It takes enormous courage to protest a war, but when is it ever relevant to do so? There is a crisis in American democracy, yet there is no appetite to protest the decline of diplomacy. Many people believe Russia can’t be reasoned with and any chance for a negotiation is only a dream. Nobody should make a deal with the devil, they say. Americans have been led to believe that the heartbreaking war in Ukraine is beyond diplomacy.
And if there is no more time for talking, where then are we headed? Perhaps our distaste for dissent will weaken America, which was founded on the strength and value of American opinions. Differences of opinion are essential for a functioning democracy, this is the backbone of the first amendment. America’s diversity depends on its multitude of voices, which have never been more important. Dialogue is the practice of democracy.
World history continuously tells the story of peace and power, as progress is gained and lost throughout time. Bertrand Russell was once asked what message he would give to future generations. He suggested the necessity of tolerance, humans must learn to live together.
Intolerance has existed not just in recent history, but as a driving force behind all wars. In the face of global insecurity, only the strengthening of democracy through reason and discussion, has the potential to prevent tyranny. For freedom and equality to exist, disparate voices must be heard. Why then has criticism of the war been so readily dismissed as anti-American?
And why are our celebrities so somnambulant? They have huge audiences and countless opportunities to make their voices heard, but they all seem to support this war. Are wars ever really as simple to understand as winning or losing? They are never simple, wars grow through misunderstandings; and democracy dies without dialogue. Yet many are still convinced this war has no peaceful solutions nor should there be.
The war could end today, without an endless cost of money and lives, if we would only send our best diplomats instead of our most deadly weapons. Putin has met and spoken with many mediators from several different countries, proof that a negotiation has been possible. Besides this, the war still could have been prevented months, if not years in advance. What will ever be won from a preventable war?
Rather than ponder the causes of the conflict, we have chosen instead to pledge ourselves to a dramatic victory, no matter how long it takes. This is not the sorely needed language of de-escalation. Another issue boiling on the surface of this predicament is an irrational fear of what may happen if we do not rush to declare war on an evil we assume will engulf the world. Freedom and democracy will not be saved by unnecessary violence. Fear should not dictate our decisions, especially if our own escalations will worsen this war.
For as much as it is convenient to view the war as one-dimensional, it is important that we remember the immortal words of Heinrich Heine about the burning of books, as relevant today as they were 200 years ago. Even differences in dialect have been enough to instigate animosity in the past. America is unique for its tolerance of many different languages. A poorly understood issue at the center of the war in Ukraine is that it is also a war of languages, which is baffling because Zelensky himself speaks Russian. Diplomacy therefore is needed more desperately than we are willing to realize.
The soul of America is in the voice of its people, in our opinions. We are sadly naive to believe that pacifism is misguided or unrealistic. It seems the lack of antiwar sentiment in America is probably due to our assumptions that we are educated on this war, but since there is no reasonable discussion about de-escalation and diplomacy, we are unfortunately not educated enough.
Edward Alvarez writes from San Diego.