Let’s Re-Learn The Word ‘Detente’: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

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Western powers insisted that they were trying to prevent this war while doing everything possible to ensure that it happened. Now they say they are trying to end this war while doing everything possible to ensure it continues.

Normally when western powers are involved in a war they at least pretend they support the people in the enemy nation and just oppose its government. With Russia they’re just “No, fuck your music, fuck your food, fuck your books, fuck your cats, fuck everything about all of you.”

The word “detente” has been deliberately scrubbed from the western lexicon. This has created a false dichotomy where everyone thinks the only choices are either escalate until we have a nuclear war or “OMG SO JUST GIVE PUTIN WHATEVER HE WANTS AND LET HIM TAKE OVER EUROPE???”

Any time you oppose freakish world-threatening escalations that’s the response you always get: “So just give into the bully and let him have everything?? That’s appeasement!” They’re sincerely unaware that there’s a third choice between World War 3 and crowning Putin Emperor of Planet Earth.

This is by design, because detente and US unipolar hegemony are mutually exclusive. You can’t dominate the entire planet and also let Russia be its own nation; it’s either one or the other. Detente was a popular concept back when we lived in a multipolar world, during the USSR, but since it’s been dominated by one single superpower that word has been phased out of public awareness. Now that US unipolar hegemony is the normalized mainstream consensus ideal within the western empire, any talk of working toward peaceful solutions that don’t subjugate one power to the other show up before indoctrinated minds as outrageous heresy.

Putin: Don’t cross this red line or it will mean war.

Westerners: He’s probably bluffing. Cross that red line.

Putin: *starts a war*

Putin: Now don’t cross this other red line or it will mean nuclear war.

Westerners: He’s probably bluffing. Cross that red line.

I’m really not feeling great about how much of mainstream western punditry today boils down to “What’s the maximum amount we can provoke and attack Russia without starting a nuclear war? Some say the line is here, but I think it’s probably further back.”

It’s starting to feel like westerners won’t understand the seriousness of nuclear brinkmanship until there’s an actual nuclear exchange. One of those rare lessons in life that you can’t learn until it’s too late to benefit from having learned it.

It reminds me of young drivers, how they’ll get into accidents because they don’t have a good visceral understanding of the very real dangers on the road. Except instead of damaging your fender, they’ll wipe out all life on earth.

There’s such a massive, massive disconnect between the unparalleled dangers we’re toying with here and people’s attitudes about them. In the general public, and throughout the political/media class as well. It’s so easy to imagine an “Oh shit it wasn’t a game after all” future moment.

No part of the way empire managers have acted up to this point suggests they can be trusted not to set off an unthinkable chain of events from which there’s no return. They’ve been making wrong calls every step of the way. And it’s so easy to fuck this up.

“Tankie” used to mean “western Stalinist”. Now it just means “person who understands power dynamics and foreign policy”.

People say, “Ukraine has a right to choose its own alliances and join NATO if it wants.”

Sure, and NATO has a right to reject it and promise it will never make Ukraine a member. And it should have. That’s how alliances work; it necessarily goes both ways. Not everyone gets membership. It’s not a fucking library card.

Those who support a no-fly zone or any other direct attack on Russian forces are enemies of our species. They have the most dangerous worldview in existence, without exception. They are more dangerous than Nazis, and they should be reviled as such.

The fact that support for nuclear brinkmanship is mainstream doesn’t make it okay, it makes it infinitely more dangerous than if it were a fringe position. It’s not less important to condemn it because it’s mainstream, it’s more important. Much, much more important.

I’ve been screaming at the top of my lungs for years about the mounting risks of nuclear war while people called me a crazy idiot the entire time. Now nuclear superpowers are on hair trigger alert while officials hurl accusations that the other side is preparing a biological weapons attack.

At least I fucking tried. With what precious little influence I have in this space, I have done my very best. Come what may.

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I write about the end of illusions.

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Caitlin Johnstone

Caitlin Johnstone

I write about the end of illusions.

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