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The Double Standard of War
By Fred Samia
To Aeschylus' dictum that truth is war's first casualty should perhaps be added "perspective." What we believe in and then put our energies into often depends on our perspective of the event observed. And perspective is influenced by what we think we know; and in this digital day and age, more and more, that "knowledge" flows from increasingly limited and controlled sources. It's not so much that we are told what to think (at least not in the West, and at least not yet), but rather the breadth of what we are given to think about flows from a diaphragm widened or reduced at the behest and service of fewer and fewer entities. (And it's more important than ever to know the difference between knowledge and information.)
Several days into the invasion of Ukraine, a widely circulated photograph of two high-rise buildings hit by rockets drew international condemnation for Russia's seeming wanton attack on civilians. The photo, however, was of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in May of last year, which passed then with little to no outrage expressed even though those targeted were also innocent.
Russia, of course, should be condemned for its unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine. But in the rush to excoriate Putin and his supporters, such as Belorussian president, Lukashenko, no mention is made of the invasion and occupation by the United States (and its "Coalition of the Willing'') of Iraq and Afghanistan. No moral judgments invoked for the destruction and devastation those wars caused and continue to cause in those countries. No sanctions enforced. No question asked as to what right was invoked to justify the attacks nor by what authority they were executed. That same silence, with notable exceptions, met Israel's military assault on the sovereign nation of Lebanon in the early 1980s that resulted in 50,000 casualties and vast destruction to villages and cities, including Beirut, as well as much of the country's infrastructure. Nor are Palestinians praised as freedom fighters when they strike back at those who have occupied their territory for the past 74 years.
Millions of Ukrainian refugees are finding shelter and care in neighboring countries as well as further distanced EU nations like England and Germany. From very nearly the beginning of Russia's invasion the borders to those countries have been open; visa and passport requirements removed and residency requirements relaxed. Again, this is the right thing to do, to care for our sisters and brothers less fortunate. And yet again here we see how perspective affects perception. Numerous Western commentators, pundits and politicians have referred to Ukrainian refugees as being so like the people in the countries taking them in, which, frequently, is a not very veiled reference to their skin and eye color and to their culture and lifestyle. Light-complected and eyed Ukrainians flow across borders to a mass of material and financial assistance. Contrast that with how refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have recently been treated by these same countries. A few years ago, Syrian refugees fleeing their war-devastated country were beaten and shot by Turkish border police, resulting in several deaths. And just last year thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia were stuck in a dense forest along the Polish-Belarussian border from where news footage showed the Polish army beating them back across the border into Belarus. Some refugees, it would seem, are more deserving of our sympathy and assistance than others.
Is it fair to compare these events? Depends on one's perspective. And especially one's perspective of the truth—truth being a seemingly viscous and fungible commodity these days, except that the information exchanged no longer needs to be equitable, and in fact is often the complete opposite. The truth is whatever those at the podium declare it to be: whether a claim of a stolen election or the rightness of the "liberation" of a country from "neo-Nazis" or "religious fundamentalists." When truth is no longer anchored to fact, one's very existence is called into question. I think, therefore I am, can easily be modified to: You are not entitled to an opinion; therefore you don't exist.
Here's a truth: no good whatsoever comes from any war. We know this, or should know it, by undeniable historical experience. There are only losers in war. War creates war; becomes a fire-breathing hydra spreading death and devastation. How, at this stage in our "evolution," humankind has not learned that, has not had it seared into its DNA, is unfathomable.
As of this writing (3/25/2022), Ukraine is claiming to have killed as many as 7,000 Russian soldiers, and though this may be an inflated number, it is certain that many hundreds, if not thousands, have been killed and injured. Our first reaction might be joy (as well as surprise that the vastly out-numbered and out-equipped Ukrainian forces are doing so well) to see the invaders get their comeuppance. But, as someone who was a "troop," I can also feel for those who were manipulated into believing in the justness of the cause they were recruited to, just as I was. There are reports that conscripts are filling out the Russian ranks, though this is denied by Putin's military leaders. And most army enlistees are from rural, less developed areas and poorer towns of Russia. As in this country, the military is seen as a way out of poverty for those young men, or at least as a means of attaining a better life because there are no living wage jobs available. So, in essence, there as here, there is a de facto economic draft.
After birthing a child with a severe genetic disease caused by both parents carrying a damaged gene (1:1-million odds) a couple I know was able to have a normal child after doctors determined that the new fertilized egg was not damaged. A small example of the wondrous good that humankind is capable of, and makes the on-going disease of war that much more senseless and horrific. If all of our energies, resources and will went to doing good, a near paradise could be engendered here on planet Earth.
That won't happen, though, until the double-standard of how we treat all our sisters and brothers is no longer.
Fred Samia is a free-lance journalist who has worked in the Middle East. He served in Vietnam with A Co, 3rd Tanks, 3rd Mar Div, 1967-68; his eight decorations include the Purple Heart. He has been a member of VVAW since 1970.