Reflections on the ‘Stupid and Wicked’

During an interview with the BBC in 1959, Bertrand Russell was asked about his efforts campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Some things, I think, are self-evident, and the desirability of avoiding a nuclear holocaust is one of them. Advocating for the elimination of genocidal weaponry should require very little further justification, but Russell was courteous and responded by saying, "I can’t bear the thought of many hundreds of millions of people dying in agony, only and solely because the rulers of the world are stupid and wicked."

The actions of the "stupid and wicked" are on display in Eastern Europe, and they have provided fresh inspiration for talk of nuclear war. The commander of US Strategic Command recently said, "this Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup," and "the big one is coming." During a fundraising event, Joe Biden alluded to Russia’s willingness to use nuclear weaponry, saying Putin is "not bluffing" when he insinuates he would do so. The Russians and the Americans are both conducting war games in Europe, simultaneously rehearsing the use of nuclear weapons. Both feel it necessary to have a trial performance for actions that would likely extinguish human life if they ever enacted these performances.

If someone wished to apportion blame for the crisis in Ukraine, it would be distributed among many entities; the ranks of the "stupid and wicked" are rather swollen. The Russian state started a war of aggression, violating the UN Charter and committing "the supreme international crime," as the Nuremberg Tribunal described it. Within the context of this quintessential war crime, they’ve committed others. They conducted fraudulent referendums in four Ukrainian oblasts and used the results as a pretext to extend Russian sovereignty into those regions. And Russian officials have made repeated insinuations about the use of nuclear weapons.

The American role in creating the conditions that led to the current crisis shouldn’t be ignored, and the American refusal to pursue a diplomatic settlement cannot remain unchallenged. In an interview published a month into the invasion, Chas Freeman, a former US diplomat, encapsulated the Biden administration’s policy by saying the US was willing to fight Russia "to the last Ukrainian." Advancing perceived American geopolitical interests are prioritized over the well-being of Ukrainians, which should be unsurprising to those without a naïve view of how states function.

The Biden administration has acted in opposition to a diplomatic settlement to the conflict since before the invasion in February. During an interview with a foreign policy website called War on the Rocks, Derek Chollet, a counselor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, confirmed the American’s unwillingness to discuss the extension of NATO into Ukraine in the lead-up to the invasion. He called the potential inclusion of Ukraine in NATO a "non-issue," which is a rather flippant way to treat Russia’s security concerns.

There was a clear lack of convergence between the administration’s publicly stated position and that which they adhered to privately: during an interview with Fareed Zakaria on March 20th, the Ukrainian President spoke about his desire for clarity about Ukraine’s future in NATO. He said, "I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no." The Biden administration told him that "you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open."

Negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials occurred in Istanbul starting in late March, and a tentative agreement was reached in early April. The UK Prime Boris Johnson found this objectionable, so he went to Kyiv and told the Ukrainians that the Russians "should be pressured, not negotiated with," and "even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin, they are not." The Turkish Foreign Minister later said, "there are countries within NATO who want the war to continue," and "they want Russia to become weaker." Lloyd Austin, America’s Secretary of Defense, further confirmed this by saying, "We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine." The spokesperson for the State Department said that "this is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine."

The Washington Post published a story saying that "Privately, US officials say neither Russia nor Ukraine is capable of winning the war outright, but they have ruled out the idea of pushing or even nudging Ukraine to the negotiating table." This intolerably misrepresents the American position. The "stupid and wicked" have prevented negotiations from achieving an end to the war; characterizing this as an unwillingness to "nudge" Ukraine towards a diplomatic settlement is an absurd departure from the facts.

The "stupid and wicked" are causing the suffering of millions of Ukrainians because they perceive their imperial interests to be of greater importance than the well-being of human beings, and they’re risking an even greater tragedy considering the nuclear arsenals of the Nations involved. The obscenity of this shouldn’t be missed.

Brendan O’Soro is an independent writer from western Massachusetts. He writes on Substack.