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The Fog of War
Some brief points of propaganda
I watched a very large helicopter fly over my house this morning as I sat for my morning prayer.
Yeah, I pray. I do this twice a day and have done so for the last five or six years now. I’m probably not praying to any gods you immediately would recognise unless you’re a pagan, but regardless it’s prayer.
Anyway, I could see it flying out my window. No, I don’t know if it’s military or not, but it’s a good guess that maybe it is. There were large bombers doing exercises a few months ago, probably a NATO training exercise. I doubt they were just for show, anyway.
It reminds me a bit of living in Seattle during the early start of the “war on terror,” when I’d see flights almost daily. Seattle has two large military bases nearby, and one of the largest manufacturers of warplanes, Boeing, is just south of the downtown core.
This is to say that this isn’t really new. Nations are always going to war or preparing for war or setting the conditions for more war. It’s also a very human thing, despite how much we’d love to pretend it can be bred or civilised out of us.
I spent some time last night following up on some questions I had regarding some of the news stories I’ve seen. Something in particular had been really bothering me, and maybe you’ve noticed it too.
Have you tried finding sober—or at least not smear-laden—discussions about what Putin is actually doing and why he claims to be doing it? I did, and did again, and again. Each time, it all ultimately came down to the man being a narcissistic fascist with dreams of glory and empire. At best, there’d be some asides about NATO expansion, but whether is was the New York Times, the Guardian, or any other major English-language news site, the reader was assured that Putin had no real logic.
That’s of course what happens in war. I remember trying to find news articles about what was happening in Iraq from an Iraqi perspective 20 years ago and finding nothing. The same happened regarding Syria—trying to find any sort of explanation of why the Syrian government might be fighting its own people was impossible.
Again, this is a war thing. It is always like this. The other side must always be painted not only as fully-evil but fully-irrational. Worse, especially during wars, to seek out any sort of understanding of the other’s mindset is also seen as irrational, a dangerous act of “both-side-ism” which is equivalent to justifying the Holocaust. You should just fully trust your own leaders and their accounts, otherwise you’re no better than the enemy.
Of course, the other side also does the same thing. Putin is no more likely to allow honest reports of NATO’s concerns than any NATO country would be to allow honest reports of Putin’s reasoning. Why should they, anyway?
Still, I did manage to find a mostly objective description of Putin’s reasoning. It’s worth your attention if you haven’t been able to find anything else.
While doing these searches, I also went to some of the Russian state propaganda sites, including RT and Sputnik. These are also worth reading if you want a glimpse of how this is all being narrated for Russians. Reading the propaganda of others is one of the best ways to understand the way we are also propagandized, I find. It’s because you see the exact same kinds of wordings and descriptions of things, just with different agents and actors. It’s like that old kids’ game MadLibs: the structure is there, and all you have to do is insert whatever you like into certain empty word slots.
One thing I did find—which I then followed up on—was a report from Russia about the Snake Island incident. It’s apparently become one of those heroic stories that people love to repeat: a group of Ukrainian soldiers told a Russian warship to “fuck off,” and then they died heroically. The president of Ukraine promised to give them all posthumous medals.
Thing is? They’re most likely alive. Russia claimed to have taken them all as prisoners after they surrendered peacefully. According to their reports, they’re being held in a camp in Crimea.
Then, this morning, the Ukrainian government walked back their own story as well.
In his address after the first day of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, announced he would posthumously award all the soldiers the Hero of Ukraine award. “All border guards died heroically but did not give up,” Zelenskiy said.
They had reportedly responded to an officer on board the Russian warship with a defiant: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself” when asked to lay down their weapons.
But in a recent statement posted on Facebook, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said: “We [have a] strong belief that all Ukrainian defenders of Zmiinyi (Snake) Island may be alive.”
“After receiving information about their possible location, the [border guard service] together with the Armed Forces of Ukraine are conducting work on identifying our soldiers.”
Interestingly, in none of the reports of the retraction could I find any reference to the reason why they thought they were alive (Russia said they were…). That’s how propaganda works, though: the last thing you want to do is suggest your enemy might sometimes also tell the truth.
Other interesting incidents like this include the possibility that the “Ghost of Kyiv” fighter pilot who supposedly shot down six Russian jets is just a story born of social media. The most viral account of him turns out to have been a “miscaptioned” tribute constructed of video game footage. And here are a few more examples.
Also, remember just a bit ago when the media was full of heartwarming stories of everyday people being trained by the Ukrainian government to use weapons in case of an eventual invasion? Especially poignant was the picture of an old lady being trained as part of the cutesy-named “Babushka Battalion.”
Grandma, it turns out, was being trained by actual fascists, and not the sort American Antifa believes wants to take away their neo-pronouns.
The news of Konstantynovska’s training was repeated and reported in a lot of Western media outlets without the additional context that the photo-op and training were set up by the Azov Battalion. It's an important context for a complicated conflict. It’s true that thousands of regular citizens are seeking basic military training in Ukraine over fears of an escalation of Russian conflict in the region. It’s also true that the Azov Battalion is a far-right organization with avowed Nazi members and connections to Ukraine’s National Guard.
Heartwarming, huh? It’s also worth noting the other far-right militias in Europe are organizing to join in on the defense of Ukraine:
The Russian attack on Ukraine has prompted a flurry of activity among far-right European militia leaders, who have taken to the internet to raise funds, recruit fighters and plan travel to the front lines to confront the country’s invaders, according to a research group.
In recent days, militia leaders in France, Finland and Ukraine have posted declarations urging their supporters to join in the fight to defend Ukraine against a Russian invasion. The posts have been located and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private organization that specializes in tracking extremist groups.
Rita Katz, the director of SITE, said that numerous far-right white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups throughout Europe and North America had expressed an outpouring of support for Ukraine, including by seeking to join paramilitary units in battling Russia.
The motivation to travel to Ukraine, she said, was to gain combat training. It was also ideologically-driven, she added, since these far right groups viewed the fight against Russia as a fight against communism, clinging to World War II historical narratives, and associating modern-day Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, with the former Soviet Union.
Of course, on the anarchist side of things, there are also calls to join in the melee. I found several calls to arms on social media, comparing what is happening in Ukraine to Catalonia (of course) and also in Syria. I’ve yet seen actual proof anyone has done so, but I’m sure lots will claim later that they at least deeply considered it.
Beyond all this, I’ve been particularly fascinated by the matter of public conscription into the military in Ukraine. News reports are full of everyday people joining up as soldiers (including former beauty pageant models) and praising the willingness of the public to fight for their country. Less often reported is that men between the ages of 18 and 60 are now forbidden to leave the country and are stopped by Ukrainian soldiers aiding the flight of refugees.
Here’s the way The Intercept—once a really decent critical news source and now a bizarre cheerleader for Democrats—put the story, headlined “In Ukraine’s West, Conscripts of All Ages Head to Battle, Expressing Outrage at Putin’s Invasion.” I’ve bolded a few parts to draw your attention to them.
Rumors, social media, and news reports gave accounts of buses being stopped at Ukraine’s borders so that men planning to leave could be offloaded to join the fight. But in the city center of Khmelnytskyi, they were ready to enlist — unafraid, if not exactly thrilled — to protect their country.
“Now is no time for feelings. If it is necessary to go to war, then that’s what it is,” said Viktor, 58, the owner of a medical business, who like other conscripts interviewed for this story declined to give his last name. “We are proud to do this for our country.
The conscriptions, reluctant or not, are part of a broad, societywide mobilization by Ukraine to fend off a vastly superior Russian military force. In addition to mandatory military service, civilians are reportedly taking up arms in Kyiv, and the Defense Ministry told citizens to “make Molotov cocktails.”
First off, it’s a bit odd to start that sentence off with “rumors,” since the article itself admits there have been news reports of men forced to stay. And the “reluctant or not” bit is really cute, yeah?
It’s really difficult not to feel that everyone’s tripping over themselves to paint the best picture of humanity possible during an event which is really the worst part of humanity. Well, of course, I mean to paint the Ukrainians as human, of course.
Still, it’s really hard not to wonder what the Woke make of all this. On the one hand, Ukraine is a victim that must be protected from aggression. On the other hand, gender-equality matters and the patriarchy harms everyone. So should Ukraine have barred all people between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving? Or, if it was a fair and just decision, than doesn’t that mean men are a different kind of person from women? But I mean who really cares though? They’re all apex-oppressor cis-white-heterosexual surplus males…
And on a final note—thanks to those of you who pointed out an error in my last piece. Mexico appears twice in a list of oil importers, when it only should have appeared once. Here is a link to the list of top oil importers to the US.
I hope in the next few months to be able to hire someone to help with copyediting, but in the meantime please note that the site versions of these posts are often better edited than the email versions.
Much love—and try to stay sane, yeah?
And consider sharing!
The link goes to the NYTimes, which is paywalled for some. To get around it (and other similar paywalls), copy the link into a proxy server search.