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Ben Cohen wasn’t speaking about ice cream. He used to be speaking about American militarism.
At 72, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is bald and bespectacled. He seems have compatibility, cherubic even, but if he were given occurring what it used to be love to develop up all over the Chilly Warfare, his tone was much less playful and extra assertive — virtually defiant.
“I had this symbol of those two nations going through every different, and every one had this massive pile of glossy, state of the art guns in entrance of them,” he stated, his hands waving above his head. “And in the back of them are the folks of their nations which might be affected by loss of well being care, no longer sufficient to consume, no longer sufficient housing.”
“It’s simply loopy,” he added. “Drawing near relationships with different nations in accordance with threats of annihilating them, it’s only a lovely silly option to cross.”
It wasn’t a brand new matter for the famously socially mindful ice cream wealthy person; Cohen has been main a campaign towards what he sees as Washington’s bellicosity for many years. It’s simply that with the warfare in Ukraine, his place has taken on a brand new — morally questionable — relevance.
Cohen, who now not sits at the board of Ben & Jerry’s, isn’t simply one of the a hit entrepreneurs of the remaining century. He’s a number one determine in a small however vocal a part of the American left that has stood steadfast against the USA’ involvement within the warfare in Ukraine.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin despatched tanks rolling on Kyiv, Cohen didn’t focal point his ire at the Kremlin; a bunch he price range printed a full-page advert within the New York Occasions blaming the act of aggression on “planned provocations” by way of the U.S. and NATO.
Following months of Russian missile moves on residential condominium blocks, and after proof of boulevard executions by way of Russian troops within the Ukrainian town of Bucha, he funded a 2022 journalism prize that praised its winner for reporting on “Washington’s true goals within the Ukraine warfare, reminiscent of urging regime alternate in Russia.”
In Might, Cohen tweeted approvingly of an op-ed by way of the educational Jeffrey Sachs that argued “the warfare in Ukraine used to be provoked” and known as for “negotiations in accordance with Ukraine’s neutrality and NATO non-enlargement.”
Ben Cohen outdoor the U.S. Division of Justice in Washington this month, earlier than getting arrested | Win McNamee/Getty Photographs
I arrange a video name with Cohen no longer as a result of I will’t sympathize together with his distrust of U.S. adventurism, nor as a result of I couldn’t practice the argument that U.S. international coverage spurred Russia to assault. I known as to take a look at to know how he has maintained his stance even because the Kremlin abducts kids, tortures and kills Ukrainians and sends hundreds of Russian troops to their deaths in human wave assaults.
It’s something to warn of NATO enlargement in peacetime, or to name for a negotiated agreement that leaves Ukrainian voters secure from additional aggression. It’s any other to forget about one social gathering’s atrocities and agitate for an result that will virtually undoubtedly go away tens of millions of folks on the mercy of a regime that has demonstrated callousness and cruelty.
Given the dimensions of Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, I sought after to grasp: How does one justify focusing one’s energies on preventing the efforts to carry it to a halt?
Masters of warfare
Cohen’s political awakening happened towards the background of the Chilly Warfare and the political upheaval led to by way of Washington’s involvement in Vietnam.
He used to be 11 all over the Cuban missile disaster that introduced the arena to the edge of nuclear warfare. A part of the rationale he enrolled in school used to be to keep away from being drafted and despatched to the jungle to struggle the Viet Cong.
Once I requested how he first was serious about politics, he cited Bob Dylan’s 1963 protest tune “Masters of Warfare,” which takes goal on the political leaders and guns makers who have the benefit of conflicts and culminates with the singer status over their graves till he’s positive they’re lifeless.
“That used to be roughly a revelation to me,” Cohen stated. At the back of him, the solar filtered previous a cardboard Ben & Jerry’s signal propped towards a window. “I hadn’t understood that, , there have been those masters of warfare — necessarily I assume what we might now name the military-industrial-congressional complicated — that benefit from warfare.”
Cohen noticed folks from his highschool get drafted and not come again from a warfare that “wasn’t justified.” As he graduated in the summertime of 1969, round part 1,000,000 U.S. troops had been stationed in ‘Nam. Later that 12 months, loads of hundreds of protesters marched on Washington, D.C. to call for peace.
It used to be simplest a lot later, whilst doing “numerous analysis” into the “tradeoffs between army spending and spending for human wishes,” that Cohen got here throughout a 1953 speech by way of Dwight D. Eisenhower, which foreshadowed the U.S. president’s 1961 farewell cope with during which he coined the word “military-industrial complicated.”
A Republican president who had served because the very best allied commander in Europe all over Global Warfare II, Eisenhower warned towards tumbling into an hands race. “Each gun this is made, each and every warship introduced, each and every rocket fired indicates, within the ultimate sense, a robbery from those that starvation and aren’t fed, those that are bloodless and aren’t clothed,” he stated.
“That could be a foundational factor for me, very inspiring for me, and captures the essence of what I consider,” Cohen stated.
“If we weren’t losing all of our cash on getting ready to kill folks, we might if truth be told be capable of save and assist numerous folks,” he added with a chortle. “That is going for a way we method the arena across the world as neatly,” he added — together with the warfare in Ukraine.
Pierre Ferrari, a former Ben & Jerry’s board member who used to be with the corporate from 1997 to 2020, stated Cohen’s view of the arena used to be formed by way of the occasions of his adolescence.
“We had been introduced up at a time when the army, the federal government used to be simply totally out of keep watch over,” he stated. “We’re each kids of the sixties, the Vietnam Warfare and the brand new futility of warfare and the best way warfare is utilized by the military-industrial complicated and politics,” Ferrari added, pointing to the peace image he wore round his neck.
Jeff Furman, who has identified Cohen for almost 50 years and as soon as served as Ben & Jerry’s in-house felony suggest, said that his era’s perspectives on Ukraine had been knowledgeable by way of The us’s misadventures in Vietnam.
“There’s a historical past of why this warfare is going on that’s slightly bit extra complicated than who Putin is,” he stated. “Whilst you’ve been misled such a lot of occasions up to now, you must take this under consideration whilst you take into consideration it, and in point of fact, in point of fact attempt to know what’s going down.”
Politics has been part of the Ben & Jerry’s emblem since Cohen and his spouse Jerry Greenfield began promoting ice cream out of an deserted fuel station in 1978.
The corporate’s glance and ethos had been natural Nineteen Sixties; they named certainly one of their early flavors, Cherry Garcia, after the lead guitarist of the Thankful Lifeless, Jerry Garcia, whose psychedelic riffs shaped the soundtrack of the hippy counterculture.
Social justice used to be one of the vital duo’s secret elements. For the first-year anniversary of the fuel station store’s opening, they gave away unfastened ice cream for an afternoon. At the flyers published to advertise the development used to be a quote from Cohen: “Industry has a accountability to present again to the group from which it attracts its give a boost to.”
In 1985, after the corporate went public, they used one of the stocks to endow a basis running for revolutionary social alternate and dedicated Ben & Jerry’s to spend 7.5 p.c of its pretax income on philanthropy.
Within the early years, the corporate instituted a five-to-one cap at the ratio between the wage of the highest-earning government and its lowest-paid employee, losing it simplest when Cohen used to be about to step down as CEO within the mid-Nineteen Nineties and so they had been suffering to discover a successor keen to paintings for what they had been providing.
Maximum corporations attempt to separate politics and industry. Cohen and Greenfield cheerfully blended them up and served them in a bathtub of creamy deliciousness (the corporate’s wealthy, fatty flavors had been partially pushed by way of Cohen’s sinus issues, which dulls his style).
In 1988, Cohen based 1% for Peace, a nonprofit group in quest of to “redirect one p.c of the nationwide protection finances to fund peace-promoting actions and initiatives.” The mission used to be funded partially via gross sales of a vanilla and dark-chocolate popsicle they known as the Peace Pop.
It used to be round this time that Cohen opened Ben & Jerry’s in Russia, as “an effort to construct a bridge between Communism and capitalism with in the neighborhood produced Cherry Garcia,” consistent with a write-up within the New York Occasions. After years of making plans, the opening opened within the northwestern town of Petrozavodsk in 1992. (The corporate close the store down 5 years later to prioritize expansion within the U.S., and in addition on account of the involvement of native mobsters, stated Furman, who used to be concerned within the mission.)
Cohen, with co-founder Jerry Greenfield, actress Jane Fonda and different local weather activists, in entrance of the Capitol in 2019 | Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Name by means of Getty Photographs
Even after Ben & Jerry’s used to be purchased by way of Unilever in 2000, there have been few revolutionary reasons the corporate wasn’t desperate to wade into with a marketing campaign or a posh new taste.
The ice cream maker has advertised “Rainforest Crunch” in protection of the Amazon wooded area, offered “Empower Mint” to fight voter suppression, promoted “Pecan Face up to” against then-U.S. President Donald Trump and introduced “Trade the Whirled” in partnership with Colin Kaepernick, the American soccer quarterback whose sports activities profession ended after he began taking a knee all over the nationwide anthem in protest of police brutality.
Extra not too long ago, then again, the connection between Cohen, Greenfield and Unilever has been rockier. In 2021, Ben & Jerry’s introduced it will forestall doing industry within the Palestinian territories. Cohen and Greenfield, who’re Jewish, defended the corporate’s choice in an op-ed within the New York Occasions.
After the transfer sparked political backlash, Unilever transferred its license to an area manufacturer, simplest to be sued by way of Ben & Jerry’s. In December 2022, Unilever introduced in a one-sentence commentary that its litigation with its subsidiary “has been resolved.” Ben & Jerry’s ice cream remains to be offered during Israel and the West Financial institution, consistent with a Unilever spokesperson.
Cohen himself isn’t any stranger to activism: Previous this month, he used to be arrested and detained for a couple of hours for collaborating in a sit-in in entrance of the U.S. Division of Justice, the place he used to be protesting the prosecution of the activist and WikiLeaks writer Julian Assange.
Unilever declined to touch upon Cohen’s perspectives. “Ben Cohen now not has an operational function in Ben & Jerry’s, and his feedback are made in a private capability,” a spokesperson stated.
Ben & Jerry’s didn’t reply to a request for remark.
The arena consistent with Ben
For Cohen, the warfare in Ukraine wasn’t only a tragedy. It used to be, in a way, a vindication. In 1998, a bunch he created known as Industry Leaders for Good Priorities printed a full-page advert within the New York Occasions titled “Hi there, let’s scare the Russians.”
The objective of the advert used to be an offer to extend NATO “towards Russia’s very borders,” with the inclusion of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Doing so, the advert asserted, would offer Russians with “the similar feeling of peace and safety American citizens would have if Russia had been in an army alliance with Canada and Mexico, armed to the enamel.”
Cohen is not at all by myself on this view of latest historical past. The American pupil John Mearsheimer, a distinguished skilled in global family members, has argued that the “hassle over Ukraine” began after the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest when the alliance opened the door to club for Ukraine and Georgia.
Within the U.S., this level has been echoed by way of revolutionary shops and thinkers, reminiscent of Jeffrey Sachs, the linguist Noam Chomsky, or maximum not too long ago by way of the American thinker, activist and longest-of-long-shots, third-party presidential candidate Cornel West.
“We instructed them when they disbanded the Warsaw Pact that lets no longer extend NATO, no longer one inch. And we did that, we lied,” stated Dennis Fritz, a retired U.S. Air Power legit and the top of the Eisenhower Media Community — which describes itself as a bunch of “Nationwide Safety Veteran professionals, who’ve been there, carried out that and feature an unbiased, choice tale to inform.”
It used to be Fritz’s group that argued in a Might 2023 advert within the New York Occasions that even if the “speedy reason” of the “disastrous” warfare in Ukraine used to be Russia’s invasion, “the plans and movements to extend NATO to Russia’s borders served to impress Russian fears.”
The advert famous that American international coverage heavyweights, together with Robert Gates and Henry Kissinger, had warned of the hazards of NATO enlargement. “Why did the U.S. persist in increasing NATO in spite of such warnings?” it requested. “Take advantage of guns gross sales used to be a significant component.”
Cohen and Greenfield announce a brand new taste, Justice Remix’d, in 2019 | Win McNamee/Getty Photographs
Once I spoke to Cohen, the crowd’s number one donor, consistent with Fritz, he echoed the advert’s key issues, announcing U.S. hands producers noticed NATO’s enlargement as a “monetary bonanza.”
“In any case, cash gained,” he stated with a resigned tone. “And as of late, no longer simplest are they offering guns to the entire new NATO nations, however they’re offering guns to Ukraine.”
I instructed Cohen I may just perceive his opposition to the warfare and practice his critique of U.S. international coverage, however I couldn’t clutch how he may just take a place that put him in the similar nook as a central authority this is bombing civilians. He refused to be drawn in.
“I’m no longer supporting Russia, I’m no longer supporting Ukraine,” he stated. “I’m supporting negotiations to finish the warfare as a substitute of offering extra guns to proceed the warfare.”
I attempted to get a greater solution after I spoke to Aaron Maté, the Canadian-born journalist who gained the award for “protection reporting and research” that Cohen used to be instrumental in investment.
Named after the past due Pierre Sprey, a protection analyst who campaigned towards the advance of F-35 fighter jets as overly complicated and dear, the award known Maté’s “persisted paintings dissecting status quo propaganda on problems reminiscent of Russian interference in U.S. politics, or the warfare in Syria.”
Maté, who used to be photographed with Cohen’s arm round his shoulders on the awards rite in March, writes for the Grayzone, a far-left site that has received a name for publishing tales backing the narratives of authoritarian regimes like Putin’s Russia or Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. His stories deny using chemical guns towards civilians in Syria, and he has briefed the U.N. Safety Council at Moscow’s invitation.
Once I spoke to Maté, he used to be pleasant however guarded. (The Pierre Sprey award famous that “his empiricist reporting give the deceive the fee of ‘disinformation’ automatically leveled by way of the ones whose nostrums he demanding situations.”)
He used to be satisfied then again to stroll me via his claims that, in accordance with statements by way of U.S. officers for the reason that get started of the warfare, Washington is the use of Kyiv to salary a “proxy warfare” towards Moscow. A lot of his data, he stated, got here from Western journalism. “I indicate examples the place, buried on the backside of articles, now and again in actual fact admitted,” he defined.
He declined to be described as pro-Putin. “That roughly ‘guilt-by-association’ reasoning isn’t severe considering,” he stated. “It’s no longer how adults take into consideration issues.” Once I requested if he believed that Russia had dedicated warfare crimes in Ukraine, he spoke back: “I’m positive they’ve. I’ve by no means heard of a warfare the place warfare crimes aren’t dedicated.”
Nonetheless, he stated, the U.S. used to be liable for “prolonging” the warfare and “sabotaging the international relations that will have ended it.”
‘Come to Ukraine’
The most efficient solution I were given to my query got here no longer from Cohen or others in his circle however from a fellow traveler who hasn’t selected to practice critics of NATO on their newest adventure.
A self-described “radical anti-imperialist,” Gilbert Achcar is a professor of building research and global family members at SOAS College of London. He has described the growth of NATO within the Nineteen Nineties as a call that “laid the bottom for a brand new bloodless warfare” pitting the West towards Russia and China.
However whilst he sees the warfare in Ukraine as the newest bankruptcy on this showdown, he has warned towards requires a hurry to the negotiating desk. As an alternative, he has advocated for your complete withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine and “the supply of defensive guns to the sufferers of aggression and not using a strings connected.”
“To provide those that are preventing a simply warfare the method to struggle towards a a lot more robust aggressor is an fundamental internationalist accountability,” he wrote 3 days after Russia introduced its assault on Kyiv, evaluating the invasion to the U.S.’s intervention in Vietnam.
Achcar stated he understood the conclusions being drawn by way of folks like Cohen about Washington’s interventions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. However, he stated, “it leads numerous folks at the left into … [a] knee-jerk opposition to the rest the USA does.”
What they fail to account for, then again, is the Ukrainian folks.
“In some way, a part of the Western left is ethnocentric,” stated Achcar, who used to be born in Senegal and grew up in Lebanon. “They have a look at the entire global simply by their opposition to their very own govt and subsequently disregard about people’s rights.”
Cohen, with late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon in 2011 | Mike Coppola/Getty Photographs for Ben & Jerry’s
His level used to be echoed within the remaining dialog I had when researching this text, with Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv Faculty of Economics and a former financial system minister.
“It doesn’t in point of fact subject who promised what to whom within the Nineteen Nineties,” Mylovanov stated. “What issues is that there used to be Mariupol and Bucha, the place tens of hundreds of folks had been killed.”
Mylovanov taught economics on the College of Pittsburgh till he returned to Ukraine 4 days earlier than Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“Such things as warfare are obscure except you revel in them,” he stated. “This is so easy to get at a loss for words if you end up sitting, , someplace a ways from the info and you’ve got surrounded your self by way of an echo chamber of folks and assets that you just trust.”
“In that sense,” he added. “I invite those folks to return to Ukraine and pass judgement on for themselves what in actual fact.”