By Ray McGovern, April 14, 2022
In the Judeo-Christian tradition we recall today and tomorrow the Passover meal that a Palestinian Jew named Jesus of Nazareth arranged for his friends AND their families (Sorry: Leonardo de Vinci was actually not there to paint it; no one sketched it; and cameras were prohibited in the Upper Room). Jesus had two main messages (excerpts are from John 14 & 15, Eugene H. Peterson translation):
1 — “Remember the root command: Love one another”; and
2 — “Expect rough times ahead: They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor.” (Ed., they may even throw you off Twitter and Facebook today for saying radically true things.)
Many of us who call ourselves Christians have — how best to say this — prescinded from those two key admonitions over these past 2000 years. More specifically, those of us who call ourselves North Americans have not shaken off what has been called, correctly, our country’s “original sin” — racism.
To our discredit, this lingering sore remains open: here is James Baldwin writing to Angela Davis 52 years ago during a war against brown people in Vietnam:
Let me put it this way, Angela. As long as white Americans take refuge in their whiteness… they will allow millions of other people to be slaughtered... So long as their whiteness puts so sinister a distance between their own experience and the experience of others, they will never feel themselves sufficiently worthwhile to become responsible for themselves. [Emphasis added]
A Half-Century Later: Giroux
More recently, Henry A. Giroux has brought us up to date with candid commentary ( See: https://truthout.org/articles/nonstop-corporate-news-on-ukraine-is-fueling-support-for-unchecked-us-militarism/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=77fff940-46b2-4233-a46f-c6b8512452b6 ).
It is abundantly clear that we in the U.S. are now called to summon the courage to acknowledge the role of racism in our “exceptional” foreign — as well as domestic — policy. The challenge is to do what we can to force the needed changes — if not simply because it is the right thing to do, then because Ukraine has now split the world between an all-white “West” and people of color (with the Russians so media-blackened over the past decade that they readily fall into the “colored” category). From an amoral perspective, the international relations school of “realism” would note that there are far more of “them” than there are of us whites.
Henry Giroux is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University. I found it very hard to pare down what he has to say; I hope you will the following excerpts:
… Images of violence are replayed in the mainstream media over and over again, making violence not only more visible but also rootless. The sheer monopoly of such images gives them a fascist edge, all the while dissolving politics into a cinematic pathology. Writer and philosopher Susan Sontag’s observation about war coverage, made in a different historical context, is even more relevant today. According to Sontag, the endless images of war and suffering, removed from the context of rigorous historical analysis, represent a contempt for “all that is reflective, critical and pluralistic [and are] linked to forms of rabid masculinity [that] glamorizes death.” [Emphasis added.] …
In the face of the brutal Russian invasion, the concept of militarization is being amplified and put into service as a call for more upgraded weapons. Talk of war, not peace, dominates the mainstream media landscapes both at home and abroad. Such talk also fuels a global arms industry, oil and gas monopolies, and the weaponization of language itself. Militarism as a tool of unchecked nationalism and patriotism drives the mainstream and right-wing disimagination machines. Both fuel a global war fever through different degrees of misrepresentation and create what intellectual historian Jackson Lears writing in the London Review of Books calls “an atmosphere “poisoned by militarist rants.” He goes further in regarding his critique of the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine, writing in the New York Review of Books:
Yet the US has failed to put a cease-fire and a neutral Ukraine at the forefront of its policy agenda there. Quite the contrary: it has dramatically increased the flow of weapons to Ukraine, which had already been deployed for eight years to suppress the separatist uprising in the Donbas. US policy prolongs the war and creates the likelihood of a protracted insurgency after a Russian victory, which seems probable at this writing. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has refused to address Russia’s fear of NATO encirclement. Sometimes we must conduct diplomacy with nations whose actions we deplore. How does one negotiate with any potential diplomatic partner while ignoring its security concerns? The answer, of course, is that one does not. Without serious American diplomacy, the Ukraine war, too, may well become endless. …
Behind this disproportionate response by the international community and its media platforms lies the ghosts of colonialism and the merging of culture and the undercurrents of white supremacy. For example, the general indifference to comparable acts of war and unspeakable violence can be in part explained by the fact that the Ukrainian victims appearing on the mass media are white Europeans. What is not shown are “Black people being refused at border crossings in favor of white Ukrainians, leaving them stuck at borders for days in brutal conditions [or] Black people being pushed off trains.” The mainstream media celebrate Poland’s welcoming of Ukrainian refugees but are silent about the Polish government boasting about building walls and “creating a ‘fortress’ to keep out refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.”
The war in Ukraine makes clear that racism is not deterred by global boundaries. Empathy in this war only runs skin deep. It is easy for white people in the media to sympathize with people who look just like them. This was made clear when CBS News Senior Correspondent Charlie D’Agata, reporting on the war, stated that it was hard to watch the violence waged against Ukrainians because Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European [country] … one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.” In this case, “civilized,” is code for white. D’Agata simply echoed the obvious normalization of racism as is clear in a number of comments that appeared in the mainstream press. The Guardian offered a summary of just a few, which include the following:
The BBC interviewed a former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, who told the network: ‘It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair … being killed every day.’ Rather than question or challenge the comment, the BBC host flatly replied, ‘I understand and respect the emotion.’ On France’s BFM TV, journalist Phillipe Corbé stated this about Ukraine: ‘We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin. We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives…. And writing in the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan explained: ‘They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations.’
There is more here than a slip of the tongue; there is also the repressed history of white supremacy. As City University of New York Professor Moustafa Bayoumi writing in The Guardian observes, all of these comments point to a deeply ingrained and “pernicious racism that permeates today’s war coverage and seeps into its fabric like a stain that won’t go away. The implication is clear: war is a natural state for people of color, while white people naturally gravitate toward peace.”
Clearly, in the age of Western colonialism, a larger public is taught to take for granted that justice should weigh largely in favor of people whose skin color is the same as those who have the power to define whose lives count and whose do not. These comments are also emblematic of the propaganda machines that have resurfaced with the scourge of racism on their hands, indifferent to the legacy of racism with which they are complicit.
Historical amnesia and a prolonged military conflict combine making it easier to sell war rather than peace, which would demand not only condemnation of Russia but also an exercise in self-scrutiny with a particular focus on the military optic that has been driving U.S. foreign policy since President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in the 1950s of the danger of the military-industrial complex.
The Ukrainian war is truly insidious and rouses the deepest sympathies and robust moral outrage, but the calls to punish Russia overlook the equally crucial need to call for peace. In doing so, such actions ignore a crucial history and mode of analysis that make clear that behind this war are long-standing anti-democratic ideologies that have given us massive inequality, disastrous climate change, poverty, racial apartheid and the increasing threat of nuclear war.
War never escapes the tragedies it produces and is almost always an outgrowth of the dreams of the powerful — which always guarantees a world draped in suffering and death. Peace is difficult in an age when culture is organized around the interrelated discourse of militarism and state violence. War has become the only mirror in which alleged democratic capitalist and authoritarian societies recognize themselves. Rather than defined as a crisis, war for authoritarian rulers and the soulless arms industries becomes an opportunity for power and profits, however ill-conceived.
Peace demands a different assertion of collective identity, a different ethical posture and value system that takes seriously Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s admonition that human beings must do everything not to “spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear annihilation.” This is not merely a matter of conscience or resistance but of survival itself. [End of excerpts from Giroux.]