What About Putin?

Recently I noted that an interesting aspect of opposing war with Russia in Europe as compared with opposing U.S.-supported wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Yemen is hearing from numerous liberal Democrats that are extremely in favor of this war and irate that I am not.

Yesterday I came under attack by two liberal Democrat-types (both of whom happen to be older female academics) because I am insufficiently moved by warmongering propaganda offered up on NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and other corporate media.

This is a common theme of my days.

In the false binary where if Republicans are bad then Democrats must be good because there are always only two choices, if I’m against NATO I must therefore be in favor of Putin. As the avatar of Catherine the Great’s imperial ambitions in one case (what the what?) when I was castigated for sharing a Facebook memory of a talk about Crimea three years ago organized by friends of mine.

I shared this memory with the comment: “Bruce has been paying attention to NATO encroachment on Ukraine for a while now.”

Here’s the pushback:

For weeks I’ve been hounded with gotcha questions from a certain Twitter account. “What are your views on WWII?” was one of her more absurd questions. Was I supposed to answer in tweets? 

I suggested that this person could read this blog and search for terms like “WWII” to read my essays on the subject. But I don’t think she is actually interested in doing that.

Yesterday’s gotcha question:


Since I’ve been on the receiving end of these gotcha questions for weeks, I’m clear that the subtext is that I appear to be favoring the kind of appeasement that scholars of WWII think led to Hitler’s Germany expanding its territory without much opposition.

I’m not going to concede that Putin is the reincarnation of Hitler no matter how many gotcha questions I am asked.

When I was a young history major the essential question in this field was, How did the German people let the Nazis take over their country?

As I’ve noted in this blog many times, since the unfortunate events of 9/11 it is horrifyingly clear how that happened — because we’re living through it. Information control is an essential part of the military takeover of a society, well along in the case of the U.S. in 2022.

The U.S. imperial project has hundreds (some say 800, depending on how you define “military base”) of military installations in other countries. It has invaded and occupied numerous countries, and coup’d or regime changed a long list of others. Its leading space entrepreneur, a man who is deeply embedded in U.S. programs to militarize space, has tweeted “We’ll coup anyone we want” in reference to toppling democratically elected governments to gain access to their mineral reserves.

“NATO expansion in Europe”  Source: Counterfire.org

Or just take a look at NATO and how it has been used to expand U.S. imperial ambitions steadily since its inception.

There are some salient facts about the current crisis that those jumping on the bandwagon to demonize Putin either don’t know about or tend to forget.

#1 is expressed well here by Nina Beety, an anti-nuclear activist and academic who is able to see past the corporate media narrative of “Putin Bad” that we are all supposed to adhere to:

The 2015 Minsk-2 agreement required dialogue between Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kiev, which Kiev has refused to do, and all foreign actors were to withdraw personnel and equipment from Ukraine, which the U.S., UK, and Poland have refused to do [emphasis mine]. 

Instead, 150,000 Ukrainian soldiers, U.S., UK, and Polish personnel and increasing amounts of weaponry are massing near the communities of eastern Ukraine, reportedly preparing to attack, in violation of Minsk. 

#2 can be found by perusing George Washington University’s National Security Archives website. Their 2017 article on this topic begins:

 U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu). 

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels. 

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.”…

The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.” 

#3 is a fact that few know about but which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I heard it shared on an antiwar organizing call last week: after the 2014 coup, the U.S. intended to put a naval base in Crimea. This led to a vote on whether or not the people favored annexation by Russia and, in a landslide, they did.


A local resident rescues a dog from a fire in a house destroyed in the Ukrainian armed forces’ air attack on the village of Luganskaya on July 2, 2014 (RIA Novosti/Valeriy Melnikov) © RIA Novosti  source: Russia Today video

#4 is an example of so-called “facts on the ground” which are easily documented but which the corporate press in the U.S. steadfastly refuse to report: Ukraine has been shelling civilians in the Donbass region — i.e. on their border with Russia — for years and has killed around 14,000 and injured many others.

But, yeah, Putin bad. All you need to know. Get back to work or playing wordle. 

You’ll need to look up when WWIII begins with another land war in Europe. At that point, probably the only salient fact left will be that the Russian Federation has pledged no first use of nukes, while the U.S. has adamantly refused to promise the same security measures to preserve life on the planet.

There’s an old Russian saying that in really sophisticated propaganda, even its opposite is not true. 

So if “Putin bad” is not true, maybe “Putin good” is not true either. 

That said, I would appreciate it if my critics would stop imposing their false binary on me.

#BlackHistoryMonth The Case For Reparations

Staff Sergeant Herbert Ellison explains the G.I. Bill of Rights to the African American members of the quartermaster trucking company. Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

One of my proudest moments as a mom is when one of my kids as an undergrad got his essay making the case for reparations included in a philosophy textbook. Of course I read it at the time and admired it, and of course I can no longer find it in my copious archives. 

Also of course we know that Black author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2019 essay “The Case for Reparations” has become part of the canon at this point. 

An excerpt:

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. 

Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

Now, in 2022, the U.S. is still far from whole and in fact becoming more fragmented every day. There’s an essay in that, but what I’d like to focus on today is one of the most surprising things I learned when I still worked as a history teacher.

First group of Black members of the Women’s Army Corps assigned to serve overseas in 1945, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. (U.S. Department of Defense/National Archives)

Black veterans of WWII did not receive their GI bill benefits.

Only a white person could be as incredulous as I was when I found this out rather late in life.

My own father went to college on the G.I. bill. My maternal grandfather refused to use his G.I. bill benefits as he was so digusted by the Army that drafted him and sent him into Nagasaki after destroying the city and its inhabitants with a nuclear bomb.

The original bill in 1944 was written to offer equal opportunities for all veterans to access funds for education and loan guarantees to buy homes. 

Unfortunately, the states and local governments were then empowered to disburse the funds. So Black GI’s were turned down when applying for tuition or home loan guarantees that white veterans were getting. 

Local control often sounds good on paper but mostly, I believe, results in lack of equity and a continuation of structural racism. Black Girl in Maine blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley recently called on white “allies” to stop with the empty performances of antiracism and run for office.

She’s not wrong. (Full disclosure: I just made another reparations payment, albeit small, but something I do regularly. You can, too.)

In the super right wing area where I live, me getting elected is doubtful and I can no longer drive after dark anyway. These are true facts but it is also true that I would rather crawl over broken glass than sit through discussions of snow plow purchases and bus maintenance past my bedtime. Foreign policy is my thing, as progressive school curriculum was for 25 years. So, yes, I have guilt about this.

Back to the case for reparations.

What are the generational impacts of being shut out of home ownership and/or college tuition?

 Just some of the long-term effects:

  • Paying rent to build someone else’s equity rather than your own.
  • Being unable to leverage the resource of equity in real estate to educate your kids, or refinance to improve your home, or buy a car, or whatever else people do via refinancing their mortgage.
  • Lack of access to jobs that require college degree(s) and have real financial benefits over the long term e.g. full coverage health care, employer contributions to retirement savings, company car, etc.
  • Lack of access to generational wealth, the resource other people use to finance the costs of college and grad school, or make a down payment on a first home, or the capital to start a business.

Median net worth for white families in the 2019 study above: $188,000.

Median net worth for Black families in the 2019 study above: $24,000.

Enforced poverty is a structural problem, and poverty has a cascade of associated problems including poor health, shortened life expectancy, high maternal mortality, and a reduced ability to bounce back from an emergency, accident, or illness.

I didn’t create these conditions but I have certainly benefited from them in the working class/middle class family I come from. It would be impossible to live in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from the legacy of slavery and white supremacy.

https://youtu.be/kcCnQ3iRkys

I hope if you’re white like me you’ll find recipients and make your reparation payments today.

Another group whose work I admire and contribute to is the Black Alliance for Peace

But follow your heart. Go ahead and share your wealth with a Black author, artist, athlete, student, organizer, or another Black person you know or know about.

Important point: make your reparations payments with no strings attached. 

The recipients don’t owe us anything. On the contrary, we owe them.