Flag-waving for Ukraine

In a direct, practical sense, I generally know what I think about Ukraine. Whatever the purpose or expectations of Russian government, the invasion of Ukraine is barbarism and butchery, by what has been a criminal rogue state for years anyway. I don’t support America starting a war over it. I definitely support sanctioning the criminal rogue state, and its crime bosses, into oblivion. I think the Biden administration has performed credibly, here, and that European* governments have surpassed very low expectations. I think Republicans are scum who have, directly and indirectly, enabled Russia’s crime bosses and placed Ukraine at risk for many years.

I think we definitely didn’t “win the Cold War” in any permanent sense 30 years ago. I think Europe has become too flabby, generally, while the United States has been more than excessively bellicose in a lot of the wrong directions while enabling Russia and many other criminal rogue states.

My thoughts and feelings about the reactions by American society, and to some extent the rest of the “Western” world, are more complicated. But I’m definitely getting really embarrassed by the volume of conspicuous yellow-and-blue flag-waving.

In my opinion a limited amount of this goes a long way. As recently as yesterday, I was delighted at news that in Lisbon, two neighboring households had projected Ukraine’s colors onto the Russian embassy’s facade. But just now, reading of musicians beginning a performance at Washington’s Kennedy Center with the Ukraine’s national anthem, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. Neither of these really impacts the war. Neither really helps the people of Ukraine materially. But one seems much more like a sincere attempt to lend a voice, at least, to the fight. The other just seems like more like waving the flag to be fashionable, and I don’t know; I have just seen too much of that in my time.

Generally, I suppose a lot of people mean well enough. Last weekend, people up the street had a kind of “supply drive for Ukraine,” and I had to wonder how and how much it will help anyone, but I guess it was well intentioned. But when elites start conspicuously wrapping themselves in yellow and blue, that wears real thin real fast. When American politicians add Ukraine’s flag to their Twitter profile, it just seems like pandering, even without getting into how many of them are Republicans who would sell all of Ukraine to lower an American billionaire’s taxes another 1%.

All of this of course makes me flash back to the early 00s, and the desperation of most of society to play “American patriot,” frequently in the form of elementary-school demonstrations. That, of course, wasn’t the worst of that era by any means. It was probably connected in some way, though, and it’s depressing. A little bit fascinating, but even more depressing. It’s like most people want to belong, so much, but what might in theory support constructive purposeful cooperative projects instead tends to latch onto the most primitive tribalism. Rarely is this good, and even when it seems to be relatively good, that seems largely a coincidental outcome of ultimately neutral or negative phenomena. It’s nice enough, I guess, that Biden and Democrats are benefiting for now from a modest but (to me at least) still surprisingly significant rally-round-the-flag bump in approval. But the larger implications about our culture’s eagerness for human enemies are pretty dismal.

I actually don’t share the view of some leftists that this is just one more performance of the familiar US elite-led drumbeat for war. No, I think it isn’t. I know what those are like. I lived through the too-successful ones after Sept. 11, 2001. I lived through the narrowly-thwarted one for Syria more recently. I’m sure there are various reasons, but political elites have moved very cautiously here, I think, and if only for that reason journalists have not done their war-drum routine exactly, either.

Of course there is glaring bias which regards war upon a country of white people as a shocking violation of the world order, while basically never being so exercised on behalf of browner and poorer people.

From another perspective, there’s also, again, the bias toward interest in human enemies and armed conflicts. I can’t help thinking, when I see online Ukrainians posting images of carnage and trying to shame the developed world for its indifference, that maybe they don’t realize nearly how much fucking indifference to violence and death Americans have. I mean, covid, traffic deaths, gun violence, rape culture, the carceral state, I could go on I’m sure. As far as the US goes, at least, I gotta say that Americans care a remarkable lot about carnage in Ukraine considering how much we slough off.

But, then, much of that is probably a fairly reliable concern with whatever is coming out of screens throughout the day, day after day (with extra effect for some kinds of images).

I don’t know what to say. Most people are children, and if there are actual adult intellects in the world, too many of them seem to be bad and too few of those who aren’t seem to be in any position of real influence.

* Not counting the Russian-owned government of Boris Johnson.

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