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Sunday, March 30, 2014

What about "Whataboutism"?

When it comes to Putin, even liberal cyber-journals have published an incredible number of propaganda pieces. But one such article -- "The Long History of Russian Whataboutism," in Slate -- actually makes a good point.

Writer Joshua Keating defines "Whataboutism" as a common (and hoary) Russian defense mechanism: When asked to justify an offensive political move, Russians tend to ask "what about" a worse offense committed by the West. They've been asking that question for a long time. From an 1853 memo to Tsar Nicholas I, on the eve of the Crimean War:
France takes Algeria from Turkey, and almost every year England annexes another Indian principality: none of this disturbs the balance of power; but when Russia occupies Moldavia and Wallachia, albeit only temporarily, that disturbs the balance of power. France occupies Rome and stays there several years during peacetime: that is nothing; but Russia only thinks of occupying Constantinople, and the peace of Europe is threatened. The English declare war on the Chinese, who have, it seems, offended them: no one has the right to intervene; but Russia is obliged to ask Europe for permission if it quarrels with its neighbor. England threatens Greece to support the false claims of a miserable Jew and burns its fleet: that is a lawful action; but Russia demands a treaty to protect millions of Christians, and that is deemed to strengthen its position in the East at the expense of the balance of power. We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice, which does not understand and does not want to under stand.
The "miserable Jew" remark obviously wouldn't fly in today's world (the reference goes to this little-remembered case), but otherwise this analysis possesses the great virtue of being inarguable.

I'm not saying that western sins justify Russian sins. I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right. I'm saying that we would be better able to speak from the moral high ground if we acted in ways that were, in fact, moral.

After the Iraq war, and after the made-in-New-York global economic catastrophe of 2008, does the United States have any right to criticize what others do?

Should Russians ever forgive us for the catastrophe of neoliberalism, which resulted in the wholesale plunder of their national resources?

In 1992, U.S. News and World Report published a feature on the fall of the USSR. (I don't have the piece to hand, but my memory of it is crystal clear.) The article referenced a poll in which the Russian people overwhelmingly expressed a preference for a mixed economy on the Scandinavian model. Even though democracy is supposed to give the citizenry what it wants, U.S. News and World Report insisted that the Russian people must not be allowed to go Swede. Instead -- and I will never forget the prophetic chill I felt as I read this -- those people would have to be "educated."

Boy, were they ever.

We still haven't apologized for the neoliberal rape of Russia. And we still haven't apologized for the many, many unjustifiable interventions and plunders cataloged in William Blum's Killing Hope. Until we clean up our act, Whataboutism is legitimate and inevitable.
An insightful historical essay by a Norwegian professor of Social and Community Psychology, challenges us to reexamine the Ukraine situation.

"Viewing the Ukraine Crisis From Russia's Perspective." The introductory paragraph;

"James Joyce’s famous statement that “history is a nightmare” from which we should try to awake, aptly describes current events in the Ukraine. All nations involved in these events are biased by the remembered, misremembered, forgotten, and mythologized history they carry in their heads. Chaos in Maidan Square, neo-fascists in positions of power in Kiev, Russia annexing Crimea, these are inkblots that everyone sees differently depending on the historical visions that dominate their minds. Our national memories have the passion and power to drive us blindly to hatreds and to war. The histories we believe set us up for easy manipulations and disastrous actions."
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