Give Peace No Chance?


1 Witch. When shall we three met again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
2 Witch. When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Shakespeare, Macbeth


Shakespeare’s Macbeth opens in the “fog and filthy air” of an “open place,” a no-man’s-land where three witches – the “Weird Sisters,” as they call themselves – appear, conjured by the psychoses of a male-dominated warrior society. To my reading, the witches symbolize the ‘return of the repressed,’ haunting a society with no respect for female powers and energies: a culture of violation and violence spawning a totalitarian dictator, addicted to fantasies of total victory and control. Such a tyrant, as the Witches’ leader, the Underworld-Goddess Hecate, says –

shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes ’bove wisdom, grace, and fear:
And you all know, security
Is mortal’s chiefest enemy.

Engraving of MacBeth seeing three witches

Macbeth seeing the “weird sisters.” Engraving after Reynolds c. 1786. Catalogue no. 47617i., CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Where (you may wonder) am I going with this? Into the filthy fog of war in Ukraine, one of many places on our over-armed Earth  where making peace seems far harder than making a killing; where ‘national security’ is proving humanity’s ‘chiefest enemy;’ and where the ‘hurlyburly’ may yet—and may soon—undo millions.


Ten days before the Russian invasion, Canadian peace activist Ray Acheson—director of the Reaching Critical Will program at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)—issued an “urgent appeal for de-escalation, demilitarisation, and disarmament in relation to Ukraine and beyond,” a “people-centred peace process, with the equitable and meaningful participation of all those concerned.” Her appeal, from the margins, is to centralize voices unheeded by the self-appointed ‘makers’ of policy, history—and war: the militarists and nationalists united in devotion to the vices—escalation, militarisation, rearmament—opposite to Acheson’s virtues.

Back in my Ph.D. days, I applied a similar ‘3-D’ framework to the radical reforms of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev: his concerted bid to Democratize, Demilitarize, and—most urgently—Denuclearize not just Soviet but world politics.  A third of a century later, in the raw wake of Russia’s illegal assault, ordered by a dictator utterly dismissive of Gorbachev’s vision, I still regard these dimensions as central to any viable struggle for survival.

Many Indigenous peoples venerate the mutually-sustaining powers of the ‘three sisters’—corn, squash, and beans. In the neat summary of Tuscarora agronomist Jane Mt. Pleasant:

Beans, because they are legumes, add nitrogen to the soil that the other two plants need. In other words, they add free fertilizer. The corn, in turn, provides physical support for the beans. Now the squash, because it grows low to the ground and has very big leaves, reduces the ability of weeds to grow and interfere with the food crops. Finally, the three crops eaten together provide a very balanced diet of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and the full complement of amino acids for protein.

Is it fanciful to consider how the 3-Ds of Gorbachev’s ‘New Thinking’ might combine in similarly supportive ways?

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev

Reykjavik Summit: President Ronald Reagan greets General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev at Hofdi House,10/11/1986. Reagan White House Photographs, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

It is, surely, fanciful to believe a world without nuclear weapons can be achieved—or sustained—in a world plagued by conventional conflict; or that radical conventional disarmament will be pursued by powers emboldened by their possession of nuclear weapons. Both nuclear superpowers, now locking proxy horns in Ukraine, are conventional war junkies. And not coincidentally, as Acheson noted, both:

…are settler colonial states, forging their countries by expanding their ‘frontiers’ and killing and repressing Indigenous populations. Both engage in imperialist actions outside of their now-established borders, interfering, through military and economic action, in countries they deem to be within their ‘spheres of influence.’ Both use militarism, aggression, and forced economic ties to guide their conduct in international relations, and both deal with domestic inequality, poverty, and resistance through policing and punishment.

This last point—that war-states always wage war on democracy—is one Gorbachev grasped particularly clearly. For understandable historical reasons (egregious western meddling in the Russian ‘Civil War’ of 1917-21; 25+ million dead in WW2; post-Hiroshima fears of American nuclear attack), Soviet socio-economic development had long been sacrificed on the altar of ‘security,’ structured to satisfy the insatiable demands of the arms race. Only a profound relaxation of tensions abroad, the new leadership reasoned, would buy time for profound change at home. But this transformative insight—that only peace could give freedom a chance, and vice versa—came too late to save a system rotten to its violent, haunted core. And fatefully, the rapidity of the USSR’s final collapse encouraged the American war-state, ludicrously conflating military might with democratic vitality, to declare total victory.

Fifty years ago, referring to the Watergate scandal that destroyed Richard Nixon, White House counsel John Dean famously observed: “There is a cancer on the presidency.” There is a cancer on the Republic, too, a metastasized permanent-war economy that, to quote progressive commentator Chris Hedges, “has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars” in the devout pursuit of the national religion:

Democrat or Republican. It does not matter. War is the raison d’ètre of the state…trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism.

Hedges was writing days after a “near unanimous vote”—not a single Democrat vote, in House or Senate, against!—to send $40 billion to Ukraine, “most of it going into the hands of weapons manufacturers.” This vast sum, he fears, “is just the beginning,” with predictions abounding of a “long and protracted” conflict requiring “infusions of $4 or $5 billion in military aid a month.”


Hmmm, a billion bucks or so a week: I wonder how funny such money sounds to Michael Dunford, the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) regional director for East Africa, who on June 22 revealed his organization had “received only 3% of funds for its $6bn appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan,” three countries largely—Somalia, entirely—dependent on Ukrainian and Russian grain? Aid agencies fear a worse Somali famine than a decade ago, when a quarter of a million people died: far more than any foreseeable war in Ukraine (unless, of course, it spreads and goes nuclear). “We are seeing,” Dunford despaired:

…children dying before our eyes, seeing populations that have lost their livelihoods. It’s not that we didn’t learn the lessons of 2011; there was a lot of very good learning… It’s just we haven’t been able to implement it because of the lack of funding.

This fiscal year, the Pentagon is spending roughly $84 million an hour, $2 billion a day: each week, over twice the amount sought by the WFP to fight famine in three countries for a year. The 2021 G7 Summit in Wales pledged (and failed to fully deliver) the ungrand total of $7 billion for famine relief globally: less money than the Pentagon burns every 100 hours. And incredibly, this year’s Summit in Germany – an Alpine summit, far away from protesters – pledged even less, $4.5 billion, “way short,” as the Guardian noted, of UN expectations.

FH70 Howitzer in Ukraine. (Source: General Staff Ukrainian Armed Forces via Facebook)

Shortly after hosting the G7 last year, Britain slashed its overseas aid budget (with more cuts coming) and boosted defense spending (with steeper increases planned). And in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, all G7 nations—and many others, in ‘Global NATO’ and elsewhere—are rushing to funnel fantastic sums into ‘hard’ power (national security, e.g. fatter militaries) at the expense of ‘soft’ (human security, e.g. fuller bellies).

On June 27, atop the G7 mountain, UK PM Boris Johnson declared that “because there is no deal” for Ukraine “to make,” the war must go on:

I think the difficulty is that no one here at the G7 can really see any alternative to simply supporting them in regaining their sovereignty.

That lack of political vision—and realism—is indeed the problem, obscuring the truth that while there are decent deals still to be made, almost certainly involving a treaty of military neutrality, Ukraine, as former US national intelligence officer Christopher Chivvis argues:

…won’t win this war with a drawn-out, exhausting struggle to claw back few more hectares of territory. Its real victory is not on the battlefield, but in its post-conflict rebirth. The sooner that begins, the better.

Post-war resurrection, or continued crucifixion: why is this choice not being urged on the Ukrainian leadership, as an honorable outcome in its own best interests? In part because, to succeed, such urging would have to come from Washington, and as analyst William Hartung details, in the 20+ years of constant wars since 9/11, “military firms have spent $2.5 billion on their lobbying efforts while giving $285 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress,” deploying an army of “around 700 lobbyists, or more than one” for each of the 525 members of the House and Senate, many of whom hold shares in—and some of whom have worked for—Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and other military-industrial titans.

‘Big-Armer’ (a system, in the frank phrase of Federation of American Scientists’ Matt Korda, of “legalized corruption’), is second only to Big Pharma in its lobbying frenzy. Yet the sums involved, though they may seem astronomical to, say, starving Somalis, are crumbs off the boardroom table: in fiscal year 2020, Lockheed Martin received $75 billion in Pentagon contracts; or, as the Costs of War project at Brown University noted, “well over one and one-half times the entire budget for the State Department and Agency for International Development for that year, which totaled $44 billion.”


I once heard a legendary racist politician, the British Conservative Enoch Powell, describe the ‘art’ of politics as “giving the people a tune they can hum.” Or as Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba softly crooned, at NATO in April:

My agenda is very simple. Weapons, weapons, and weapons.

“We know how to win,” Kuleba added, and “the more weapons we get, the more lives will be saved.” The proposition (like the funding) is fantastic, but the ‘tune’ went viral, inducing a trance state evoked bravely and well by Pope Francis on June 14:

We need to move away from the usual Little Red Riding Hood pattern, in that Little Red Riding Hood was good and the wolf was the bad one. Something global is emerging and the elements are very much entwined.

Even more courageously, the Pope claimed “we do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was, perhaps, somehow either provoked or not prevented.” A few months before the War, he revealed, he discussed the crisis with a mysterious “wise man who speaks little,” who told him “he was very worried how NATO was moving”:

I asked him why, and he replied: “They are barking at the gates of Russia.”

Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs Dymtro Kulebo and NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg, Brussels, 7 April 2022

Ukraine Minister of Foreign Affairs Dymtro Kulebo and NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg, Brussels, 7 April 2022

Such ‘wise words,’ however, have been comprehensively drowned out, while any mention of NATO expansion as a contributory factor to the crisis is shouted down as ‘Russian disinformation.’ And amidst the cacophony, the ‘barking’ and the ‘humming,’ it is hard to hear a more sinister sound: the purring of the weapons company executives. Because ‘weapons, weapons, weapons’ equals ‘money, money, money’ in the rich man’s world, for example, of Lockheed Martin CEO James Tiaclet (salary in 2020 a mere $915,385, but total ‘compensation,’ with stock awards added, of $23,360,850) who appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on May 8  to ‘inform’ his humbly-nodding interviewer, Margaret Brennan, that the war:

…has highlighted a couple of really important things for us. One is that we need to have superior systems in large enough numbers…because the threat between Russia and China is just going to increase even after the Ukraine war… Those two nations and, regionally, Iran and North Korea are not going to get less active. Probably they’re going to get more active. So we want to make sure we can supply our allies and our country what they need…

On June 16, interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Hartung described the interview as:

…really a commercial…grounded in fearmongering about Russia, about China, about Iran, about North Korea, when many of these issues have to be dealt with diplomatically. There’s no way to buy your way out of these challenges militarily.

Goodman then exclaimed, in righteous journalistic anger:

So, it’s not only that the networks break for commercials every however many minutes, five or six—and often they are [adverts for] military weapons manufacturers—but they’re actually the so-called news hole, the news itself… Now we’re having analysis of foreign policy by the weapons companies CEOs!

“Exactly,” Hartung agreed: “‘After this news commercial, we’ll bring you another commercial,’ basically.”

In the 1981 film Reds, set in WW1, the American socialist journalist John Reed (played by Warren Beatty) is asked at a public meeting what “this war is about?” Reed (the screenplay reads) “stands up and looks around the room,” before answering: “Profit.” Then “he sits. Nothing happens.”

Have we simply come full circle? That would be terrible enough, but the real news is much worse, for 100+ years since that cataclysm, armed conflict continues to plague millions, and enrich a tiny few, despite the paradigm-shattering emergence—Brighter Than a Thousand Suns—of the Bomb, a weapon truly threatening a ‘war to end war’: and life on Earth.


May 8, the day Lockheed’s CEO polished his halo on national TV, was Mother’s Day, intended by its founder, the slave abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, as an annual appeal for the abolition of war and the “amicable settlement of international questions.” In the ringing words of her 1870 Proclamation, issued in the traumatic aftermath of the Civil War:

Say firmly:
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage,
for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

“From the bosom of a devastated earth a voice goes up with our own: ‘Disarm, disarm!’”: how horrible it is that Howe’s appeal still runs so utterly counter to the cults and cultures of violence at the now-nuclear core of world politics! Incredibly, to link her call to Ray Acheson’s, the challenge remains: to make ‘relevant’ the peaceful ‘agencies’ and energies of civil society, the people-centered processes able and willing to defuse crises, heal wounds, set the stage for the emergence of more social societies and caring communities.

On the Korean Peninsula, for example, next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War (1950-53) but not the beginning of a Korean peace. Instead, an Armistice intended to lead, within months, to a full, formal cessation of hostilities remains unsteadily in place, routinely rocked by major war-scares as North Korea seeks to assert its toxic atomic masculinity in an absurdly over-militarized and heavily-nuclearized (China, Russia, USA) Northeast Asian region.

In March, South Korea narrowly elected a new, hawkish—and anti-feminist—president, Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative ‘People Power’ party. Yoon replaces outgoing Democratic Party President Moon Jae-in (constitutionally limited to one five-year term), whose intense commitment to détente with North Korea was frustrated by hardliners in both Washington and Pyongyang, after which, alas, he capitulated to military-industrial pressure and endorsed eye-watering increases in arms spending.

Responding to Yoon’s election, Korea Peace Now!, a new “international coalition of women’s peace groups advocating for a formal end to the Korean war,” urged not only a push for a peace treaty “at the beginning, not the end of negotiations” with Pyongyang, but also, as an integral component of a “peace-first approach,” recognition of “the importance of the full, effective, and meaningful participation of women and civil society groups.” As Christine Ahn, executive director of Women Cross DMZ (the Demilitarized Military Zone between the Koreas), suggested in Newsweek, perhaps an evidence-based approach might help? For “research shows”:

…that when women are involved in peace processes, an agreement is more likely to be reached and to last. A study from Georgetown University showed that between 1991 and 2017, women’s groups were involved in 71 percent of informal peace processes, and their participation helped to legitimize [them]…

“To counter the threats to peace and gender equality under a Yoon presidency,” Ahn concludes, referring in part to Yoon’s campaign pledge to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, “South Korea will need the active participation of women. Feminists are powerful agents for peace and democracy. Yoon, and South Korea’s democratic allies in the West, cannot afford to dismiss them.” But that ‘West’ is on a war footing, hyper-inflating the danger from both Russia and China in a geopolitical game (in which Korea and Ukraine are mere pawns) more suited to the 19th than the 21st century: to an age of imperial rivalries, rather than common existential threats.

Weird, huh?

Sean Howard


Sean Howard is adjunct professor of political science at Cape Breton University and member of Peace Quest Cape Breton and the Canadian Pugwash Group. He may be reached here.