The Bad-Faith Anti-War Movement Is Driving Me Insane

The Bad-Faith Anti-War Movement Is Driving Me Insane

It was February 2003 and we were so steadfastly certain of our rightness in opposing the Iraq War as not only a strategic blunder on the part of the U.S. government, but as a profoundly immoral attack that would surely kill hundreds of thousands or millions of innocents.

We were right, of course, because opposing war is right and just and young people are always right about important matters. Rejecting the well-constructed web of lies hatched by the invading force and questioning those who mindlessly cheer on bloodshed and trauma as if it were a TV show is right and just. If you enjoy being correct, oppose war. It really is that simple.

Young folks' opposition to the tragically needless Iraq War – while our Boomer parents, having lived through the lies of Vietnam, fell in line – was in the purest good faith imaginable. We earnestly begged our parents and government officials and anyone who would listen to pull the plug on this murderous venture before it was too late. A massive anti-war movement, with next-to-no representation in Congress or on cable news outlets at the time, did not cloak anything in bad faith. Our faith, like the faith of those who bravely spoke out against the Vietnam War, was pure. Not that it mattered.

We learned the hard way that the U.S. war machine is nearly impossible to stop once it starts. We desperately sought the machine’s plug only to learn in the most sobering way that there was no plug.

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Today another war wages and there exists a tiny but vocal anti-war movement in the US, a contorted shadow of the early-2000s anti-war movement. Today’s anti-war movement consists mostly of supremely bad-faith actors who speak out against Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine with a firehose of bothsidesisms and whataboutisms, willfully ignoring the nakedly imperial ambitions of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s heinous war crimes, and its strategic slaughter of Ukrainian civilians in a conquest of domination over a region it once controlled.

The anti-war movement of the 2020s is one corroded by two decades of collective internet addiction and all the brain breaking that comes with it. Social media’s fracturing of objective reality means people can piece together whatever reality they want. Take a little American imperialism, the Soviet Union's collectivism, some selective bits of NATO history, hatred of Ukraine because Hunter Biden’s laptop may or may not be there, and Russia as a poor, innocent victim of the corrupt and feminized West, and bang, you have justification for Putin’s illegal war against a former Soviet satellite state. Jam it all in a blender and you have what you need. Anything can be good and just in the social media age. Reality is whatever you want it to be.

The so-called anti-war movement’s bad faith is self evident. They chastise Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for wearing expensive boots and his wife for buying a purse when their country is on the receiving end of billions from the US and other western nations pressed into squaring off with Putin in a blood-soaked proxy war (the implication being that if Ukraine is so hard up for war funds, its president and first lady should be shoeless and dressed in potato sacks). I cringe when I see leftists on my Twitter feed point to Ukrainian governmental corruption as a reason for the US to pull its support and allow a sovereign nation to be conquered by a hostile invading force bent on regional domination and subjugation. We live in an age where a Maoist – someone who believes in the forceable redistribution of wealth on a massive scale and supports universal human rights – can sound exactly like Tom Cotton or Marjorie Taylor-Green. The Greenwaldization of our politics is complete. My brain: It hurts.

Critics of the Russian war never, under any circumstances, call out Putin’s monstrous aggression or his laundry list of crimes against humanity since appointing himself president for life 23 years ago. They either don’t see he started the fight, or don’t care. They’d rather fixate on some members of the Ukrainian military having ties to neo-nazi groups than pay lip service to Putin’s genocidal campaigns, including ethnic cleansing programs against the Chechen people. That many in the modern anti-war movement have far-right politics (hence the Putin support) and some have nazi sympathies does not matter here. You, a good faith reader, can’t understand this. Their bad-faith argument is rooted in an effort to shame American liberals into stopping their support for Ukraine by asking – again, in bad faith – if the libs can stomach support for nazi soldiers. They don’t care that there are nazi Ukrainian military members. But they think you will.

These same folks who admire strongman tactics and wish Republican lawmakers would act more like Putin and Viktor Orban and Narendra Modi and other fascist dictators know exactly how to trigger the libs and won’t stop until they’ve eroded support for Ukraine as the country fights back in a war for which they did not ask. Today's supposed anti-war movement can’t oppose war on moral or principled grounds because they lack both morals and principles. Lacking principles is a freeing process. You can support anything for any reason. It sounds so terribly appealing.

Last weekend in D.C., a sparse group of so-called war protesters gathered at an event dubbed Rage Against the War Machine, a nice way to make support for Russia sound punk rock and anti-establishment and, most of all, cool and independent minded. If the nerds on TV and in the White House think Russia is in fact bad, Russia must actually be good. This is the bedrock of the horrid politics that slither out from the far-left-to-right-wing pipeline, a shit-filled little passage inhabited by the worst, most intellectually dishonest people on earth – and one that makes a lot of money for those who exploit it.

The Ragers in D.C. waved Russian flags and spoke glowingly of Putin, possibly the most evil living human being. The usual bad-faith grifters were in attendance, whipping up the pro-Putin crowd: The villainous Tulsi Gabbard, nutty Jill Stein, Dennis Kucinich (who used to be good before social media broke his brain), looney toon libertarian Ron Paul, and of course Jimmy Dore, who, like many left wingers in the Trump era, found there was way more money to be made in the right-wing grift.

A lady from Pittsburgh at the pro-Putin event told Buzzfeed’s Zachary Pettrizo that 8,000 dead Ukrainian civilians were actually America’s fault – a laughable statement if it hadn’t been mainstreamed by bad-faith performance artists on social media over the past year.

“They have been demonizing Russians for years,” she said, adding that Putin is a “Russian patriot.” “And this idea that he had no business invading Ukraine... what else could he do? He was surrounded by NATO, and we were putting rockets into Poland and arming Ukraine—and he was supposed to stand for that? I mean, that’s ridiculous. Really, there was nothing he could do but invade. And try to get the U.S. out of Ukraine.”

Putin in a Tuesday speech sounded curiously similar to this "woman from Pittsburgh": The beleaguered Russian people had no choice but to massacre Ukrainian civilians. Their only option was to arm far-right death squads tasked with executing every able-bodied male in every countryside village in eastern Ukraine. Stuffing untrained Russian soldiers into the meat grinder of war was Putin’s last and only choice, the poor guy. In this way he sounds exactly like George W. Bush and all his blood-thirsty cronies in the months before launching the Iraq War (Putin’s 100-minute Tuesday speech included classic right-wing attacks against “wokeism” run amok, a key part of his appeal to American fascists and a main reason he sits at the head of the global fascist order).

A member of an American socialist organization told Pettrizo that he wasn’t bothered by the Russian flag waving at the supposedly anti-war gathering, where people cheered the world’s foremost war criminal. This socialist’s galaxy brain was on full display when he said anything – even the wanton slaughter of Ukrainian women and children – was OK as long as it led to the “crack up of American power abroad.” I’m very much open to ends-justify-the means bare knuckle politics, but this is a bloody bridge too far.

The idea that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an important step in breaking U.S. hegemony is a sweet little fantasy until you finish the thought. Power vacuums are made to be filled. You know who understands this better than anyone? Vladimir fucking Putin.

Maybe if you agree with Putin’s regressive, backward politics and authoritarian leanings, you want him to take charge of and establish Russian hegemony. Maybe you like a nationalist leader who gulps vodka and rides a bear while shirtless, or whatever Putin does on the weekend. If that’s the case, say so. But don’t pretend a Russia-dominated world order would be better than our current order. It wouldn’t.

Sometimes Shit is Black and White, And That's OK

Opposing Putin and his war of aggression is so easy. It requires almost no moral clarity. Just a sprinkling of comprehending right and wrong and someone – anyone – can understand Putin is the bad guy expertly wielding bad faith to justify genocide against a sovereign democracy that has time and again rejected the Kremlin’s horrific vision of life on earth. Rarely are conflicts so cut and dry, so wonderfully black and white.

Do I love that my country’s main (only?) exports are war machines and all the suffering and death that come with them? I do not. Do I acknowledge that the U.S. economy is based largely on the furnishing of bloodshed and that capitalism’s logic  – its reason for being – feeds the Death Machine that puts military contractors’ kids through private school while laying waste to school children in some faraway land? I do. My acknowledgment of our collective soul sickness as Americans does not create in me a desire to support a madman strategically bombing civilian centers and kidnapping Ukrainian children by the thousands. I don’t know how one who acknowledges and bemoans U.S. war crimes in the Middle East can turn around and back a foreign dictator attacking Ukrainian train stations with missiles equipped with cluster munition warheads that disperse small bombs upon impact. Is that opposing the War Machine, or is that apologizing for said machine?

Reports of American atrocities against Iraqi civilians in the first years of the war made my blood boil. My friends and I cried tears of rage after reading accounts of U.S. mercenary groups in Iraq mowing down entire town squares for no apparent reason. I recall the nausea I felt one Sunday morning on the way to church, seeing images of Iraqi prisoners being tortured by U.S. troops on the front page of The Washington Post at a 7-11. The violations of justice were total, and we had no recourse. We were impotent, but morally correct, for whatever that was worth. Not much, I suppose.

That the United States has a mind-numbing list of wartime atrocities on its ledger doesn’t mean Vladimir Putin is deserving of your support. That whataboutism spirals into a deeply dark and amoral place if you follow it long enough.

I was a junior at the University of Maryland's journalism school in March 2003. The nation's post-9/11 jingoistic fever had infected the J-school and many of its professors and students, some of whom wore t-shirts of the Republican elephant, as if Democrats had put up any real fight against the war. There was a palpable fear of pushing back against the specious claims pushed by the vile George W. Bush administration in the run-up to a war whose purpose had no basis in reality. A stupid country song about 9/11 and seeking retribution against any old Middle Eastern nation rang out on every radio station. The Dixie Chicks had been cancelled for criticizing the president. People asked why you didn't have an American flag sticker on your car. You’re either with us or you’re against us, things of that nature.

After Colin Powell delivered his lies to the United Nations, digging a million graves while telling the world the US had no choice but to launch a ground invasion of oil-rich Iraq, a professor told us, “It looks like you’ll be living in interesting times,” botching the ancient Chinese curse while downplaying the coming horrors of the war.

In one class, we had a heated debate about U.S. journalists embedded with American military units as they invaded Iraqi cities in the spring of 2003. The conclusion, after much back and forth, was that you hated the troops if you believed journalists should be objective in their coverage of the war and all its ugliness. In fact, you loved the 9/11 hijackers if you so much as questioned the many bad-faith reasons (freedom for Iraqi women being the most laughable) to topple the Iraqi government with a shower of bombs on soldiers and civilians alike.

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It was easy to see who was right and who was wrong in the lead up to the Iraq War and in the months and years after our invasion, just as it is today in Russia’s attack on Ukraine. I recall being grateful the war was so black and white, so easy to interpret both politically and morally. So rarely are things so clear.

It’s why we flocked to Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic primary; he spoke freely about the war’s many blunders and the consequences for both innocent folks in Iraq and American soldiers being plunged into a Forever War. Dean was clear about his intention to extract us from a catastrophic foreign adventure that should never have been. We had found our guy, before he made a weird noise on TV and dropped out of the nominating contest, leaving us with no one willing to speak hard truths.

Four years later, Barack Obama did the same, saying he would end the war, and we know how that went. Obama found out how hard (impossible) it is to stop the War Machine when it’s been activated. Or maybe he didn’t want to stop it. It’s hard to say.

The Russian war against Ukraine is as morally clear cut as the U.S. war against Iraq two decades ago. Many of the Americans who cried out against George Bush’s disgusting wartime adventures are now lining up behind Putin and his dysfunctional military and the fascist death squads whose murderous leaders somehow believe Russia has not been tough enough in their efforts to decapitate the Ukrainian government and re-establish the country as a Russian state. This anti-war movement wants Ukraine to concede and to suffer the unimaginable toll of being taken over by a corrupt and deeply hostile authoritarian state. That, of course, does not constitute opposition to war. That is in fact supporting war.

The anti-war movement has curdled into something unrecognizable since the early 2000s. We had clarity back then when we staged protests and begged our representatives to stop the bloodshed before it started. We had a purpose-driven mission to stop a war that did not need to be waged. Today’s anti-war movement consists of online broken brains waving Russians flags to trigger the libs. They have no clarity, no real purpose beyond upsetting their political enemies. They are without principles and believe in nothing – nothing more than a diverse group of nihilists who refuse to log off. It’s a movement borne of bad faith, and it's driving me insane.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.