35. DISASTERS, PESTILENCE AND NOW … WAR
The rhetoric of conflict
Global warming has led to severe flooding and fires around the world, and the consequences on humans, animals and the environment are only just beginning. While the jury is not out in full, it is straining at the exit door to point the finger at greed and indiscrimination, from the profit-mongering multinationals (Amazon) to denial-posturing despots like Bolsonaro (the Amazon). On top of this planet bashing came the pandemic that made fact out of fiction (except, of course, for the deniers), and an opportunity, perversely one might argue, for the world to get together as one and tackle this very real threat. The rapid development of vaccines suggested that humans could do something good together - only the problem was that it was a remedy for the rich. But just as Europe was starting to ease all the covid restrictions and slip into its apparent comfort zone, along comes a 69-year-old tsar, short on stature but high on ambition.
Predictions made by Nostradamus over five and a half centuries ago, including the onset of climate change, pandemic and conflict in Europe. Of course, the words of a 16th century French astrologer, physician and reputed seer can be interpreted to fit current events. One can even conjure up other predictions such as the second coming (of an antichrist) as we look for irrational 'told you so' strands to explain the current wave of crises that have become very real. The violence and devastation of a foreign living room stream into our own, so far, safe living rooms. The trauma is tangible. And yet we have to decipher the language of the communication of events whereby this 'special military operation' (read: war) in Ukraine and the 'denazification' (read: coup) of its government drew a powerful wave of economic sanctions from The Empire of Lies (read: EU, US & NATO).
Backed by some kind of absurd and gruesome pantomime of verbal posturing, the 'liberator' (read: usurper) embarked on its mission to come to the aid of the Russian minority in Ukraine. An 'invasion' to all outside Russia, and to many inside Russia. Not that we know the whole story of Dombas - one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist (read: PLO, IRA, ETA). The actual physical war of death and destruction is also a war of words. And these words have intensified with the fighting. Putin's claim of "aggressive statements" by NATO are obviously damaging enough for him to put Russia's nuclear deterrent system on high alert. In answer to this, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it "dangerous rhetoric" and "irresponsible behaviour." And of course, when you combine this rhetoric with what they are doing on the ground in Ukraine - waging war against an independent, sovereign nation, conducting a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine - this adds to the seriousness of the situation. To which Putin contends that Russia does not recognise Ukraine as a sovereign nation. Or, in the pantomime of words, "oh yes it is, oh no it isn't."
Whether the situation escalates or can somehow be defused remains to be seen. But the wording of the exchanges could prove to be vital. And the erstwhile actor who became president and heroic figurehead of the besieged nation has engaged his own dramatic rhetoric in the battle of words in his address to the EU: "Prove that you indeed are Europeans and that life will win over death, and light will win over darkness." At the time of writing, the colder undertones of the invader chill the ear: "We urge Ukrainian citizens involved by Ukrainian nationalists in provocations against Russia, as well as Kiev residents living near relay stations, to leave their homes." The battle lines are well and truly drawn. The tragedy continues to play out.
History often rhymes
In 1853, the Crimean War became the first international conflict to involve photography and the day-to-day transmission of events to the general public. The Russian Empire's expansionism had led it into direct contact with a declining Ottoman Empire, causing Tsar Nicholas I to issue an ultimatum that all Orthodox Ottoman subjects be placed under his protection. When this was rejected, he invaded - but failed to predict that this would unite the British, French and Austrian Empires against him. By 1856, the war had drained the Russian treasury and irreparably damaged Russia's reputation and influence. History doesn't necessarily repeat, but it often rhymes.
The images coming out of Ukraine have shocked and united people around the world, much as they did almost 200 years ago. But not everybody has been reached. Today, Russia is using the language of war to obscure meaning at home, threatening any media which fails to call it a 'special military operation' and claiming 'denazification' as their goal (never mind that the grandfather of Ukraine's president died in the Holocaust). Far away from the frontlines, it can be difficult to see how we can help. But at the very least, we can push back against the narrative by calling the war by its true name: an unjust invasion attempting to resurrect the obsolete concept of empire. And the message from much of the world is clear. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.