The fantasy of ‘progressive’ U.S. militarism in Ukraine


From Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Libya, to Vietnam, if there’s one lesson to be drawn from modern-day U.S. wars and interventions, it’s that they don’t help! No matter how bipartisan the call, no matter how morally urgent intervention was portrayed as being, in retrospect we know these were disasters. U.S. military intervention only brought greater violence and exploitation to the countries in question.
Reminding us of that lesson is why the U.S. anti-war movement exists. So when it comes to the war in Ukraine, while there’s space in the movement for disagreement and debate on the war’s root causes, the political character of Russia or Ukraine, and other finer details, there can only be agreement about a role for the U.S. war industry in bringing about peace and justice: there isn’t one.
That hard lesson is becoming clearer as the war drags on. U.S. corporate giants like BlackRock, Halliburton and ExxonMobil are using the war as an opportunity to wage “disaster capitalism,” helping privatize Ukraine’s assets and natural resources while saddling it with debt. Much of the billions in U.S. “aid” has gone straight back to U.S. weapons companies. Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO leaders openly frame Ukraine as a proxy war between themselves and Russia, with Ukrainian conscripts serving as little more than politically convenient cannon fodder.
Calling out the destructive U.S. role in Ukraine has been the basis for a vibrant series of demonstrations in the Twin Cities over the past year and a half. Progressive in orientation, these have featured speakers and endorsements from the LGBTQ, immigrant rights, labor, and Black Lives Matter movements, among others. Though relatively small, the protests have provided an important show of dissent from the latest bipartisan war zeitgeist.
It’s clearly ruffled some feathers. In the prior edition of Southside Pride, local activist Kieran Knutson argues that the anti-war movement instead should support U.S. weapons transfers to Ukraine as a supposedly progressive position that helps Ukrainians (“The left’s confusion harms the Ukrainian people,” June 5, 2023).
Knutson does partially acknowledge the harm that U.S. involvement has brought to Ukraine, writing, “When Biden finally agreed to give Ukraine the advanced defensive Patriot missiles, the next week in what looked like a quid pro quo down payment, Zelensky signed an agreement for BlackRock, the huge American multinational investment firm, to run Ukraine’s re-construction.” But instead of connecting the dots, Knutson’s proposed solution is that “aid to Ukraine should be with no strings attached.”
That’s precisely what the anti-war movement is here to remind us is impossible. The modern-day U.S. arms industry isn’t some neutral tool that can be used for good in the right circumstances. It’s part of the military-industrial complex, inseparable from larger political and economic institutions that seek to bring the world under the domination of U.S. corporations.
No one should take that lesson lightly. It’s been written in the blood of millions of Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and others over the past quarter century. Knutson says we must “listen to Ukrainians,” but if we don’t also listen to the many victims of our country’s deeply systemic imperialism and learn and grow from our own painful history, we’ll hear nothing but our own hubris.
The world needs an anti-war movement that can stand strong against U.S. imperialism, even in the belly of the beast itself, even when it’s hard, no matter which party is pushing it. Because when it comes to the U.S. war industry, strings are always attached. We have to dismantle the whole thing!
Wyatt Miller is an organizer with the Minneapolis-based Anti-War Committee, and a member of the administrative committee of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC).

Editor’s Note: Southside Pride supports Ukrainian resistance to the criminal aggression of Russia. We are mindful of the U.S. history of encirclement of Russia with NATO forces, but we agree with the official Chinese statement on the war:
“Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. All parties should jointly uphold the basic norms governing international relations and defend international fairness and justice. Equal and uniform application of international law should be promoted, while double standards must be rejected.”

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