War fact sheet: rejoinder to Medea Benjamin

15 08 2023

Having just returned from a year in Berlin to my quasi-home in Vermont, I was struck by how quickly the Russo-Ukrainian war has come home with me. Twenty-five minutes up the road from the place where we are summering (before moving into a new home for this coming year) is the home of Bread and Puppet Theatre, a long-time countercultural institution known and loved by many of my fellow Vermonters. Just today, the New York Times published a lovely piece on Bread and Puppet and its founder, 89-year-old puppeteer and breadmaker Peter Schumann.

I have long loved the artistry and aesthetic of Bread and Puppet, as well as the way they have carved out a space in Vermont’s civic life while regularly updating their countercultural roots with their creative critique of militarism, capitalism, and the powers-that-be. They have stood true to their principles for close to six decades now, and certainly since moving to Vermont in the early 1970s. So I was saddened and disconcerted to hear about Peter Schumann’s take on the Russo-Ukrainian war, and that their current summer pageant refers to Ukraine as a “puppet state.” For the millions of Ukrainians fighting for their lives and for their homeland, that characterization is not only deeply offensive; it boggles the mind. You don’t expect pacifist puppeteers to be expressing support for genocide.

This week they are hosting speaker CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin, whose views on the war exemplify this kind of U.S.-blaming and Russia apologism, or “Westsplaining” as East Europeans call it. (Other Leftists call them “Tankies,” in the long tradition of justifying Soviet tanks in Budapest and Prague, and now Russian tanks in Kyiv.)

I’ve prepared a “fact sheet” offering rejoinders to Benjamin’s and her companions’ arguments, which are more or less shared by Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Jeffrey Sachs, Werner Wintersteiner, and other old-school anti-U.S. leftist “Westsplainers.” I plan to bring copies of it with me to Bread & Puppet, and am sharing it here for anyone who finds it useful. You can read it and download it here (click on this sentence).

For some of the ties between these people and organizations that whitewash China, Iran, and Russia, among others, in favor of blanket condemnation of the U.S., see this article in New Lines Magazine. As I’ve argued before (and restated in point 12 of the fact sheet), for anti-imperialism to be genuine, it must be anti-all-imperialisms and not a one-sided anti-my-imperialism-but-fine-with-all-the-others.

I’ll also be bringing the poster shared below, created by New Hampshire artist Bill Brown on promptings I sent him a few days ago. Both the fact sheet and the poster can be shared if you find them useful.

(This post was amended slightly, and a lightly modified poster substituted for the original one, on August 18.)

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