Woke and war-crazed: Why Western liberals support Ukraine’s atrocities
Voltaire famously stated, “whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” It is helpful to see the following full quote in which this line appears, to understand the meaning of this oft-cited maxim:
“Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. If the God‐given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.”
In other words, being compelled to believe untruths, and indeed obvious untruths which you know in your heart are untrue, and then living your life as if these untruths are true, can have a morally corrosive effect and prime you to conform with terrible crimes.
George Orwell illustrates this phenomenon well in his novel ‘1984’, in which he explains that the dictatorial and brutal government at the center of this story rules the population and gains its buy-in to the awful system in which it lives by forcing the people to believe in and even repeat absurd, nonsensical slogans such as “war is peace” and “freedom is slavery.”
Today, one of the real-life versions of these types of absurdities that large swaths of the population are being forced into believing is that our biological sex does not matter; that whether we have XX or XY chromosomes (or the incredibly rare variation between the two, which is often referred to as being ‘intersex’) is irrelevant to whether we are actually women or men. The most extreme version of this cult-like belief system is that people are merely ‘assigned’ one of the two sexes at birth by doctors and midwives – of course based on obviously visible sex characteristics – but that this designation is ultimately random and subject to change at any time by any individual, including young children whose brains have not fully developed, who may decide they are the opposite gender, or something in between the male-female binary, or even something else entirely.
Many even advocate – and indeed some jurisdictions are passing laws requiring – that birth certificates not include the sex of a newborn baby because we simply cannot know what that is until the individual decides his or her gender at a later stage. And, when this individual makes this decision, it is everyone’s obligation to accept this for every and all purposes, lest one be accused of bigotry.
The chief Orwellian slogan of this belief system is the mantra: ‘transwomen are women’, which means that biological males are women for any and all purposes if they identify as such, which has resulted in women becoming a mere subset of their own sex category. A shorthand for this, then, is that ‘men are women’, at least when they claim to be.
Under this new ideology, men can freely enter into womanhood, and women’s spaces and sports, based simply on how they identify. What’s more, it is not only that ‘transwomen are women’, but that transwomen are somehow superior to biological women who identify as women, the latter being given the additional qualifier of ‘cis women’ whether they accept this moniker or not.
That is, this ideology goes well beyond advocating that trans-identifying people be treated with dignity, respect and fairness – something which I fully agree with – and instead upends the basics of what up until very recently we all believed about the nature of our biology and indeed our very selves.
Taken as one hundred percent true, this mantra leads to absurd and even atrocious results, such as biological male sex offenders being housed in women’s prisons and women’s domestic violence centers, making women vulnerable to abuse and even rape. And if women speak up about such atrocities, they may be labeled ‘bigots’ and ‘transphobes’ and therefore deserving of maltreatment, including beatings and threats of rape and murder.
Here we see the belief in absurdities leading to the commission and defense of atrocities. But this process, as predicted by Voltaire and Orwell, does not end here. Rather, it continues into other realms. Thus, with people primed to accept one set of absurdities and atrocities, it is now easier to make them go along with other absurdities and atrocities.
For example, it is now easier to convince people to go along with what at one time would have been unthinkable – e.g., overlooking or even supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine, applauding a former Waffen SS soldier in the liberal Canadian House of Commons, and even going casually along with a war which could lead to nuclear annihilation.
I do not think it is a coincidence that Western liberals, who historically have been more critical of and oppositional to war than conservatives, but who are more accepting of the new ‘transwomen are women’ slogan, are much more apt than conservatives to approve of support of the Ukrainian military, even if that means supporting literal Nazis.
It is my own observation that there is a very strong correlation between people being critical of gender ideology (whether those people are on the left or on the right) and also being critical of Western support for Ukraine. And often, the two subjects come up quickly in the same conversation, showing that there is more than a tangential connection between these seemingly disconnected issues.
And this brings us to Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, the American identifying as a transwoman who had previously worked as a journalist and combat medic, and until recently served as an official English-language spokesperson of the Ukrainian military.
Some found the choice by the Ukrainian military of Ashton-Cirillo as a spokesperson a bit confounding, given the Ukrainian regime’s less-than-stellar treatment of the LGBTQ community in Ukraine.
However, from the point of view of trying to garner and maintain support in the West – at least among liberals – for NATO’s war effort in Ukraine, this choice makes sense. In the minds of Westerners who accept the prevailing gender ideology, Ashton-Cirillo’s advocacy for Ukraine gives instant legitimacy to Ukraine, even when Ashton-Cirillo advocates for horrendous policies.
One example of this is when Ashton-Cirillo was recently suspended by the Ukrainian military for stating that “Russia’s war criminal propagandists” – that is, journalists who have a different view on the war than the Western establishment press – will be “hunted down.”
Publications such as Advocate – a liberal, LGBTQ advocacy magazine – expressed concernthat Republican US Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio had sent a letter to the Biden administration complaining about Ashton-Cirillo’s statements, writing, “I worry American resources could be supporting violence or the threat of violence against people for speaking their mind.” Advocate pointed out Vance’s “history of being anti-LGBTQ+,” but said nothing about the fact that Ashton-Cirillo was advocating for actual war crimes.
Ashton-Cirillo has said other concerning things, such as “Russians are not European… Russians are Asian. Ultimately, they do come from the Mongols, they come from a grouping of people who want to be slaves.” In this and other statements, Ashton-Cirillo repeats the tropes of the Nazis about Russians which they used, and continue to use, to justify mistreating and even killing them. But again, the fact that this casual racism comes from an individual identifying as a transwoman helps this bad medicine go down easier with vast sectors of the West.
Of course, for writing this piece, and stating what I believe to be obvious truths, but truths which we are aggressively urged to deny, I will be attacked and vilified. Possibly, I will be called a ‘fascist’ or even a ‘Nazi’ for questioning the prevailing gender orthodoxy, including by people who themselves have been led into supporting their government in aiding literal Nazis in Ukraine. But it is my belief that we must always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts. It is only in doing so that we preserve our moral compass and indeed our very soul, and that we are able to resist the atrocities we are being led to accept.
Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-released book Nicaragua: A History of US Intervention & Resistance.