Source CounterPunch

PETROLIA, U.S.--Up until quite recently, even the corporate media noticed something disturbing about the relationship between Ukraine’s ruling party, led by the country’s president, comic and actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a certain group of militant racists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists called the Azov Battalion (and a certain fascist political party formerly called the Social-National Party of Ukraine, on which more below).

Such an overtly hateful and socially retrograde group, wearing their murderous ideology on their sleeves (literally, adorning themselves in Nazi symbolism), seems patently problematic under the prevailing standards of Western elite orthodoxy.

After all, the Trump years had been witness to so much hand-wringing and consternation—all quite justified, to be clear—about the rising tide of populist white nationalism and white supremacist thinking.

What ideological force in American political life could be potent enough to overpower liberal elites’ revulsion at such overt displays of racial hatred and genocidal violence?

Perhaps the only one is the shared faith in American conquest and empire as forces for good in the world.

Though we don’t acknowledge it as such, American imperialist ideology is a form of violent extremism, the warped, anti-social ends-justify-the-means worldview of American nationalists who believe that the U.S. has a right to rule the world.

The American political establishment carries on the pretense that their ultimate goal is to spread freedom and to make the world safe for democracy, but we can’t very well believe that now, not if we’ve paid attention.

To explain coverage of the war in Ukraine requires an awareness and understanding of the totalizing ideology of American imperialism.

There is an interesting conceit in which Western corporate media indulge, whereby the only strategic interests we’re willing to acknowledge are those of the United States.

Under this conceit, it is simply assumed, with no reasons or arguments offered, that the United States government is specially endowed with the right to set the rules for the entire planet; even the semi-literate might have noticed that this belief, held in common amongst the Washington elite of both parties, is not without its historical antecedents.

The United States must rule the world. As Yale University scholar David Bromwich recently wrote in The Nation, the “rules” of the current international order seem to “come from what the US desires at a given moment, and what we can press our allies and our half-willing collaborators to go along with.”

Whether the United States, Russia, or any other great power is wrong or right in any particular instance, this system, a “rules-based” order in which the U.S. makes the rules, is not a realistic or sustainable path to the kind of peace we will need, if we are to avoid a potentially civilization-ending nuclear catastrophe.

Although, as we shall see, the United States and its allies actively provoked this war, the corporate media has succeeded in rallying even liberals (especially liberals) to the cause of American bellicosity.

As Caitlin Johnstone has frequently observed, in a sane world, we would all focus our most focused and trenchant “criticisms on the most powerful and destructive government on earth.”

That today this is regarded as a strange apostasy says something profound about the poisonous monoculture we inhabit. To successfully carry out such an ambitious propaganda strategy in an environment wherein information is so free-moving and readily available is an impressive feat.

No state actor or empire in the history of our species has mastered propaganda, narrative, and thought control quite as fully and expertly as has the American military, national security, and intelligence apparatus. America does marketing and propaganda like no other force in the history of humankind.

The U.S. government and corporate media have made it possible for unthinking American liberals to support BLM activists in one post and cheer on literal neo-Nazis in the next, with nary a thought for the possibility that they’ve been duped into supporting outright racists and antisemites in an opportunistic proxy war the U.S. has been working toward for years, for decades.

The “Western legitimization campaign,” ongoing for almost a decade, has included focused, U.S.-led efforts to minimize the central role of avowed and unapologetic fascists in the 2014 coup; quickly aligning the coup regime with the American government and solidifying ties between the two against Moscow; downplaying the legitimate concerns of millions of Ukrainian citizens who see their interests as aligned with Russia (and, along the same lines, actively and violently denigrating calls for Crimean secession); and calling for sanctions against specific Russian leaders.

There’s no doubt that Ukraine and Russia have a complicated history. As all protest movements do, the Euromaidan demonstrations made for strange bedfellows. Many young liberals believed sincerely that closer ties with the E.U. and the U.S. would improve material conditions and protect Ukraine against Russia. 
At the same time, it is now clear that neo-Nazis and nationalists played an outsized role in the coup and continue to exert their influence on the current Ukrainian government, as even the Western media acknowledged at the time. 
Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist, explicitly-racist Social-National Party changed its name to Svoboda in 2004, prudently abandoning some of its most explicitly fascist and Nazi slogans and symbols.

But the party leadership remained decidedly nationalistic and uncomfortably blood-and-soil oriented, with its leadership made up of outspoken anti-Semites, Russophobes, and Holocaust deniers. 
Indeed, in the years following the coup, Ukraine became “a Mecca for far-right extremists around the world,” who hoped to train with the Azov Battalion, some of the most famous and militant white supremacists in the world.

As legendary Australian journalist John Pilger wrote way back in the spring of 2014, “We in the west are now backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.” 
For its own reasons—drawing the NATO alliance still closer to Russia’s borders, in violation of decades-old promises—the U.S. threw its considerable weight behind Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, who of course shared the requisite views of ethnic Russians and millions of pro-Russians in Ukraine at the time. 
Totally erased from the Western propaganda narrative about the events of 2014 are the legitimate worries regarding U.S. military presence in the Crimean peninsula and the Black Sea.

How would the United States react if similarly threatened? After successfully orchestrating a coup in the country, the U.S. turned Ukraine “into a CIA theme park,” a major strategic focal point of intelligence activities and, yes, war preparations.

The Pentagon and the CIA had, for decades leading up to the coup, looked at Ukraine as a key opportunity. The CIA used legitimate-seeming bodies like the National Endowment for Democracy to stoke anti-Russia sentiments and organize Ukrainian nationalists toward deeper formal and informal ties with the United States and alignment with its imperial interests.

As investigative journalist Kit Klarenberg has reported, the Endowment has readily acknowledged the direct continuity between the CIA’s mission and its own, as well as the Agency’s role in its creation.

And before very recently, there was no immediate need to attempt to cover this connection up.

“The use of philanthropic foundations was the most convenient way to pass large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source.”

Interested observers have known for years that Washington helped pick the winners of the Euromaidan “revolution,” propelling a coup to install a U.S.-friendly government that could be used as a pawn and a proxy in a twenty-first century continuation of the Cold War.

From the very beginning, nationalists, white supremacists, and Nazis took a leading role in the Euromaidan protests, dedicated to bringing about closer ties with a corporate-capitalist, U.S.-aligned West, and overthrowing the government ahead of upcoming elections.

After the coup government came to power, a European Council report found that the new government’s participation in investigations did not accord with the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the government had been “uncooperative and obstructive.” 
To demonstrate its commitment to pluralism and liberal values, the government of Ukraine has permanently banned several political movements and parties (and speech intended to advance them), the Communist Party of Ukraine most notable among them.

This kind of chicanery is, as historian Jeremy Kuzmarov recently observed, necessary to bolster the facially ridiculous Western establishment lie that Russia’s escalation of the conflict was simply unprovoked aggression.

We can acknowledge that the Russian state is wrong (and itself imperialistic in its intentions) without indulging a child’s view of the region that takes American propaganda at face value and ignores well-resourced and focused U.S. attempts to push NATO toward Russia’s borders.

The cold, indisputable fact is that the United States and its NATO allies have broken every promise they’ve ever made regarding the expansion of the Western military alliance. 
Indeed, as this summer’s NATO summit clearly demonstrates, the United States and NATO are committed to endless and limitless expansion both physically and in terms of articulated mission, with China and the Pacific now coming into the Alliance’s crosshairs.

Again, it’s okay for the U.S. and its allies and colonies to have clearly articulated strategic interests and goals—and to use aggressive violence to accomplish them—it’s just not okay for any other country in the world. The military-industrial complex that rules both Washington and the world does clearly acknowledge one governing principle: might makes right.

More than anything else, Westerners, Americans in particular, must understand that the concerted efforts of the U.S. empire and its NATO allies are not helping ordinary people in Ukraine and are not calculated to.

The people of Ukraine are regarded by Washington as expendable costs in a new Cold War (perhaps continuation of the original), “as a proxy force to bleed the Soviet Union,” according to declassified government records.

The lives of Ukrainians on the front lines of this war are, in Washington, seen as necessary collateral in a generation-spanning struggle between great powers, as small factors in a calculus designed to favor American global interests, not the freedom of Ukraine.

American liberals might remember this when they see all those Ukrainian flag emojis on social media—remember the cynical, exploitative goals of an American ruling class determined to weaken Russia’s global power and influence regardless of the front-line human costs. 
Americans should think carefully and critically about this, rather than accepting the jingoistic narratives pushed by corporate media outlets concerned with protecting their access to government officials and war industry executives.

These are the same officials who’ve sold us decades of wars without a single proper declaration of war from Congress. They’ve killed millions and stolen trillions—maybe we have the right to at least wonder whether they’re telling the truth this time.

The war that’s playing out today hurts the innocent families of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and its vassal states—it favors only the imperial aspirations of a war-obsessed, Russia-obsessed American ruling class and a military-industrial complex of which mainstream, moderate leaders in our country have warned for generations.

The war-and-death industry is the foremost beneficiary of the American propaganda campaign, one of the most successful in history, as judged by the numbers.

If the U.S. government and NATO continue to provoke Russia (itself operating out of fear and helmed by a cruel authoritarian), rather than actively seeking peace and diplomacy, they will set the world on a path toward nuclear self-destruction.

The wanton, irresponsible interventions of the CIA have put ordinary, innocent civilians in danger in this conflict, as they always have in past conflicts. As political scientist and Russia expert Richard Sakwa has observed, it is the United States that has most violently and imperiously threatened world peace and stability in the years since World War II.

It is the United States (together with its colonies and imperial tributaries) that has consistently undermined the post-war system of international law established by the United Nations on the basis of the idea that aggressive war is illegal and prohibited, and that sovereign borders should be inviolate. 
Given background conditions in the world, it’s not difficult to see how both the United States and Russia could end up seeing this conflict as having existential stakes. Both will soon be eclipsed by China in power and global influence.

Practitioners of the “view from above” quickly see war and empire for what they are, unconstrained by the kinds of cultural and ideological conditioning that blind us to the violence and aggression of our own in-groups.

I’ve written before about “the interaction between power and knowledge,” about the ways in which our model of the capital T truth is shaped by the ideological paradigms of the powerful. 
This is among the great paradoxes of the human mind: that its firmware seems to create a tension between the natural curiosity that would undermine authority, and a deep bias in favor of conformity and deference to it.

When Pilger happened to meet and interview the Nazi propagandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl in the ‘70s, she talked about the necessary role of the “submissive void” within the German public. 
The “submissive void” was (and is) the public’s willingness to accept the statements of those in power; it is the ease with which we believe the narratives of the ruling class, conforming and submitting.

The submissive void makes the job of the propagandist easy.

The difficult thing has already been accomplished—compelled uniformity of thought through the social and economic ostracization of those who question the dominant narrative. 
Pilger also draws our attention to the insights of his friend, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, who identified Riefenstahl’s “submissive void” with a kind of “hypnosis,” under the influence of which we’re willing to accept lies as the truth, unable to recognize propaganda.

In his Nobel Lecture in 2005, Pinter asked us to look hard at the role of the United States in the world, and at our conditioned blindness to the crimes associated with it:

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.

You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

What Riefenstahl refers to as the “submissive void” and Pinter calls “hypnosis,” Orwell saw as the lack of consciousness associated with total, unthinking orthodoxy.

The expression of this today is the West’s readiness to swallow state and corporate propaganda, the total lack of questioning, the stripping away of any critical capacity.

Russian imperialism and American imperialism are today, as they were during the original Cold War, much more alike than they are different. And our ruling elites are much more alike than different. They are committed to empowering and enriching themselves and their friends, without regard to the human costs. 
Historically, it has been left to the peace movement to begin discussions on the human costs, and those discussions have been met with a predictable response: the anti-war movement is smeared as making apologies for Russia, as aiding a foreign enemy.

That any significant number of Americans could see the ongoing war as somehow unprovoked shows the continued success of the hypnosis Pinter so thoughtfully noticed.

If anyone manages to break the hypnosis, she’s a traitor, or a Nazi sympathizer, or a commie, or a Russian asset, outside of acceptable opinion and so excluded from polite society. This is how the U.S. government and the corporate media have always treated the anti-war movement—traitors whose operations are to be infiltrated and whose members are to be neutralized.

As a peace movement, our goal must always be dialogue and diplomacy, founded upon the pre-governmental recognition of our shared humanity.

If we refuse to acknowledge this shared history and family lineage, we risk the discontinuation of our species—the end of the strangest and most wonderful phenomenon the Big Bang has ever produced. We know that, among extant, intelligent species, we’re one of the most lacking in genetic diversity, meaning that we’re one family, all humans, all around the world. Our DNA is so similar that we should consider ourselves not just friends, but cousins, not just cousins, but siblings.

Any two humans you’ve ever seen in your life are so much more similar than most of us imagine. If we can’t see that, recognize it, and embrace it as a path to peace and humanity, then we will fail the greatest challenge human beings have yet faced: the challenge of having, for the first time ever, the power to destroy everything we’ve built and somehow stopping ourselves from doing that.

Thousands and thousands of generations of our ancestors are calling upon us now to treat each other as kin and to retreat from the kinds of weapons—again, brand new to our species—that could end our story forever.

Can we see each other as weak and vulnerable and worthy of love, as we must to save the lives of children? Can we stop the nuclear madness and understand that with all our power, there must also be kindness and wisdom?

I believe we can, and I believe that humans will defeat the aspects of our humanity that make us “other” our brothers and sisters, instead embracing our shared humanity and story.

Certainly there’s enough to go around for everyone alive today, and for our children and our children’s children.

We have to take peace seriously, or we won’t survive.