Culture war is the other side of a shooting one. It is just such a war that Ukraine – and us – find ourselves in now. The bullets Ukrainian troops fire are fighting our culture war, while they defend their democracy.
Along with Vladimir Putin’s shifting war aims in his invasion of Ukraine he portrays his war as a crusade against western values that he finds un-Russian, irreligious. On the 30th of September, during a ceremony annexing four Ukrainian occupied oblasts he described the west as ‘Satanic’ and rejecting ‘moral norms’, he asked his audience if they wanted their children offered sex-change operations. Implying that if Russia were unsuccessful in their war that Russians would be subjected to Western values.
Building a diverse, accepting, multi-racial and cultural society is hard work, and it is not surprising that we often fall short. But at least we try. The Ukrainian people have chosen to look to the west for their future. If they lose this war, they will not get a chance to build the society they desire.
Ukrainians are intent on pursuing the creation of a strong democracy with institutions that protect human rights as articulated in the third Title of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Freedoms that Americans take too much for granted such freedom of cultural expression, and sexual orientation. The right to be Gay, to be Trans. But such an embrace of diversity is ‘Satanic’ for a Russia looking to its past to guide its future.
If Vladimir Putin wins his shooting war against Ukraine it gives his culture war against the west momentum. Those of us who depend on progressive liberal values and an expansive view of human rights will probably see those rights challenged harder here. Putin’s world view sees second and third-rate people all over the world. Blacks, indigenous people, Gays, Transgender people are all worthy of discrimination to him. Don’t ignore the fact his views have admirers around the world. Admiring Americans include Tucker Carlson, and Ron DeSantis of Florida. Accelerationists whose persecution of LGBT and racial minorities takes the form, in Carlson’s case, hewing to ‘replacement theory’ whereby the US white population is systematically being replaced by Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Carlson and DeSantis wail against gender affirming health care for Trans children as ‘child abuse’. They claim teaching minors about Gays amounts to sexual exploitation. Indeed, Christina Pushaw, Press Secretary to the Florida Governor once went so far as to liken any opposition to DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ as tantamount to grooming kids.
All of which echo Putin’s anti-LGBT rhetoric and actions. Laws passed in the Russian Duma from 2013 desire to preserve traditional Russian cultural values. Of Trans people Putin has said that “Those who support trans rights seek to remove basic things such as mother, father, family, or differences.” That 2013 law banning the dissemination of LGBTQ information to minors added penalties for anyone promoting gender transition with an enhanced law passed in 2017 equating providing information about being Gay or Trans with propaganda making it illegal to promote same-sex relationships. It even criminalizes the suggestion that non-hetero orientations are ‘normal’.
Recently the Institute for the Study of War reported that the Russian state media censor Roskomnazdor announced the launch of the ‘Okulus’ automatic search system that can scan text, imagery, and video footage to detect Russian state-censored content which includes informational literature deemed as pro-LGBT defining it as a national security threat.
Putin has shown no hesitance to weaponize energy, food, and winter against a civilian population. Is there any reason to believe he will not weaponize conservative Americans who proclaim their own adherence to traditional values, whatever they are? No country wages political warfare better than Russia.
If Ukraine loses this fight Putin will say the western democracies are weak. That their own cultural rot could not resist military conquest. How can a weakened west, a weakened United States insist upon respect for an expansive and progressive view of human rights when the repressors win?
Ukraine has the motivated peoplepower to more than match and defeat the Russian military. They have demonstrated an inventiveness at the tactical and operational levels of war. Despite many predictions their Air Force still flies. Their Navy, lacking ships, have cowed the Russian Black Sea Fleet, forcing them to operate far off the Ukrainian coast hugging their bases in Sevastopol in the Crimea. They are doing the bleeding. Let us be their armory. Raise the call to Congress and the President. Give Ukraine the weaponry it needs to ensure a decisive military victory. Because if Putin wins there he will not stop. Arm Ukraine. Their fight is our fight.
Veronica Zerrer retired from the US Army as a Major. She is active in area LGBT and Veteran organizations. She is the author of the novel, Memoirs of a Cold Warrior, published recently by Stephanie Castle Publications of Canada.