The Thermonuclear Melian Debate Over Ukraine

“Helmet of Miltiades.” The helmet was given as an offering to the temple of Zeus at Olympia by Miltiades. Inscription on the helmet: ΜΙΛΤΙΑΔΕΣ ΑΝΕ[Θ]ΕΚΕΝ [Τ]ΟΙ ΔΙ (“Miltiades dedicates this helmet to Zeus”). [Archaeological Museum of Olympia] (wikipedia). Miltiades was the Greek general who devised the strategy and commanded the Greek troops that won the Battle of Marathon (against the invading Persians) in 490 B.C. The account of this is one of the most stirring sections of Herodotus’s history book.

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The Thermonuclear Melian Debate Over Ukraine

It is true that Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy (1938) held off WWII for a year — for Poland (1 September 1939) — and maybe a bit more for Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries, and then France (May-June 1940); and then maybe up to two years for Britain directly if you count in the Phony War (1939 to before May 1940), and then close to three years for Russia/USSR when Hitler tore up the Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance (22 June 1941) that had initiated the joint German-Russian invasions of Poland in 1939.

Each of those time gaps allowed the countries enjoying them, before being swallowed up into military hostilities, to safely arm or rearm as they could in anticipation of the worst, which soon came to all of them. So it is easy to see some short-term tactical advantage to an appeasement policy prior to experiencing a military invasion.

This was certainly Hitler’s and Stalin’s view when each chose to enter into their Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance to carve up Poland (seen by both Hitler and Stalin then as Putin sees Ukraine today), and to keep from warring against each other (in the inevitable Fascist-Communist 1940s superpower war), and in Stalin’s case to appease Hitler’s eastward expansion without the USSR having been able to gain any Western European allies against Hitler/fascism and Japanese militarism.

The essence of the various interrelated appeasement policies of Chamberlain, Stalin and Hitler (the MB Pact being in part Hitler’s appeasement to USSR westward expansion) all shared one fundamental principle: the independence of or submission (even to the point of nonexistence) by smaller weaker countries was for the major powers to dispose of as they saw fit, and as served their plans for protecting their own political domains (empires) and for imposing their geopolitical/territorial schemes (colonization) beyond their existing borders. So, Czechoslovakia and Poland got “tossed under the bus” in 1938-1939 so the British Empire, the Third Reich, and the USSR could continue to have their pieces of the European and World pies. This reality of international relations is doubtless as old as humanity itself:

“…the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel, and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept.”
— [Thucydides, 416 BC].

This was how Thucydides wrote about it, in his account of the “Melian Debate” between the Athenian Empire and the leaders of the small Aegean island of Melos that Athens (the Delian League) wanted to occupy as a forward naval base against any invading Spartan (and Persian sponsored) fleet during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Ultimately, the Athenians assaulted Melos, defeating it, killing the men and enslaving the women and their children. The lands between Berlin and Moscow suffered similar fates between 1933 and 1945.

The idea of appeasing Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, as regards Ukraine, arises naturally when he threatens to resort to nuclear weapons if thwarted in his expansionist military operations. By the same logic it seems reasonable for public safety in the United States, the European Union, Russia, and even beyond as far as China, if the 194 recognized countries of the world would accept the power principle articulated by Thucydides and let the nuclear superpowers to dispose of everyone’s national independence or dependence, submission or nonexistence, as those superpowers — empires all — saw most convenient for themselves: better that the people in the smaller weaker and poorer countries suffer and die by imperial conquest than that the people in the larger stronger richer and “safer” countries expose themselves to hazards — from the inconveniences of slowed supply chains, up to the terrors of thermonuclear face-offs — by coming to the defense of the invaded “weaklings.”

This dilemma was addressed in 1945 with the formation of the United Nations (and a subsequent variety of treaties) — a far from perfect organization but a positive step to address the problem — and the formation of NATO, also far from perfect but even so a membership in which has been avidly sought by every country occupied by Nazi Germany and/or the USSR between 1939 and 1991.

The whole point of these organizations is to prevent a reoccurrence of the political-military escalations that unleashed WWII (and similarly for WWI, earlier). By that logic the UN ‘world alliance,’ the EU economic-military alliance, and the NATO military alliance exist to resolve outbreaks of destabilizing world disorder like the Russian war in Ukraine, without sacrificing the population under assault, because by sacrificing them (again; as in 1935, and 1936-1939) the glue of trust needed to maintain such structures of mutual security dissolves and they fall apart, and we are back to Melian Sacrifices before all subsequent superpower expansions: unchecked imperialism.

“The fate of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will determine the propensity of all other countries for aggression. If it fails in turn, the effect on all global and regional powers will be one of powerful deterrence. If it succeeds, that is if Russia manages to ‘pacify’ Ukraine under Russian boots, the effect will be a major slide of the global situation toward unrestrained law of the jungle, emboldening US imperialism itself and its allies to resume their own aggressive stances.”
— [Gilbert Achcar, “A memorandum on the radical anti-imperialist position regarding the war in Ukraine,” Sunday 27 February 2022, http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article61309]

So, in February 2022, it is time for our many political, government, parliamentary, diplomatic, military and economic leaders and officials to earn their pay by coordinating their actions to reign in the aggression into Ukraine by the Putin government of Russia, without being so clumsy as to set off a nuclear war. From their reported and escalating actions this week (21-28 February 2022) it seems quite clear that they are well aware of what is required, and even such rigidly neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland have joined in that effort: an economic throttling of Russia’s money flows coupled with increasing amounts of sophisticated weaponry delivered to Ukrainians so they become more effective in fighting their defensive hot war against the invading Russian military (and maybe if Lukashenko is stupid, an invading Belarusian military as well).

Recall that in the multipolar nuclear weapons era (>1949) that both the USSR and China dampened US war-making campaigns in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1965-1975) by supplying North Korea and North Vietnam with advanced weapons (small arms like AK47 rifles and ammunition, artillery, fighter jets, anti-aircraft missile and radar systems), and by merely existing as nuclear weapons ’superpowers’ allied with the Communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. The US had wanted to use nuclear weapons (MacArthur in Korea, Westmoreland and LeMay in Vietnam), but Korea and Vietnam were politically and territorially too close to China and the USSR for the U.S. to take that kind of risk. So despite the awesome military might and malice of the United States, the Koreans and the Vietnamese bled profusely to fight through their anti-US wars but they managed to survive them as three independent states (a unified Vietnam and two Koreas).

Given the ongoing antiwar protests in Russia and even Belarus, where such protests are heavily penalized by their laws (no 1st Amendment there, 20 years in jail threatened), rather than the Russian and Belarusian people expressing obvious commitments to all fight and die for their leaders’s Ukrainian war aims, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the Putin and Lukashenko governments could be brought down by popular revolts (and military mutinies) if enough of those people became sufficiently distraught at the losses of their boys in the snows, mud and streets of Ukraine, and terrified at the possibility of themselves being subjected to American, British and French nuclear bombardment in retaliation to Putin’s most extreme possible action.

At present, I think it most likely that Putin (and Lukashenko) will be reigned in without any nuclear weapons having been used, and his ultimate military defeat will cause, or be caused by, the fall of his regime. What is to be wished is that that happen as soon as possible so as to minimize the pain, suffering, death and destruction in Ukraine. And it is important to remember that the Russian and Belarusian people are not the enemies, but the Putin (plus loyal oligarchs, and Lukashenko client regime) are.

So I do not favor an appeasement policy with regards to Putin (and too bad he was not stopped sooner as with Syria in 2014), and I also realize that the management of an internationally coordinated counter-Putin-aggression economic-military policy is a delicate matter in our nuclear superpower era of the ‘World Order.’

I think the hazy idea of a “lasting peace” in world affairs is an ‘unobtainium’ at our current level of human and societal development (unchanged for millennia, as the late -5th century Melians would no doubt say if they could see us now), and that we should see the management of “peace” as a never-ending and always imperfect effort of pragmatic political improvisations; and that we should pick as our leaders people who are honorable and astute at doing that management without sacrificing human solidarity.

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The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

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The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

The social revolution has to precede the political revolution. Personal self-realization has to precede the social revolution.

Achieving social change in America through political change – legislatively – as for example with the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 to 1968, is too slow a process today for overturning American capitalism to American socialism in time to effectively respond to climate change and global environmental degradation, by shifting American civilian energy production from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and geothermal sources, and ocean-wave-and-tidal and river hydroelectric sources, accompanied by a wide spectrum of energy conservation strategies and materials recycling and reprocessing methods, instead of indiscriminate and polluting waste disposal.

In fact, the political path to social change may be completely plugged shut today, with the fanatical obstructionism by capital interests who collectively own America’s two major political parties, and whose various outmoded environmentally catastrophic schemes of wealth generation are fossilized in place within an overarching 19th century paradigm of CO2-producing industrialization and labor exploitation, directed by frantic casino-style banking and financial speculation.

So, the timely development of a popular, scientific and effective national response to counteract the global geophysical crisis we call “climate change” must occur outside the arcane political machinery of our money-corrupted representative democracy. Basically, “the people” would have to independently develop a sense of national solidarity, overcoming all regionalisms and bigotries, and independently get organized to shift the ways they live and the ways they earn their keep, from a reliance on “black” versus “green” energy, and from a reliance on adversarial-capitalist economics versus cooperative-socialist economics. Given such a social revolution, it would then be possible to mount a massive campaign to counter climate change.

But, is such a social revolution possible? Can a majority of the national population actually free itself from the many shackles, control methods and seductions of corporate capitalism, by willfully bonding into one massive mutually tolerant and mutually helping cooperative, independent of the existing government: into a self-directed revolutionary socialism? This would require an incredible unanimity of vision and an amazing degree of commitment and discipline among hundreds of millions of people, to independently coalesce into a self-sustaining socialized mass able to overcome the opposition of the intransigent corporate capitalist establishment.

Any clear-thinking person will see that the idea of a spontaneous eruption of popular revolutionary socialism that independently counteracts climate change is impossible, and by chained logic such a clear-thinking person will also realize that we humans will never counteract climate change but instead will be plowed under by it, like the terrain downhill from an advancing glacier, because we are so inattentively self-absorbed and fatally wedded to the preservation of our inequitable and dysfunctional capitalism.

So, is the most intelligent tack then to stop agonizing over climate change and give up wasting time and energy in doomed attempts to put off the geophysical inevitable? Should we all just become Trumps and luxuriate carefree in capitalist mud-wallows for as long as they are available? Why bother trying to change the unchangeable?, sacrificing the good times of today for a restrictive future that will never occur anyway? Why not just keep grabbing for the money and enjoy doing that like we always have?

My answer is: half a loaf is better than none. Even if climate change is an implacable civilization-ending geophysical tsunami, I think we all would have a relatively better collective life for the duration of our species if we could develop even a scattering of minor uncoordinated popular socialist initiatives – anti-capitalist and anti-militarist – that directly confront specific aspects of the multi-faceted colossus of climate change and its social disruptions. These initiatives would include the election into public office of ecological-socialist candidates, like today’s young, enthusiastic Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), even if in small numbers. Why? Because any political efforts by eco-socialist officeholders that reach the public as actionable realities will benefit some fraction of the population, since such efforts would either ameliorate, blunt or end specific sociopathologies of our pure id capitalism.

Why give in to despair, dejection and acquiescence to a capitalist climapocalypse? Why not actualize through our own individual living presences the attitudes and one-to-one human connections that inject intelligent compassion and fulfilling artistry into the society around us, and in that way we become focal points of the socialist revolution we can imagine? How do you think a politically successful socialist revolution could be formed in the first place, if not by the weaving together of masses of one-to-one personal relationships of such self-realized individuals into a vast societal network?

Ultimately, it is not about “being saved” by external agents, like “good politicians” and “good laws” and “good governments,” from victimization by looming climate change disasters; it is about transcending who we are as merely passive fearfully insular consumers, and realizing that we are each, literally, individual expressions of the cosmos, and then operating out of that realization with a self-directed living-out of our socialist visions. Such living is the best that we humans can do, both individually and as socialized clusters, regardless of whether we are eventually plowed under by climapocalypse, or completely overcome it.

As an individual biological organism, you incorporate the formation of the cosmos within you as the subatomic particles, which first erupted out of the Big Bang, that are within the atoms of your materiality. Those atoms are almost entirely empty space, their nuclei (which are clusters of protons and neutrons) occupy only between 10^-14 to 10^-12 of the volume of the atom; that is to say 1 part in a hundred trillion, to 1 part in a trillion of the otherwise empty volume of the atom. The extent of that atomic space is defined by the electrical fields that transmit the forces connecting the nucleus to the point particle electrons flickering (“orbiting”) about it. These atoms are in turn clustered in simple molecules, like water (H2O), oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2) and glucose (C6H12O6), and in massive and complex molecules like DNA. But even so, our personal matter is made of pinpoints of atomic grit suspended in empty space and meshed together by forces communicated across electrical links called chemical bonds. When you press your palm on a tabletop and feel the firm resistance of that structure, you are actually experiencing a force of electrical repulsion between the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space tabletop, and the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space you! Imagine such an atomic-molecular “net of gems” – as the ancient Buddhists called “the interdependence of all things” – as a metaphor for the revolutionary socialist net-of-gems network we would like to weave ourselves into, and to have a transformative effect on our political economy.

The “chemical bonds” of our wished-for socialist revolution are the one-to-one personal connections we “atoms” of that network fling out like spider silk to weave our self-realized selves into that net of gems. What matters is the sympathy of vision, and the moral character and personal integrity of the people we seek connection with. What does not matter are superficial attributes like their ethnicity, their physical characteristics, their birth language, their “style,” their default and unthinking microscopically sectarian political alignments (please!, forget about these uselessly trivial distractions!).

A friend of mine is a Vietnam War veteran who survived over sixty-four artillery barrages while trapped on a hilltop during the First Battle of Khe Sanh. He crystalized the essential idea here this way: “There are some people you want in your foxhole, and some you don’t.” My goal is to be “foxhole worthy” for people like him, and I judge others by the same criterion. At that high metaphysical level of socialist vision, we are synchronized; at the mundane street level of routine personal interaction, we give each other spontaneous rides when our cars unexpectedly break down on the road and we call for help, and when either of our cars are in the shop and we need to make a doctor’s appointment. We also share lunch breaks and stories. If and when it comes to serious action – foxhole time – we know we can count on each other. There are other men and women I share a similar connection with, people who are aware of the realities of our times, and have a compassionate intelligence about the direction of their lives, which goes beyond the effort to physically and economically sustain themselves, to also inject some goodness and humane connection – socialism – into the public sphere they are immersed in. It is with such people that I am associated with – “socialized” – in voting for our “progressive candidates,” and advocating – each in our own way – for an anti-capitalist and anti-militarist social transformation; and it is with such people that I can imagine being next to during any sudden eruption of a volcanic socialist revolution.

The Trumpians and their ilk are empty people. They need all that money, glittery stuff and power, to encrust their lonely hollowness with, so as to give them the illusion of actually being somebody and having actually accomplished something with their profiteering, exploitation and hoarding. But, sadly, they are human failures: they either deny or have no realization of their fundamental reality as expressions of Nature, nor of their potential for experiencing true fulfillment as individuals consciously interconnected in a humane socialist net-of-gems.

Don’t get distracted from the fundamentals by trivial details. Everything you need to know about self-realization – the atomic cores of our socialist revolution – was set down in the Upanishads, 2800 years ago. Everything you need to know about self-directed living, whether for meshing amicably with society or slicing through it for just cause – the electro-chemical bonds of integrity, and the forces of material opposition for our socialist revolution – was set down in the Bhagavad Gita, 2300 years ago. Everything you need to know about politics at the street level of pure, hard materialism – the movement-wide actions of our desired socialist revolution in opposition to dictatorial and enslaving moneyed power – was set down by Thucydides 2400 years ago. Everything written since is at best a gloss on the fundamentals already given, encrusted with elaborations on details about the cultures and times those later writings came out of; or they are at worst a complete diversion into varieties of ignorance, whether presented as texts of religious revelation, or advances of political theory. Read the originals and see for yourself.

In summary: each human being is something Nature is doing; realize and celebrate this, and from such realization free your mind from passivating confinement by corporate capitalist infotainment, herding by fear, and want-inducing indoctrination; from that personal mental liberation, direct yourself toward perfecting your character and achieving your full human potential (an endless endeavor); from such self-focused mental independence and moral drive, exercise the bravery of tolerance by seeking to make connections with other people of similar vision and moral drive; and then from your network of such personal connections try to weave yourself into a grander socialist net-of-gems that may in time capture and transform the nation, and perhaps even someday the world.

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