Truth & The Propaganda War
I am trying to determine if I fell for Ukrainian propaganda last night with my post about the Russian attack on a maternity hospital. There is no doubt that a maternity hospital was hit by the Russians, and devastated. And there is no doubt that Russian forces in other engagements have been known to hit hospitals (e.g., in Syria).
What is in doubt is the number of casualties. All we have are Ukrainian government figures. It is a large facility, and if it had a significant number of mothers and children in it, or medical personnel, wouldn’t we see bodies? Wouldn’t the Ukrainians be eager to show those bodies to the media? Maybe the bodies are all buried — but if so, then the Ukrainians would certainly be anxious to hurry up and get them out, if only to show the world’s press what the Russians have done. I guess we will see in the next few days.
What is also in doubt is the Ukrainian story. The Russians say that the hospital had been evacuated, and that Ukrainian soldiers were using it as a place from which to fire at Russians, and to draw their fire. Why would they do that? To get headlines like this on the front page of the world’s most important newspaper today:
Again, there is no doubt that Russia hit a maternity hospital. The question is whether or not there were patients inside it, and whether or not the Ukrainian military drew Russian fire deliberately on it for a propaganda victory. Here’s video that might boost the Ukrainian story that there were people in the hospital:
“Children comforted by soldiers who are barely adults.”@mattfrei reports on the aftermath of the Mariupol women and children’s hospital attack, as Kyiv braces for further Russian strikes. pic.twitter.com/ItBk1jmnNt
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 10, 2022
The world first learned about this attack yesterday from the Twitter account of Volodymyr Zelensky, who sent this out:
Mariupol. Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity. pic.twitter.com/FoaNdbKH5k
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 9, 2022
He has been desperate to draw NATO into a shooting war with the Russians, which is what would happen if NATO tried to impose a no-fly zone, as Zelensky wants. This morning at a security conference here in Hungary, I heard a top natsec expert praised Zelensky’s bravery, but also say that Zelensky risks overplaying his hand by pushing too hard for Western publics to pressure their leaders to enter the war by trying a no-fly zone. Zelensky has been putting out propaganda all along, as, of course, have the Russians. Such is war. But this maternity hospital thing could be a game-changer. There is something so primal about an army attacking a haven for women and babies — so much so that when I saw the video last night, I remember thinking briefly, “Where are the bodies?”, but then suppressing it, and then posting in outrage.
As I said as an update to that post this morning, the Russians believed as of earlier this week that the Ukrainians had evacuated that hospital and had put it to military use. From what the Russian UN ambassador said:
Ukrainian radicals show their true face more distinctly by the day. Locals reports that Ukraine’s Armed Forces kicked out personnel of natal hospital #1 of the city of Mariupol and set up a firing site within the facility.
Is this true? You can’t take the Russian ambassador’s word for it … but the lack of visible casualties, including dead bodies, suggests that the Russians may be telling the truth here. Then again, as I said, if there are scores of bodies buried under rubble somewhere (though all the buildings still seem to be standing), then obviously there were people there. Still, you can’t take Zelensky’s word for it either. He and his government have been putting out false or distorted stories all along.
I assume that this is what warring parties do. Remember how the US and Kuwaiti governments produced the Kuwaiti nurse who testified to Congress about invading Iraqi soldiers who killed babies in the maternity ward of the Kuwait City hospital? That atrocity story helped build domestic US support for the first Gulf War. It turned out that the “nurse” was actually the teenage daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, and had been coached by an American PR firm.
The reason why we should be far more careful about Ukrainian propaganda — and I’m chastising myself here too — is that Zelensky is doing his dead-level best to draw NATO into this war. This morning I received an e-mail from a reader in Baton Rouge, saying that one of his co-workers is ready for America to fight the Russians over Ukraine. This is completely crazy. True, Russia’s invasion is wrong, unjust, criminal, call it what you like — but if NATO engages the Russians militarily, we will be in World War III with a nuclear-armed superpower.
Does the Baton Rouge man want to see New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the petrochemical corridor between the two cities, incinerated? Does he want to see life on earth exterminated? Then keep thinking and talking like that. This is the risk that we are running by crediting everything Zelensky and his government say. You don’t have to believe that the Russians are good, or truthful, to understand that.
And then there is this incredible broadcast from Tucker Carlson last night. It is hard to believe that someone on national cable TV is saying such radical things — but thank God he is:
You have to watch it. Please watch it. In the segment, Tucker talks about Victoria Nuland’s revelation in Congressional testimony that there is at least one biolab in Ukraine dealing with deadly biological substances — and that the US Government is worried that the Russians are going to get their hands on it. Wait … what?! The Russians had been claiming that these things existed, but a lot of Americans — including Tucker himself, as he admits — thought it was nonsense. The US Government called it Russian disinformation, and so did the European Union.
But now we know from Nuland herself that yes, this facility exists. At the 3:30 mark, he introduces the video in which Sen. Marco Rubio asked if Ukraine has biological or chemical weapons. Nuland says, “Ukraine has biological research facilities,” and they’re worried about the Russians gaining control of them. Why would they have to worry about that material falling into the hands of Russians if it was on the up and up? Tucker says, correctly, that Nuland’s strained answer indicates that this research is for biowarfare — just like the Russians have been saying.
Tucker goes on to point out that this facility was funded by the US Department of Defense. The claim the US Government makes is that it was only a place that studied deadly biotoxins — anthrax and so forth — so as to determine how to fight against them. Really? That’s hard to believe — especially if, as Tucker says, the US Embassy in Ukraine just scrubbed its website of information about what that lab was up to. He also shows how the Pentagon’s spokesman dodged a reporter’s direct question about the relationship between the biolab and the Pentagon.
The show reached out to the State Department and asked what’s going on here. State sent this response:
Two things: 1) nobody claimed DoD owned or operated biolabs in Ukraine — but we know that DoD helped fund them; and 2) what, exactly, is the difference between a “biological weapons” facility, and one intended to “counter biological threats”? Serious question. If there is nothing suspicious going on here, why doesn’t the US want Russian troops to find out what’s there?
Whether something nefarious was going on in that lab or not, this is the second instance we have of the US Government participating in research on diseases that, if they escaped the lab, could prove to be a weapon of mass destruction. Covid was the recent one (we funded, or partially funded, this research in Wuhan). Why are the US taxpayers funding this stuff? asks Tucker, rightly.
Point is, our people are lying too. What have we been up to in Ukraine — and why does the US Government deserve the benefit of the doubt? Glenn Greenwald takes the Nuland answer and runs with it. Excerpt:
Any attempt to claim that Ukraine’s biological facilities are just benign and standard medical labs is negated by Nuland’s explicitly grave concern that “Russian forces may be seeking to gain control of” those facilities and that the U.S. Government therefore is, right this minute, “working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.” Russia has its own advanced medical labs. After all, it was one of the first countries to develop a COVID vaccine, one which Lancet, on February 1, 2021, pronounced was “ safe and effective” (even though U.S. officials pressured multiple countries, including Brazil, not to accept any Russian vaccine, while U.S. allies such as Australia refused for a full year to recognize the Russian COVID vaccine for purposes of its vaccine mandate). The only reason to be “quite concerned” about these “biological research facilities” falling into Russian hands is if they contain sophisticated materials that Russian scientists have not yet developed on their own and which could be used for nefarious purposes — i.e., either advanced biological weapons or dual-use “research” that has the potential to be weaponized.
What is in those Ukrainian biological labs that make them so worrisome and dangerous? And has Ukraine, not exactly known for being a great power with advanced biological research, had the assistance of any other countries in developing those dangerous substances? Is American assistance confined to what Nuland described at the hearing — “working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces” — or did the U.S. assistance extend to the construction and development of the “biological research facilities” themselves?
As Greenwald said, none of this, even if true, justifies Russia’s invasion. But let us all note well that the “fact checkers” of the American media have been telling us that claims that the US funds secret biowarfare labs in Ukraine was all Russian disinformation and conspiracy theory.
Maybe there is an innocent explanation for all this. But at this point, why would you buy it?
The Russian government lies. The Ukrainian government lies. The US government lies. This is the way of the world. But now we are in a situation in which the Ukrainian government is desperately trying to draw NATO into the war on its side, which is the only real chance it has to prevail against Russia. The temptation for Zelensky and his people to exaggerate or to outright lie about Russian atrocities is massive.
I understand people falling for propaganda. It happened to me too, and it will happen again, despite my best efforts to resist. Everybody is lying or shading the truth now in this war. What I do not understand one bit is why so many people — they are all over social media — do not care if an atrocity claim, or an atrocity denial, is true, as long as it fits the narrative that they want to believe. I do not understand why people cannot seem to grasp that just because they support Ukraine in this war (or Russia), that that means everything their side claims must be true, and that everything the other side claims must be false.
“Truth is the first casualty of war,” as someone once said. Once again, the reason why we have to be so damned careful about truth claims here is that the Ukrainians are desperate to save their nation by convincing NATO to come into their war with Russia on their side. I don’t blame them for their desperation, but we are not them, and if we allow ourselves to be convinced by them, we will find ourselves in a shooting war with a nuclear-armed enemy. This is what we run the risk of:
In case anyone needs reminding of what Nuclear War actually means pic.twitter.com/pK3oUZpNUJ
— Double Down News (@DoubleDownNews) March 1, 2022
UPDATE: Does it not bother you that Twitter takes it upon itself to decide what you can and cannot hear/read about the war? It censored these tweets from the Russian Embassy in London:
The Russian Embassy could well be lying here. But leave that to us to decide! I don’t trust Twitter censors any more than I trust the Russian Embassy. Twitter is managing the Narrative, as usual.
UPDATE.2: More Narrative management by the media, in this case, Britain’s Daily Mail. This is how its front page on the Internet looks right now:
I am grateful that the US president is trying hard not to be dragged into starting World War III. The Daily Mail is trying to lay blame for a chemical weapons attack (if it happens) on Biden, because his spokeswoman won’t commit America to attack Russia if it uses chemical weapons in Ukraine. Once again, people need to get it through their thick skulls that for NATO forces to enter into this war attacking Russia would almost certainly spark World War III with a nuclear power. Whatever evil the Russians do in Ukraine does not make it worth that risk. Somebody said in the comments box today, or maybe on Twitter, “So you’re saying that the Russians can do anything they want to Ukraine, and nobody can attack them because that would mean a serious risk of nuclear war?” Yeah, I am. If they attack NATO, all bets are off. But the Russians hold a trump card here: nuclear weapons. By using weapons of war to try to stop Russian evil in Ukraine, we could easily trigger an incomparably greater evil — the greatest evil, in fact: global nuclear holocaust.
I don’t like it either. If the Russians used chemical weapons on the Ukrainians, I would be happy to blow Russian troops to kingdom come. But this is the real world. Assad used chemical weapons against his people, and we didn’t do anything about it not because we are uncaring people, but because it was too risky. If we cannot stop all the evil in the world — and we can’t — then we have to have some kind of calculus to help us decide when it is prudent to launch a war, and when we simply have to bear the pain and shame of doing nothing.
I’m sitting in Budapest now. When the Soviets invaded this country, and this, its capital city, in 1956 to put down the revolution, President Eisenhower did not send in US troops to stop it. He judged that the suppression of Hungarian patriots was not worth the risk of nuclear war with the Russians, who exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949. Was he right or wrong about that? As someone who cares a lot about Hungary and Hungarians, my heart tells me he was wrong … but my head says that he was almost certainly right.