first blow, assuming that it will be easier to “recover” after thermonuclear war than to recover now from the grip of the Cold War. Somewhat more reluctant to advocate initiating a war, but perhaps more disturbing for their numbers within the Kennedy Administration, are the many advocates of the “counterforce” theory of aiming strategic nuclear weapons at military installations — though this might “save” more lives than a preventive war, it would require drastic, provocative and perhaps impossible social change to separate many cities from weapons sites, it would be impossible to ensure the immunity of cities after one or two counterforce nuclear “exchanges”, it would generate a perpetual arms race for less vulnerability and greater weapons power and mobility, it would make outer space a region subject to militarization, and accelerate the suspicions and arms build-ups which are incentives to precipitate nuclear action. Others would support fighting “limited wars” which use conventional (all but atomic) weapons, backed by deterrents so mighty that both sides would fear to use them — although underestimating the implications of numerous new atomic powers on the world stage, the extreme difficulty of anchoring international order with weapons of only transient invulnerability, the potential tendency for a “losing side” to push limited protracted fighting on the soil of underdeveloped countries. Still other deterrence artists propose limited, clearly defensive and retaliatory, nuclear capacity, always potent enough to deter an opponent’s aggressive designs — the best of deterrence stratagems, but inadequate when it rests on the equation of an arms “stalemate” with international stability.
As we know, history is repeating itself, as “the world alternatively drifts and plunges towards a terrible war when vision and change are required.”
Thus, we would do well to consider Stephen Cohen’s argument that the American media are misrepresenting Putin and Russia.
The degradation of mainstream American press coverage of Russia, a country still vital to US national security, has been under way for many years. If the recent tsunami of shamefully unprofessional and politically inflammatory articles in leading newspapers and magazines—particularly about the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine and, unfailingly, President Vladimir Putin—is an indication, this media malpractice is now pervasive and the new norm.
There are notable exceptions, but a general pattern has developed. Even in the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages. As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.
And we should remember that Senator John McCain’s shameless denunciation of President Obama, as responsible for a “feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” was delivered in a speech the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington. As John Hickman explains,
McCain fulminated about Russian annexation of Crimea and possibly of the Russian speaking eastern half of Ukraine. Yet he was speaking to an audience that had endorsed the annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, and endorses the ongoing annexation of the West Bank. Hypocrisy more complete would be difficult to conceive.
American journalists allow politicians like McCain to get away with such nonsense because many fear reporting anything critical about either Israel or the Israeli lobby. They are also captives of the news frames constructed by official sources in Washington. For the Crimean Crisis the consensus news frame is that Russian behavior is a violation of a strong post Second World War international norm against territorial annexation. The historical reality is that the norm has been frequently and successfully violated: Poland annexed East Prussia, East Brandenburg, Lower Silesia, and Pomerania; Russia annexed Bessarabia and Bukovina; India annexed Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli; India and Pakistan partitioned Kashmir; Indonesia annexed West Irian; Ethiopia annexed Ogaden; Turkey annexed northern Cyprus; Morocco annexed Spanish Sahara, and Israel annexed the majority of Palestine. Yes, of course some sort of justification could be offered for each of these events. There are always justifications. What is important but ignored in the outrage currently being performed about Crimea is that “the world community” did not protest strongly or effectively.
The consensus news frame also excludes reference to the complexities of Russian and Soviet history. When reporters deploy the propagandistic phrased like “Ukraine’s Crimea” they ignore the fact that Russian sovereignty over the peninsula predates American possession of the Mississippi Valley and ignores the rather artificial transfer of sovereignty over the peninsula from Russia to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, at a time when both Russia and Ukraine were part of the same country (the Soviet Union). Forget about sympathy for the difficulties faced by ethnic Russian minorities in the post-Soviet near abroad.
Between the irresponsible pandering of politicians and the cockeyed international news coverage it seems likely that many will be deceived by a simplistic narrative of Ukrainian nationalist good guys and Russian bad guys. What a pity that it always seems to take so long to realize we are being failed by our political and news media leaders.
In both cases, the march to war was prepared by simplistic narratives produced and disseminated by feckless media and politicians.