On John Lennon’s Birthday, a Few Words About War, by Matt Taibbi

When did war become a good idea? From Matt Taibbi at taibbi.substack.com:

Why “pacifists” aren’t “fascifists”

John Lennon was born October 9, 1940. He would have been 82 today.

In 1972, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond sent a letter to the office of Attorney General John Mitchell, suggesting Lennon be deported. Thurmond believed Lennon’s antiwar and anti-Nixon views would spread in rock concerts and festivals, and cited a “confidential source” in saying, “if Lennon’s visa is terminated it would be a strategy counter-measure.” Mitchell’s deputy sent a letter to the Immigration Commissioner asking if there was “any basis” to deport Lennon. A court battle ended with a Judge named Irving Kaufman striking down his deportation, writing:

Lennon’s four-year battle to remain in our country is a testimony to his faith in this American dream.

Though I’m more a fan of Strawberry Fields than kumbaya anthems like “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance,” I figured someone ought to say a word or two in defense of nonviolence on John Lennon’s birthday.

Targeted by the hated Richard Nixon administration in 1972, Lennon today would be denounced across the spectrum, thanks to a new, relentless public relations campaign equating peace advocacy with fascism, Putinism, Trumpism, even terrorism. The term fascifist, lifted from the WWII era and an old essay by George Orwell, has been revived and is suddenly very visible on social media. The pertinent passage from Orwell’s 1942 “Pacifism and the War” reads:

Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other… The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security.

Writer James Kirchick recently made the same point in The Atlantic.How the Anti-war Camp Went Intellectually Bankrupt” reads like an epitaph for antiwar thinking. Citing the same Orwell essay, Kirchick denounces the “motley collection of voices” pushing restraint after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Ranging from anti-imperialists on the left to isolationists on the right and more respectable “realists” in between, these critics are not pacifists in the strict sense of the term. Few if any oppose the use of force as a matter of principle. But nor are they neutral. It is not sufficient, they say, for the West to cut off its supply of defensive weaponry to Ukraine. It must also atone for “provoking” Russia to attack its smaller, peaceful, democratic neighbor, and work at finding a resolution that satisfies what Moscow calls its “legitimate security interests.” In this, today’s anti-war caucus is objectively pro-fascist.

To these people humanity is perennially stuck in 1938, after Hitler annexed the Sudetenland. At that crucial moment, much celebrated in American and British film and literature, there was a split in the West. On one side sat the Churchills of the world, brave sages who saw what was coming and scrambled to act appropriately. On the other side sat the pacifists. They weren’t merely mistaken about the future. That would be too kind an assessment. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they were villains, rooting for fascist victory.

Even Orwell decried the “psychological processes” by which “pacifists who have started out with an alleged horror of violence end up with a marked tendency to be fascinated by the success and power of Nazism.” Kirchick’s essay, which denounces everyone from Ron Paul to Grayzone to Noam Chomsky to John Mearsheimer (I’d probably be on the list, if Kirchick considered me worth the trouble), echoes a similar assessment. It’s argued that underneath all the isolationist or “anti-imperialist” bluster, “realists” are more like collaborationists, with a secret, barely submerged desire to see foreign tyranny win.

This is also how writers from the Brookings Institute saw things in an October 3 article, “U.S. Podcasters Spread Kremlin narratives on Nord Stream sabotage,” which deemed all those skeptical that Russia blew up its own Nord Stream pipeline “Kremlin messengers.” The Brookings thesis is that all was well, until a September 27 episode of Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox, which pointed the finger at Washington. Carlson’s show, Brookings argued, inspired sixteen different podcasts to promote the “conspiracy theory” that the United States was behind the blasts, despite the fact that “experts broadly agree that Russia is the key suspect.” They even made a graph virtually depicting the spread of the Kremlin/pacifist virus:

Once again, antiwar sentiment is seen as an outgrowth of privilege, naïveté about how the world works, and sympathy with foreign terror. Add the widespread belief that China, Russia, and right-wing “populism” constitute a united front against the “rules-based international order,” and you can see the logic, even necessity, in arguing for suppression of antiwar thought. We’re beyond even what New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote years ago, in a piece opposing a ban of nuclear weapons, i.e. that “peace is too serious a matter to be left to pacifists.” It’s worse than that. Pacifism is now understood to be found exclusively among people who are themselves immediate threats to peace, who need censoring or worse.

The armchair hawks littering the media landscape now — there are a ton of them, from Stephens to Anne Appelbaum to Max Boot to David Frum and Bill Kristol and on and on and on — always leave out that we’re not in 1938 Germany. They ignore that modern American history is, in fact, a decades-long string of disastrous efforts to rally the population to war based on misapplications of exactly this “Hitler just entered the Sudetenland” argument.

The “domino theory” we used to justify invading Vietnam had roots in Munich conference nightmares of inevitable world domination. That theory wasn’t just wrong — it turned out the fall of Vietnam did not lead to fluoride-addled commies seizing the Elks clubs of small-town America — it led to a brutal occupation that tarnished our name for a generation. The world saw the U.S. bombing and poisoning millions of poor farmers for a cause so obscure, we had to invent metrics to describe success, e.g. “truck kills” and “body counts,” that made us sound nearly as crazy as Nazis.

Over the years we similarly invoked Hitler before attacking Iraq (which left Mesopotamia a borderless 8th-century outpost and spurred a horrific refugee problem) and Libya (which replaced a brutal dictator with no government at all), to say nothing of interventions big and small in Syria, Serbia, Iran, and other spots around the globe, often based on similarly dubious terrors about the peril of affronts to American “credibility.” Something like domino-theory fear was behind the post-1991 idea that we needed to meddle in Russian elections (to prevent the spread of communism anew) and push NATO as close to Russia’s borders as possible. “Americans should be prepared, when the time comes, to have their people die for Poland,” is how End of History author Francis Fukuyama put it then.

When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the members of this militarist tribe weren’t sad. They were animated as hell and motivated suddenly to churn out Atlantic editorials celebrating the end of the malaise that for about ten minutes hovered over the cause of American power projection after Afghanistan’s collapse. They still suffer from the disease of modern American thought that endorses “regime change” as a solution to every real or imagined security threat, a reflex that, in case anyone forgot, has ended in tears every time it’s been tried in real life. They believe this is the only road out of the Russia-Ukraine mess. They’re welcome to that belief, but those of us who’d like to note their long track records of being not just wrong but insanely so should be able to express ourselves without being branded traitors.

The “bed-in” led half a century ago by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono was denounced as a dumb stunt by a tone-deaf celebrity couple, using terms like “clueless,” “illegible,” “naive,” and “ineffective.” The pair’s peace patter and naked photo shoots are still ridiculed as representative of antiwar activism that supposedly assumes the world runs on flowers, free love, and finger paints. Even the dumbest pacifist, however, never did anything as stupid and destructive as the bombing of North Vietnam, the invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, or the “liberation” of Libya (or the invasions of Chechnya and Ukraine, for that matter).

All those disasters took place because both American and Russian societies are built on war as an organizing principle, and this is where John and Yoko were right: we should give peace a chance. We spend a trillion dollars a year on war and none on nonviolence. This problem is visible in Ukraine policy. People who aren’t trained in conflict resolution but are propagandized to believe in idiocies like the “surgical strike” or “acceptable losses” always think even the thorniest political problems have tactical solutions. They’re more likely to play chicken with nuclear annihilation, maybe by blowing up a pipeline, then risk looking weak via a cease-fire proposal.

Yes, this time it really could be 1938. It could also be 1914, when a chain-reaction of lunatic escalations spun a localized conflict into a global conflagration costing millions of senseless deaths. Worrying about the latter isn’t treason, it’s what Orwell called “elementary common sense.” It all comes down to a miserable calculation about how vital you think stopping Putin in Ukraine is or isn’t to global stability. Anyone who says this is an easy call has not thought this through, especially given our atrocious record when it comes to trying to to decrease international tension through the use of force. By any measure, we suck at it, and unlike previous wars, we can’t afford to screw this one up.

Either way, the hawks being in charge for so long, and beating the drum for campaigns like Russiagate, means there’s no longer a back channel to negotiate an end to what even the president is calling a new Cuban Missile Crisis. Even Biden is murmuring about maybe giving Putin an “off-ramp” to end this thing, but if pundits have their way, that will never happen. They’d prefer escalation, despite the fact that the next step is world war. These people are crazy, and we should be allowed to say so. Could peaceniks really do worse?

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