War On Our Own Memory
Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham once again called for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. So did Sen. Rob Portman:
⚡️Republican senior senator calls for no-fly zone over Ukraine.
While visiting Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Rob Portman urged the U.S. and NATO to close the sky over Ukraine contrary to Washington’s intelligence community worries that such a move would risk an escalation.
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) March 13, 2022
Fortunately, we are governed by a president with a cooler head — a president who would prefer that we not risk World War III:
I want to be clear: We will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full might of a united and galvanized NATO.
But we will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine.
A direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III. And something we must strive to prevent.
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 11, 2022
While the two GOP senators were making their cases for NATO risking WW3, I spent part of my Sunday in the military history museum here in Budapest, with my two American guests. There, in one exhibit, we saw the same old story, one that we seem incapable of learning: that war cannot be predicted. As the text of the exhibit reminded us, all the Great Powers in 1914 expected the war to be short and decisive. Instead, it dragged on for four years, and killed or maimed an estimated 40 million people. It was the death of monarchies and the savaging of nations. In one exhibit of propaganda posters of the postwar era, I saw this one protesting the dismemberment of Hungary by the Trianon Treaty, which settled the status of the losing power (Hungary, of course, was part of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire):
It says, “No! No! Never!” But the protest was pointless. Hungary had lost the war, and was dissected by the victors. Today, the only part of Hungary left as “Hungary” is the middle section (and even that is a bit smaller than what’s on this century-old map). They marched into war in 1914 behind their King, the Emperor Franz Joseph, and four years later, had lost most of their country — a wound that, let me assure you, is still keenly felt today.
Do you remember how we were promised by Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant Ken Adelman that the Iraq War would be a “cakewalk”? I was sure back then that this must be true. After all, the US had the most powerful military in world history. What could stand against us? As it turned out, we dispatched Saddam in a matter of weeks, but were left dealing with a horrible mess. It turned out that our war planning had not assumed a Sunni insurgency. We convinced ourselves that the Iraqis — all of them — would receive us as liberators, and fall into line behind liberal democracy. I’ll never forget the day, a few years later, sitting in my driveway in Dallas listening to an Iraqi refugee speaking on NPR, saying that she can’t believe it has come to this, but as much as her family suffered under Saddam, she wishes the US had never attacked — this, given how much more they have all suffered.
I guess I had not realized until this Russia vs. Ukraine thing how much I had absorbed an antiwar stance. I am not a pacifist. I believe war is sometimes the lesser evil, though it is still evil. Putin thought he would gain a lightning victory over Ukraine, and establish a new order. He has ended up (so far) with his nation isolated, despised, and on the brink of economic ruin. He will likely conquer Ukraine — for all its faults, the Russian Army is overwhelmingly strong compared to the Ukrainians — but it is impossible to see how he will subdue the postwar resistance. Many decent Russians who wanted no part of this war on Ukraine have fled the country, unwilling to live by the lies required by the authoritarian state.
As you know if you read this blog yesterday, I met over the weekend a young Ukrainian refugee. I heard her story, gave her some money to help her on her journey, and with her permission, am going to set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to help her get established in Canada, where she wants to go. Her grandmother gave the young woman, Annetta, 25, all the money she had saved to pay for her funeral and burial. But Annetta arrived in the West to find that Ukrainian money is worthless. Annetta is a victim of Vladimir Putin’s cruel folly. There are millions more, and we have a moral duty to help them.
And yet, as I read about how Putin’s regime has shut down any dissent, and compelled all media to spout his propaganda, I cannot help wondering about our own pro-war madness. We rightly despise Putin for trying to control the narrative, but we are also shutting down sources that tell the Russian side of the story. We are not formally at war with Russia, yet we are making it very difficult to hear any alternative account of what’s happening. Look how stupid we have gotten with this moral panic:
as seen at the Wisconsin mustard museum pic.twitter.com/tynV4sCg5c
— David Is Employable (@ExodiacKiller) March 13, 2022
No kidding — the institution that brands itself “America’ favorite condiment museum” (what’s the second favorite, I wonder?) is so on board with the cause that it has sent Russian mustards to Siberia.
Because YouTube removed Oliver Stone’s documentary “Ukraine On Fire,” which tells the story of the 2014 Euromaidan protests from a Russian point of view, I watched it last night on Rumble. A few years ago, I had tried to watch Stone’s 2017 interviews with Putin, broadcast on Showtime, but turned them off because it was obvious that Stone was enamored of his subject, and was not interested in asking hard questions. I expected “Ukraine On Fire” to be propaganda, and indeed it was. But that doesn’t mean it is entirely a lie, and in any case, it’s important to know how the other side regards a conflict, if only to understand how they are likely thinking.
I’m glad I watched it (on Rumble), because I had not realized the extent to which Ukrainian nationalism is tied up with right-wing extremism, even neo-Nazism. I still consider Putin’s claim that he had to invade to “de-Nazify” Ukraine to be risible. Nevertheless, there’s no way to avoid the fact that neo-Nazis really are present among Ukrainian nationalists. Stone’s account of the history of far-right extremism in 20th century Ukraine downplays the Holodomor, the deadly famine that Stalin engineered, which killed millions of Ukrainians. You and I, had we been Ukrainian back then, might well have joined the far right too, because they were the most vocal enemies of Stalin. (Similarly, in Live Not By Lies, I quote a Czech Jewish woman who escaped the Nazi death camps at the end of the war, and became a Communist when she made it back home, simply because the Communists were the furthest thing from the Nazis; only after her Communist husband was murdered by the regime did she turn against the Left.)
The point is, the Russians aren’t making up this Ukraine neo-Nazi story.
“Ukraine On Fire” talks about the role of money, NGOs, and new media in driving Euromaidan protests. I can tell you from my work in Hungary that some NGOs work directly for political change. I have written in this space before how the US Agency for International Development teamed with Soros’s Open Society Foundation to publish Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals in Macedonia, to undermine the conservative government there. The film shows how this sort of thing worked in Ukraine to promote the coup that removed Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian elected president. For example, one of the TV networks set up in Euromaidan was funded by the governments of the US and the Netherlands, and George Soros.
The Stone movie discusses the role that the US Embassy played in helping coordinate the protests. Infamously, State Department official Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt were caught on an intercepted phone call discussing who ought to be ruling Ukraine. And there was this lovely quote from their conversation:
The film shows senior US politicians, senators like Chris Murphy and John McCain, going to Maidan Square to address the crowds, and to urge them to overthrow their government. Isn’t that incredible? Top American politicians going to a foreign country to goose crowds to force regime change. At the 49-minute mark, the film talks about neoconservative strategies for regime change. An American journalist describes the way this has worked in all the color revolutions:
“You’ve got a black hat versus a white hat, and you keep repeating that basic scenario — and it works with the American people. You make them into demons, and the American people find that the way they can understand the world. Once that happens, it’s very difficult for journalists or anyone else to say, you know, hold it, that guy has more than a gray hat than a black hat or a white hat. And if you say that, you’re suddenly a Yanukovich apologist or a Putin apologist, and then the attacks come onto the person saying it — the journalist, the academic, or whatever.”
This is where we are today in discussing the Russian war on Ukraine. You can say, as I do, that Russia should not have invaded. You can say, as I do, that you hope Russia loses this war. But if you do not endorse 100 percent the black hat-white hat construct, you stand accused of being a Putin promoter. You will have noticed that Victoria Nuland is back in the saddle, just as David Frum, who authored the “Axis of Evil” speech promoting war on Iraq, is now becoming a favored pundit of the pro-war elites.
Once again, Ukraine On Fire is pro-Russian propaganda, straight up; it sanitizes Russia’s malign involvement in Ukraine. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely fabricated, and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to learn from it. You should watch it, if only because the Cathedral doesn’t want you to. Shouldn’t we Americans want to know what our government, and US NGOs, might have done to destabilize Ukraine in the past, and promote a pro-Western revolution there? Shouldn’t we consider the Mearsheimer/Kennan argument that the West has pushed Ukraine, and Russia, to this point? You don’t have to endorse their view fully to recognize that it has at the very lease some merit. All this information certainly complicates the simplistic narrative — the kind of narrative that gets mustard removed from museum displays — but if we want to avoid being manipulated into supporting war, we need to understand the complexity of these situations. I understand why Putin wants to keep information away from his people; they are easier to manipulate if he keeps them in the dark. But what’s our excuse?
On Saturday, I took my visiting friends to Terror Haza, the Budapest museum set up in the former secret police headquarters, and dedicated to explaining the totalitarianism of the Arrow Cross (Nazi collaborating) Hungarian government at the end of World War II, and the Communist regime. I had last been there in 2018, before I started working on Live Not By Lies. It was stunning to me to read the displayed examples of Communist propaganda, especially the parts about how Communism is bringing in social justice, liberty, and the rest. No wonder the people who lived through this are now saying they’re seeing the same kind of lies manifesting in America today. This propaganda back then said that the Communist state was doing the exact opposite of what it was doing in real life. Similarly, we live in a society in which anti-white racism is branded “anti-racism.” It’s the same thing. We are being conditioned to accept bondage and oppression. Why? Who benefits?
One would hope there would be at least a few Americans left who’d hear about Russia barring the BBC and Voice of America and at least recognize the sameness of the issue involved with banning RT and Sputnik. Or, seeing how pathetic and manipulative it is for Russians to prevent reporting on war casualties, we’d recall the folly of the ban we had for nearly twenty years on photographs of military coffins, or the continuing pressure on embeds to avoid publishing images of American deaths from our own war zones. We should be able to read that Twitter and Facebook are cracking down on the “fake accounts” spreading “misinformation” that “Ukraine isn’t doing well” and notice that Russia’s measures against “fake news” and “disinformation” about its own military failures — though far more draconian and carrying much more severe penalties — are rooted in the same concept.
We don’t, however, because we long ago reached the doublethink phase predicted by Orwell, where most of the population is conscious of double standards but ignores them effortlessly. A healthy person should be able to be horrified by what’s happening in Russia and also see a warning about the degradation that ensues from using “pre-emptive” force, or from trying to control discontent by erasing expressions of it. But years of relentless propaganda have trained Americans to doublethink their way out of such insights. Cornel West just laid all of this out in an interview with the New Yorker:
Everybody knows if Russia had troops in Mexico or Canada there would be invasions tomorrow. [Biden] sends the Secretary of State, telling Russia, “You have no right to have a sphere of influence,” after the Monroe Doctrine, after the overthrowing of democratic regimes in Latin America for the last hundred-and-some years. Come on, America, do you think people are stupid? What kind of hypocrisy can anybody stand?
That doesn’t mean that Putin is not still a gangster—of course he is. But so were the folk promoting the Monroe Doctrine that had the U.S. sphere of influence for decade after decade after decade after decade, and anybody critical of you, you would demonize. Yet here are you, right at the door of Russia, and can’t see yourself in the mirror. That’s spiritual decay right there, brother, it really is.
We’ve been trained to rage against this thinking. We even have our own borrowed Newspeak word for the offense: Whataboutism. The offender supposedly does a bait-and-switch, distracting with charges of hypocrisy without refuting the actual argument. But a Soviet giving a professionally two-faced answer to questions about Gulags by saying, “And you lynch blacks” isn’t the same as the much more serious thing West is talking about. Lying to others is shameful, but lying to ourselves and not even realizing it, that’s hardcore spiritual decay. We’re being driven faster toward the cliff-edge of this moral insanity with each new act of mass forgetting.
Moral panics erase memories. It’s their primary function. 9/11 wiped the national hard drive of everything from the third degree to My Lai to Operations Phoenix and Condor to the Church Committee to the School of the Americas to countless other shameful episodes, and the lessons learned from them. The Trump-Russia scandal blotted out Snowden, made the spooks the good guys again. 2016 rehabilitated neoconservatives, now reinvented as never-Trumpers, cleaning away the shame of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, etc.
The “misinformation” panic wiped out the WMD fiasco, restoring honor to credentialed press. The DNC leak erased “Collateral Murder.” After George Floyd we hated cops, after January 6th we loved them. Ukraine now is openly being sold as a blue-pill cure for everything that went wrong during the War on Terror, including the recent defeat in Afghanistan. “Realism” is in disgrace, and “leadership,” “regime change,” and the “universal appeal of freedom” are back, only this time their primary backers are the upper-class cosmopolitan Democrats who marched against the simplistic “freedom against evil” plot neoconservatives tried to sell them twenty years ago.
We’re at the end of a twenty-year cycle that has taken what was once the oppositional-skeptic portion of the American population and seen them rallied behind the people they once hated the most. This has been accomplished by keeping us in a rage that always escalates and is never watered down by contradictions, thanks to mastery of “reality control” via “an unending series of victories over your own memory.”
Read it all.Well, look, all I can tell you is that I am not going to be baited into war with my own memory. I remember well how they all led us down the primrose path to war on Iraq by manipulating our emotions. I remember the cakewalk lies, and all the rest. I remember the painful conversation with a childhood friend who was working at a senior level of government at the time, who told me that he had discovered firsthand that the state was flat-out lying about how well the war was going — and that this shattered him, previously a straight-arrow true believer.
I do not want my government or the woke-capitalist tech regime telling me what I can and cannot read, see, or hear, because it deviates from what they want me to believe about Ukraine and Russia. This is what Putin does to his people — but we, unlike the Russians, are supposed to be a free people, a people that doesn’t fear the truth.
You may not like Candace Owens, but she asks an important question here, one that recalls Cornel West’s words quoted by Taibbi:
Well? We are a free people, allegedly. These are the kinds of questions free people ought to be asking out loud. Unless we want to be frog-marched moralistically off into a war whose consequences we cannot possibly anticipate.
One more time: I denounce Russia’s war on Ukraine, and I hope Putin loses. But at the same time, I denounce the American war machine — both government and private — that is controlling the narrative to manipulate the American people into coming together behind pro-war policies. I will not make war on my own memory of how these people — some of them the same damn people — did this before.
The bar for "treason" keeps dropping. Beginning to think the uniparty doesn't hate Putin — they want to emulate his speech codes. https://t.co/f8bGKqN0R0
— Jon Gabriel (@exjon) March 13, 2022
I remind you: the United States is not at war with Russia. In what sense is Tulsi Gabbard’s criticism of US policy “treason”? What a disgraceful thing for a US Senator to say.