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Against World War III | The Nation

Russia invaded Ukraine in violation of international law, and now we stand on a precipice. Advocates of war are saying that World War III has already begun, and the United States should therefore plunge in. How can they say that? People may finally hurl themselves into an abyss from the sheer terror of falling.

I learned something about this mood from a retired Foreign Service veteran. On October 27, 1962, he was sitting in the next room, listening on an intercom with second-echelon State Department officials while President Kennedy and his advisers discussed the appropriate response to Russian missiles in Cuba. As we now know, Kennedy barely held off an almost unanimous recommendation to bomb. What my informant vividly recalled was the mood of decision. They all recognized that a nuclear war would be a catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions; but at a certain point, the momentum seemed irresistible. “I thought to myself,” he said, “OK, let’s just do this.”

That state of mind—of blank acceptance (because they had already come so far)—“lasted,” he continued, “for about 20 minutes. Then, somehow, I came to my senses. But I’ve thought of that moment ever since. I was willing to ‘live with’ the end of the world. It showed me what we are capable of—what I was capable of.”

Joe Biden has long been a man given to sentimental avowals and reckless denunciations. He was indulged for half a century; the slips were easily exposed and of no large consequence. His rhetorical effervescence took on a graver aspect in mid and late March, when he called Vladimir Putin a war criminal, broke with the US renunciation of chemical weapons by saying we would use them in retaliation if Russia used them, told members of the 82nd Airborne Division that they would soon be deployed in Ukraine, and signaled a wartime goal of regime change in Russia: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

When a leader speaks of an international rival with unbounded contempt, it renders negotiation impossible. Yet the president’s advisers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have done little to blunt his message. Congress, too, is full of members who yesterday could not have found Ukraine on a map but today want US missiles to shoot down Russian planes. The US/NATO plan looks forward to a long and bloody war, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians killed, Ukraine vindicated and the Russian economy destroyed.

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