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When Did Progressives Become Warmongers?

Martin LeFevre: Under the guise of being guardians of democracy, Democrats and progressives are pushing the United States toward world war. Otherwise rational voices are saying truly stupid things like, “Some of those who oppose Western aid to Ukraine just don’t see the moral equivalence with World War II.”

Invoking hackneyed references to D-Day, an eminent grise of the New York Times, Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, began a recent, deeply disturbing column with, “Seventy-nine years ago Allied paratroopers began landing behind the beaches of Normandy.” Appealing to America’s nostalgia for past glories, Krugman pronounces, “Ukraine’s long-awaited counterattack against Russian invaders is the moral equivalent of D-Day.” 

Placing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in the context of World War II crosses the line from conventionally minded foolishness to treacherously court self-fulfilling prophecy. 

When did progressives, or liberals as they used to be called before they allowed Republicans make it a dirty word, become the hawks? Indeed, when did they become warmongers, purblind to the dangers of escalation with a nuclear power for which Putin’s Russia has demonstrated a limitless ruthlessness in Chechnya, Syria and now Ukraine?  

Reactionaries trot out the tired refrain of pre-World War II appeasement by Britain. But it’s inane beyond belief to equate Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as illegal and immoral as it was, and as brutal as it continues to be, with the Nazi march across Europe in the early 1940’s, and the Holocaust the Germans left in their wake.

The issue isn’t whether Putin’s Russia is evil; it clearly is. So is Bush-Cheney and Trump’s America. The issue is that Russia possesses nuclear weapons and the West is pushing Putin tighter into the very corner that he started the war to escape – the perceived threat of NATO expansion and its “existential threat” to “Mother Russia.”  

It’s completely irrational to equate the thus far contained war in Ukraine with the global conflagration of World War II. Hitler would certainly have used nuclear weapons if Germany possessed them; Putin has many of them, and has repeatedly said he will use them. There will be no winners in even a limited nuclear war, if there is such a thing.

The core premises, across the spectrum from pundit economists to Cold War politicians, is that “World War II was one of the few wars that was clearly a fight of good against evil,” and that “Ukraine is an imperfect but real democracy, hoping to join the larger democratic community.” That’s a non sequitur, and such thinking reflects a mind that no longer knows how to think properly.

Freshly minted warmongers on the left insist this proxy war between US/NATO and Russia (which they deny is a proxy war between US/NATO and Russia) is a Manichean battle between good and evil that must be fought with the same mindset as World War II. But since the development and use of nuclear weapons, the calculus of war has completely changed. Yet Krugman doesn’t make a single mention of nuclear weapons in his unhinged piece!

Completing his specious argument, he pronounces: “If Ukraine’s counteroffensive succeeds, the forces of democracy will be strengthened around the world, not least in America. If it fails, it will be a disaster not just for Ukraine but for the world. Western aid to Ukraine may dry up, Putin may finally achieve the victory most people expected him to win in the war’s first few days, and democracy will be weakened everywhere.”

Krugman and his ilk willfully refuse to see the fact that democracy has already been weakened around the world, and perhaps mortally wounded in the United States. It’s quite possible that Donald Trump, who destroyed American democracy’s core tenet – the peaceful transfer of power – could be elected again in 2024, despite or because of being on trial for his various political, criminal and personal offenses.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Krugman has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to step out of a partisan mindset, stubbornly sticking to his belief that there’s nothing wrong with America – it’s the Republicans that are the problem. But his refusal to look beyond a nationalistic, good-versus-evil mindset even when the danger of nuclear war is greater now than it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis is shocking.

How does nostalgia for America’s moral authority during World War II, which was destroyed in the flash over Hiroshima, so blind formerly rational people that they propagandize for another world war, this time with nuclear weapons?

The false choice is that either America and the West bottomlessly pour billions of dollars worth of weapons into Ukraine, and escalate the war until it spills over into Europe and America, or “Putin wins and democracies everywhere are imperiled.” The idea that the challenges to nominal democracies are the same as they were prior to World War II is divorced from reality.

“No matter what your political feelings are, if you’re attached to the idea of the nation as a community, you feel yourself to be part of that community,” proclaimed Joan Didion, one of the pioneers of “New Journalism.”

However the filthy wellspring of war is attachment to “the idea of the nation as a community,” fed by the polluted currents of  “the right ideals.” As nations have become increasingly irrelevant to the global polycrisis, driven by a planet literally on fire, old journalists, economists and politicians desperately cling to ‘my country,’ even as it’s breaking apart.

Hearkening back to time of cohesion and national unity in the war years after Pearl Harbor, or Bush Junior’s ‘keep shopping’ weeks after 9.11, is not merely nonsensically nostalgic in such a climate; it’s dangerously delusional.



Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.