The drums of fascism keep pounding harder. The West has increased its warmongering, despite the war’s devastation and the outpouring of support for the Ukrainians under brutal Russian attacks. The war shock has become a cinematic spectacle to fuel the flames for militarism. The sheer boldness, violence and ruthlessness of Russia’s attack on Ukraine has created a global political crisis accentuated by both a crisis of ideas and a crisis of historical reckoning, at least in the Western mainstream media.
The wider public’s inability to reflect on the underlying causes of the war is due at least in the United States to its long-standing dominant belief in its own exceptionalism, reinforced by a moral righteousness endlessly reproduced in the mainstream media.
Too often, tragic images of the terrible hardships that the Ukrainian people have to endure are presented with little or no commentary from corporate-controlled cultural apparatuses. The conventional news outlets and other monopolies of information are dominated by endless images of the unfathomable suffering of the Ukrainian people. This is matched almost entirely with a lack of historical analysis. While there is widespread moral disgust at the horrors of war, it is unacceptable that the mainstream media refuses to reflect on the historical and political conditions that led to the war.
The U.S. public is being fed continuous nonstop images of technologically sophisticated weapons being used in Ukraine — in effect this appears to function as a sort of advertisement for the weapons industry, coupled with the sensational presentation of gratuitous violence. This militarized aesthetic is a tool for permanent war, according to Rustom Bhauucha, a cultural critic. writes, “there is an echo of the pornographic in maximizing the pleasure of violence.” The corporate media are thus rendering war as riveting, emotional and free from demanding intellectual complexities since it emerges out of an either/or view of good and evil.
Images of violence are repeated in mainstream media repeatedly, making violence visible and even more rootless. These images are monopolized, giving them a fascist edge and dissolving politics into a cinematic pathology. Writer and philosopher Susan Sontag’s observationToday’s war coverage is more relevant if it is done in a different historical context. 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]These are closely related to forms of rabid masculinity [that] glamorizes death.”
Talking heads from the dominant media landscape create cheap binarisms about goodness and evil, democracy against authoritarianism. In doing so, they reinforce the mythic narrative that the U.S., a model of liberal innocence, is furthering the global fight for democracy, untainted in its false assertion that fascism is always elsewhere — in this case exclusively in Russia. There is almost no talk of the role of the military-industrial complexBoth in its push for war and as the sole winner. It is not even mentioned who profits from war talk, the dramaticization of war, and war itself.
When there are more critical explanations of war, especially those that criticize the eastward expansion by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (NATO), which created one set conditions for the conflict, they are often ridiculed, ignored, or worse, made fun of. accused of being treasonous. In this instance, a rampant militarism collapses the difference between a critical analysis and a justification for Russia’s actions.
As New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz observes, many government spokespersons and pundits who condemn critics of NATO’s role in contributing to the start of the war often fail to distinguish their own “slippage between explanation and justification.” For instance, numerous Democratic lawmakers lambasted the Democratic Socialists of America and accused it of aiding Putin’s war after the socialist organization critiqued NATO’s buildup to the war, despite the fact that it simultaneously condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, calling for an end to “militarization, and other forms of economic and military brinkmanship that will only exacerbate the human toll of this conflict.”
We have seen a similar shutting down of dissent before in the face of catastrophic events, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing “war on terror.” Yet, the frenetic opposition to dissent today seems more dangerous, especially given the multiple cultural platforms calling for “virtual war, for participating in it, and being manipulated by it, [including] crowd funding urban militias on Twitter, posting videos of captured tanks or ‘army cats’ to Instagram and TikTok.”
Too often, community is organized around a brazen war fever feeding off militaristic language. in mainstream outlets such asThe Atlantic. The New Republic. New Yorker. The Financial Times. The Wall Street Journal. In all cases, rightful moral outrage over the brutality of Russia’s unlawful invasion morphed quickly into a fog-of-war hysteria demanding more military aid, more punitive sanctions and bolstered by the discourse of unchecked jingoism. The call for peace and a diplomatic solution is rarely mentioned.
With the conflict in Ukraine raging, nuanced analysis and dissent are lost in the suffocating discourses and militarism that hyper-nationalism and Pankaj Mishra, an Indian essayist and novelist, is fostering. London Review of Books calls “an infotainment media [that] works up citizens into a state of paranoid patriotism.” The military-industrial-intellectual-academic complex has reasserted itself in the face of Russia’s violation of international law, accelerating the prospect, if not welcoming, the potential of another looming Cold War, aided greatly by media apparatuses that bask in the comfort of moral certainty and patriotic inanity. In this culture of hyper-war, military victories have become synonymous with moral victories. Language has been weaponized and ethics are no longer relevant to the urgent call for peace.
The idea of militarization is being pushed to the forefront in the face of the Russian invasion. It is now being used as a call for more advanced weapons. Both at home and abroad, the dominant media discourse is one of war and not peace. This talk fuels a global arms market, oil and gasmonopolies, as well as the weaponization and demonetization of language. The mainstream and right-wing disimagination machines use Militarianism as a tool for unchecked nationalism, patriotism, and to fuel their disinformation machines. Both create what Jackson Lears, an intellectual historian, called “global war fever” through various degrees of misrepresentation. 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:
The US has not placed a cease-fire and neutral Ukraine at its top of its policy agenda. Contrary to popular belief, it has increased the flow weapons to Ukraine. Weapons that had been deployed for eight year to suppress the separatist rebellion in the Donbas have been transferred to Ukraine. US policy prolongs the war, and creates the possibility of a protracted rebellion after a Russian win, which seems likely at the time. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has refused to address Russia’s fear of NATO encirclement. Sometimes we must engage in diplomacy with countries whose actions or policies we find unacceptable. How can one negotiate with a potential diplomatic partner while simultaneously ignoring its security concerns. The answer is no. Without American diplomacy, the Ukraine conflict could well be endless.
The horrendous events in Ukraine have prompted a worldwide response to the horrific acts of violence committed against the Ukrainian people. However, such massive acts have also been committed in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq without the need for similar condemnations or humanitarian assistance from the U.S. or Europe. Moreover, while public outrage in the U.S. is warranted in light of the “horrendous crimes by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians—massacre, murder, and rape, among them,” memory fades, and the line between fantasy and historical consciousness disappears, “erasing the brutalizing crimes committed during America’s Global War on Terror.”
U.S. foreign policies are soaked in blood, torture, violations of civil rights, abductions and kidnappings; targeted and assassinations and illegal black holes; the burned bodies of members of a wedding group in Yemen that was hit by a drone strike; and hundreds of people who were brutally murdered by U.S. troops in the Vietnam village My Lai.
Memory fades in a war culture. Violence is elevated to its most visible mediating force. Logic is rearranged to feed a totalitarian sensibility. Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics Professor has arguedWe live in a time when the relationship between violence and politics is changing. She states: “Rather than politics being pursued through violent means, violence becomes politics. It is not conflict that leads to war but war itself that creates conflict.”
This disproportionate response from the international community and its media outlets lies behind the ghosts colonialism, the merging cultures and the undercurrents that are part of white supremacy. The general indifference to similar acts of war and unimaginable violence can partly be explained by the fact the victims of the Ukrainian conflict 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 shows that racism is not stopped by international borders. Empathy for this war is only superficial. White people are prone to sympathize and even cheer for people who look like them. This was clearly demonstrated 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. [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 summaryThese are just a few:
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 you can write in the Telegraph, Daniel Hannan explained: ‘They seem so like us. This is what makes it so bizarre. Ukraine is a European nation. Its citizens have Instagram accounts and Netflix, and they vote in free elections. They also read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations.’
More than a slip on the tongue, there is also the repressed past of white supremacy. Professor Moustafa Bayoumi, City University of New York, writes 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.”
Evidently, in the age Western colonialism, a larger population is taught to believe that justice should be weighed heavily in favor of people whose skin is the same as those who can decide who lives matter and who doesn’t. These comments also reflect the propaganda machines that have resurfaced with racism on their minds, indifferent to the legacy racism with which they are complicit.
Historical amnesia and prolonged military conflicts combine to make it easier for war to be sold. This would demand not only condemnation but also an exercise with self-scrutiny, with a special focus on the military optic which has been driving U.S. policy since President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned back in the 1950s about the danger of the military industrial complex.
The Ukrainian war is very sinister and stirs deep emotions and moral outrage. But calls to punish Russia fail to recognize the critical need to call for peace. These actions ignore a critical history and mode of analysis which clearly shows that behind the war are long-standing antidemocratic ideologies that have led to massive inequality, catastrophic climate change, poverty and the growing 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. In an age of state violence and militarism, peace is hard to achieve. The only mirror that alleged democratic capitalist or authoritarian societies can see themselves in is war. Instead of being a crisis, war is a chance for power and profits for authoritarian rulers as well as the soulless arms industry, however poorly 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.