Why I Am Anti-war (And What That Means)

The Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1871.
The Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1871.

As the post-Russian-invasion phase of the war in Ukraine approaches the end of its first year (its previous, lower-intensity, phase blazed into military flame in 2014), I continually find my own position pigeon-holed into convenient categories by those who hold other positions on it.

Some who claim to be “anti-war” accuse me of supporting Russian aggression, while others say I support Ukrainian Nazism or US imperialism. Still others, more openly “pro-war,” find me “soft” on the various actions of [insert regime of choice here].

Clarity being among the obligations of a writer, I tend to blame myself to at least some degree — perhaps I’m not communicating my position clearly, and that’s why it’s misconstrued so often and such diverse ways. For that reason, and because I suspect others find themselves in one or both of the same boats (misunderstood, or unable to understand), I’ve been working on a taxonomy of positions on the war in Ukraine, and the US regime’s role in it, to help everyone untangle this ball of yarn.

Here are some terms I’ve used or seen used, and my thoughts on those terms:

Pacifism is the belief that violence of any kind is immoral. Not just war, but any kind of violence, theoretically extending even to individual self-defense. Pacifists, obviously, oppose this war like all others.

Non-interventionism is the belief that regimes (or at least some particular regime or regimes) shouldn’t intervene in disputes between other regimes. If Switzerland and Bulgaria go to war, a French non-interventionist would oppose France supporting either side (and might oppose ANY regime interfering in any way).

Isolationism often gets conflated with non-interventionism, but they’re not precisely the same thing. An isolationist is non-interventionist, but also tends to oppose other relationships (for example, free trade) between regimes.

And, finally, anti-war. War is organized, violent conflict between nation-state regimes. To be anti-war is to oppose such conflict, period, end of story.

One might be anti-war on  pacifist, non-interventionist, or isolationist grounds, or for other reasons, but it’s a specific orientation. If you oppose war as such, whatever your reasons, you’re anti-war. If you support any war, for any reason or based on any justification, you’re not anti-war. Because words mean things.

I’m anti-war.

I’m neither a pacifist nor an isolationist. I’m non-interventionist, but non-interventionism is corollary to, not the basis for, my position.

And my anti-war position is, in turn, a product of my position on nation-state regimes as such. In my view, they are simply violent criminal organizations. Their disputes are of a piece with turf wars between mafia “families” or brawls between street gangs — the difference is one of degree, not kind.

Joe Biden, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Vladimir Putin are just Corn Pops or Tony Sopranos with bigger crews and better public relations departments.

They’re no-goodnik psychopath crooks, and my sympathies are reserved for their victims, not for their turf claims or their lame excuses for calling out their hired — or conscripted — guns.

I don’t and won’t support them. Or their wars.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.