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Vol. 22, No. 1, 2023
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in ucrania



Louis René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and International Law (Purdue University). He has written twelve books and several hundred scholarly articles and monographs. He also lectures widely on matters of terrorism, strategy and international law. As an expert on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, he is closely involved with Israeli security issues at the highest levels. He was Chair of "Project Daniel," a group advising Israel's Prime Minister on existential nuclear questions. This article was first published in Jewish Business News.


Happy are those who know that behind all speeches
are still the unspeakable lies . . .
Rainer Maria Rilke, Possibility of Being

Russian fabrications about Ukraine are sweeping and “unspeakable.” Still, the twentieth-century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke can help us fathom what is actually happening. The “Dionysian poet” was associated with variously dense philosophical matters of “being” (in German, “Existenzphilosophie”), but he also strove to understand certain correlative derangements of politics. Though the particulars of such derangements must vary from moment to moment and place to place, their generality of core meanings will likely remain constant.

What are the pertinent connections to be explored? Plausibly, were he alive today, Rilke would observe that war and peace are merely transient reflections of assorted untruths. What we can glean from daily news reports on Ukraine are essentially the latest human struggles for primacy (individual and collective), belonging, and a “life-everlasting.” It is precisely such timeless struggles for power, membership and immortality that can best define the meanings of Vladimir Putin’s egregious aggression against Ukraine.

What next? To begin, these policy-related meanings ought to be expressed conceptually. In the United States, the key questions being asked are narrowly ad hominem (about Putin) and ad hoc (about facts). Now it is also required that the American body politic search conscientiously for deeper meanings.

In Russian-assaulted Ukraine, it is noteworthy that though “we have been to this movie before,” there still exist certain core regularities or commonalities. By definition, these commonalities are relevant to much wider truths. Immediately, they warrant disciplined theoretical study. “Theories,” observed the German poet Novalis, “are nets. Only he who casts, will catch.”

More than anything else, Ukraine’s barbarous victimization by Russia demands coherent and comprehensive theorizing. The expanding crisis in that beleaguered country has far deeper import than what is being suggested by “experts.” Ukraine represents more than “just” another current catastrophe. It offers an opportunity to discover what “really” ails this imperiled planet; that is, to identify those still-remediable factors that are most patently and durably causal.

Russia’s Ukraine aggression has many “sides.” It is both microcosm (war; religious conflict; crimes of war;[8] irrational prejudices; bitter rancor) and macrocosm (the individual human being: non-rational; death-fearing; anti-intellectual;[9] superstitious; self-destructive). Taken together, these intersecting elements can become synergistic. Here, by definition, the “whole” of combining elements would be greater than the sum of separate “parts.”

But big questions will still have to be answered. “Why do nation-states put themselves in harm’s way again and again, sometimes in the path of genuinely existential harms”? “Why do countries that may finally access the tangible benefits of science and education insistently fall back upon myth, ignorance and civilizational regression?” “Why do educated peoples continue to prefer certain exterminatory paths in national and international affairs to the available mechanisms of international law and humane peacemaking?

These questions ought not be disregarded as “collateral damage” of day-to-day US foreign policy. In The Law of Nations (1758), classical Swiss jurist Emmerich de Vattel observes: “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.” Though a “general law” (in formal jurisprudence, a “peremptory” law), this imperative is routinely disregarded. Why?

Though tangible and current policy issues are most urgent, Ukraine is best approached as metaphor for the longer term. It should be studied accordingly. Inter alia, it could provide scholars and policy-makers with a real-world and real-time “laboratory.” What this laboratory could then reveal is a visceral and overriding human death fear. Wherever we might choose to look on planet earth, such primal terror splits all human civilizations into “us” and “them,” into adversarial camps of individuals who can wittingly discover in the systematic slaughter of certain “others” the key to their own personal immortality.

From time immemorial, this has been an incomparably tragic discovery. To recall a clarifying lyric by Bob Dylan, what ultimately matters most to individual human beings and nation-states is to have “God on our side.” It’s a lyric with compelling real-world analogues.

There is more. Unless we finally take tangible steps to implement an organic planetary civilization – a civilization based on the immutably central truth of human “oneness” – there will be no civilization at all. The time-urgent imperative of this critical portent is magnified by our species’ steady “advances” in the creation of mega-weapons and infrastructures. Augmenting this “progress,” some major states are now committing themselves to nuclear deterrent strategies based not “only” on threats of “assured destruction,” but also upon recognizable capacities for nuclear war fighting.

In such existential matters, planet earth is still at the beginning. Until now, we humans have consistently managed to miss what is plainly most important. Nonetheless, the central truth here is simple: There exists a latent but determinative “oneness” to all world politics.

Scholars and statesmen need a refined strategic dialectic. Often, human beings fear solitude or “aloneness” more than anything else on earth, sometimes even more than death. Amid the palpable chaos and impending genocide now stampeding across Ukraine, suffering individuals still offer their unswerving loyalties to the stubbornly corrosive claims of “tribe.” Everywhere, people desperate “to belong” wittingly subordinate themselves to the endlessly predatory expectations of nation, class and faith.

There is more. To survive on this self-imperiling planet, we should learn something very basic from Russia’s war on Ukraine: All humankind must survive together, must rediscover individual lives that are sufficiently detached from deeply-felt obligations “to belong.” It is only after such an indispensable rediscovery that peoples and nations could plausibly hope to reconstruct world politics and international law on sound footings. In the end, merely to survive, we will have to “give birth” to more durable foundations of global interdependence.

Unrealistic? Of course. Still, “in the end,” as we may learn from Italian film director Federico Fellini, “The visionary is the only realist.”

In The Decline of the West, a modern classic first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler comments: “`I believe'” is the great word against metaphysical fear (sic.), and at the same time it is an avowal of love.'” The welcome visionary would accept that the most suffocating conflicts of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economies, building larger missiles, fashioning or abrogating international treaties, replacing one sordid regime with another or “spreading democracy.”

Such traditional “remedies” would be insufficient for good reason: The planet as a whole would still remain on its lethal trajectory of belligerent nationalism and tribal conflict. Reminds French Jesuit thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man : “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.” But throughout history, what may be perfectly obvious via calculations of human Reason has still been undermined by variously manipulative claims of anti-Reason.

Before the tortuous Realpolitik drama is over in world politics and world law, humankind will need to take more seriously that global survival requires escape from the acrimonious spirit of national-tribes. The likelihood of ever meeting such a daunting requirement of human “oneness” is portentously low, but foreign policies can no longer be constructed according to the defiling assumptions of power politics. Aware that our “Westphalian”system of international relations displays the same fragility as an individual life – that is, the irremediable fragility of not being immortal – an extraordinary shudder should run through all “powerful” states. Even if the Ukrainian crisis should end more quickly and successfully than first expected, it will ultimately be revealed as just another milestone on the twisted road to species self-destruction,

A concluding thought dawns. Shared theologies will prove indispensable to human survival, but this belief-system cannot be just another chanted affirmation of competitive divinities. Whether we believe that a transcendental supreme being created a balanced cosmos or a chaos, ultimate survival responsibilities will be humankind’s alone. “In the end,” warns Goethe succinctly in Faust, “we must depend upon creatures of our own making.”

For the moment, it is less important that we agree on the nature of such “creatures” than that we share a self-serving commitment to “world order” processes. Whatever else we might find agreeable or disagreeable, one fact will remain incontestable: Everything must depend upon the individual human being, the “microcosm.” Stated differently, no nation or society can ever be better than the sum total of its constituent “souls.” Carl G. Jung summed it all up with an enviable candor and simplicity: “Every civilization is the sum total of individual souls in need of redemption.”

For the moment, nothing more needs to be said. Following Russia’s ongoing crimes against Ukraine, we may also learn from the poet Rilke that those who can lead will be “those who know that behind all speeches are still the unspeakable lies.” Now, finally, this knowledge could offer us a literally last chance to survive as a species.

by Louis René Beres:
An Unphilosophical Spirit
America Around the World
Behind All Speeches Are Unspeakable Lies
The Worst Does Sometimes Happen
Martyrdom & Hunger for Immortality
The Trump Presidency: An Informed Perspective
Looking Beyond the News
Politics, Law and Triumph of Chaos
An Illustrious War Against Death
Insurrection and the American Horde
Post Mortem: Trump Presidency
Presidential Crimes and Pardons
Pandemic as Opportunity
Understanding a Lethal American Presidency
A Nation's Bitter Despair
The President as Monster
Lessons from Covid-19
The Overriding Threat: Trump, the Mass & Nuclear War
Fragmentation or Unity
A More Thoughtful Nuclear Policy
Are Terrorists Abnormal?
War, Politics and the Planet Earth
Intellect & Politics: Trumpian Opposites
Emptiness & Consciousness: Unseen Limits of American Mind
Trump and the Destruction of the American Mind
Empathy & Intelligence
The Crowd Is Untruth
In Praise of Folly: Trump Presidency
Repairing the World at Its Source
Emptiness and Consciousness
Nuclear Deterrence Conflict
Trump's Anti-Intellectualism
Lawless Retreat
Trump - Triumph of Anti-Reason
In the Absence of Wise Councel
Futile Goal of Winning Wars
Money & Politics: A Look Behind the News
Trump's War Against the Intellect
America Becomes What Its Founding Fathers Feared
Victory as Vanishing Point in the Age of Terror
Against a Nuclear-Free World
The Politics of Pre-emption
Crowds, Belonging and Victory Over Death
The Tip of the Jihadist Iceberg
Fixing the World
When Science May Not Be Enough
Facing future Wars
America's Senseless Wars
Is There a Genocide Gene?
Slow Death of America
To Fix a Broken Planet
Our Fractured Union
Affirming Life in the Age of Atrocity
War, Truth and the Shadows of Meaning
Occupy Wall Street
What Is Important?
Social Network Anxiety
Disappearance of the Philosopher Kings


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