By Walt Zlotow
In 1952, I was blessed, maybe cursed, to have parents who taught me about war and peace as a second grader. Back then it was the Korean War which didn’t make much sense to this 7-year-old. Seventy years on it still doesn’t, just like every other war America has been involved in, whether directly, like Korea, or as with Ukraine today, by proxy.
That early lesson ignited a lifelong fascination with U.S. foreign policy. What became true during all 70 years is that regarding foreign wars and entanglements, one could depend on America. It always lets us down.
For the first decade I fully bought into American moral superiority regarding our Cold War opposition to Soviet communism. That belief was shattered from America’s reaction to the necessary and inevitable Cuban revolution of 1959. In April 1961, we launched a proxy invasion of the tiny Cuban island of six million to overthrow revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. As dastardly as that failed venture was, it paled in comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis just 18 months later that led the world to the brink of nuclear war with Russia. It took a miracle, likely several, to prevent nuclear winter.
Just 17 at the time, I spent 13 days wondering if each day would be my last. At bedtime, I hoped I’d wake up next morning. Surely, I thought afterwards, we’d learned the lesson that foreign adventurism risking nuclear war is madness.
But 60 years on we’re back at first provoking, then prolonging a proxy war with Russia, 5,000 miles from the homeland, with no connection to our national security interests whatsoever. Unlike every other war America has provoked or participated in since October 1962, this one has the capability to go nuclear in a heartbeat from simple error, stupidity, miscalculation or desperation.
America’s provocations, along with our NATO allies and wannabe member Ukraine go back 14 years to our announcement to extend NATO membership to Ukraine, likely and needlessly putting NATO troops and weaponry on Russia’s doorstep. Six years later we inspired and supported a coup to oust the Russian leaning Ukraine president because he wanted to partner economically with Russia.That set off a civil war with Russian speaking Ukrainians in the Donbas that has killed over 14,000, with an all-out Ukrainian invasion against the Donbas in the works early this year. Any wonder why such provocations might inspire the massive Russian invasion in response?
Once begun, the U.S. had but one sensible response: promote negotiations to end the war. Successful negotiations would have resulted in no NATO for Ukraine and regional autonomy for the Donbas. The tragedy is that Ukraine agreed back in 2015 to grant that autonomy under the Minsk II Accords brokered by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. But the Ukraine ultranationalists, elevated to power in both the Ukraine government and military after the 2014 coup, sabotaged Minsk II. The U.S. was all in for that sabotage, viewing successful Minsk II as a victory for Russia that had to be isolated and weakened regardless of the risk that posed.
Instead of negotiations, America responded with $14 billion in military aid with $40 Billion more being passed by Congress this week. That’s $54 billion in American treasure, desperately needed to shore up our crumbling society, to prolong a war destroying Ukraine as a functioning nation.
President Biden, 19 at the time, surely remembers our brush with nuclear war 60 years ago over Cuba. He’s said as much to the most vociferous war lovers in government and the media, calling for a no-fly zone, possible U.S. ground troops, even contemplating a nuclear response. His refusal to negotiate de-escalation while funneling endless weaponry to prolong the war, risks more than further destruction of Ukraine. It puts the world closer to nuclear war anytime since the ’62 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Time for President Biden, his war cabinet of Defense Secretary Austin, Secretary of State Blinken, and the Democratic and Republican Congressional leadership to be locked in a room to watch the 2000 Kevin Costner flick Thirteen Days. They might learn how common sense, real concern for the survival of our planet, and willingness to negotiate a ‘win-win’ agreement with Russia, averted WWIII back in ’62. On second thought, fly in Ukraine president Zelenskyy and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as well. Neither are old enough to remember our 1962 brush with nuclear annihilation.
Speaking of time … it’s running out. And this time there may be no miracles.
Walt Zlotow is coordinator of the West Suburban Peace Coalition, based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.