Fake News, Pearl-Clutching, and Ukraine

Some of the most inane fake news I’ve ever seen has been coming from pro-Russian media.

Bear in mind, both sides of the war are quite capable of propagandizing; in fact, Zelensky’s shown himself to have a natural talent. The more official Russian outlets have, by all reports, been quite competent at keeping their own nation focused on Putin’s talking points, and the formal separation of East from West information feeds, be they television or internet, have made this much easier. If it’s moderately difficult for citizens of the western world to get the official Russian party line, it’s harder by far for most Russians to access, for example, CNN.

Comparing the two information streams is rather more problematic, as they don’t share timelines or locations. According to RT, Mariupol has been captured (more than once), whereas CNN shows us live footage from a city under siege night after night, and even Chinese national television is reporting on the regular artillery barrages that repeatedly pound the city center. Russians are reliably informed that they’re advancing on Kyiv when a simple sum of their army’s nominal gains by mile would place them somewhere in the French Alps by now.

The most recent media horror story concerns the existence of a mobile Russian crematorium operating just outside city limits. Ukrainian officials are pointing to it as evidence that Russia is concealing war crimes. Russian state media has made no mention of it, but several pro-Russian internet feeds are blaming Ukraine for making it up. All of which is totally absurd: there are mobile crematorium units on the T.O.E. of every modern army, including Russia and Ukraine, because — let’s face it: People die in wars. Lots and lots of people. That’s kind of the idea, and it’s rather silly to be startled upon learning of it.

“But wait a minute,” I hear you thinking. “Why couldn’t the Russians be using these to hide evidence of their undoubted war crimes?” The answer is, of course, that they could. On the other hand, however, there’s copious evidence of civilian corpses left casually behind the Russian withdrawal west of Kyiv (Out of a sense of fairness, we’ll start spelling it “Kiev” once Russia captures it — Editor). There’s no sign that the Russian priority is concealment, and every indication that the soldiers would far prefer to steal and sell crematorium fuel than use it for its designated purpose.

Which brings us to more really stupid fake news: the fervent statements that Russian forces didn’t actually stack civilian bodies like cordwood and stuff them into cellars and shallow graves. Of course they did. When a mechanized army, even one as ill-supplied as Russia’s, is confronted by large numbers of gun-wielding grandmas and other partisans, there are going to be one hell of a lot of civilian casualties. For every video where the Ukrainian tractor tows off the tank, there are doubtless two we don’t see where the tank shoots the tractor. Even if the locals aren’t shooting back, there’s a substantial risk that accompanies living in a war zone. Heck, some of the local citizens doubtless died from natural causes over the course of the past month, and it’s tough to hold a proper funeral in No Man’s Land. When a defeated army pulls back, they are generally more concerned with escaping than with the social niceties.

(Notice here that we’re not taking any position on accused Russian or Ukrainian war crimes. There are international investigatory agencies that do this full-time; they don’t need our help. They will issue reports in due time. Meanwhile, our official position is that war itself is a crime; moreover, that an undisciplined force like either the Russian regulars or the Ukrainian national guard — to say nothing of volunteers, partisans, or mercenaries — is more likely than most to commit atrocities. Certainly there are war crimes; certainly, they are taking place on both sides. Morally, drawing a comparison between the shelling of Mariupol, the firebombing of Tokyo, or the “Rape of Nanking” calls for a certain specialization of conscience for which we find ourselves ill-equipped. -Editor)

In other startling evidence that some people will believe anything, there’s a story going around the fringe clickbait mills to the effect that CINC-Land-Europe, American Lt. General Roger Cloutier, was captured by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine on the third of April. Despite his very public appearance in Turkey on April 6 (he’s the one that looks like the Kingpin), the fact that there’s zero evidence of NATO forces present anywhere in Ukraine, and that even official Russian sources are denying this, the tall tale keeps growing and spreading. Today, he was apparently startled to learn that he was executed yesterday.

We’re also told that the Ukrainian Nazi legions are a real threat to America — this despite the evident difficulty Ukraine is having even against a third-rate power like Russia — and that George Soros is backing a Satanist Nazi Occultism movement in order to defeat Orthodox Christianity. The massive Ukrainian chemical weapons program that has thus far claimed zero casualties is said to have had bottomless funding since the Obama Administration. And so on.

Let’s be plain: Even if every reliable source we’ve been able to find on the subject is wrong and Ukraine was somehow guilty of provoking the invasion, the subsequent flattening of Mariupol, some twenty miles behind the initial front line, must be admitted by even the staunchest pro-Russian to be at least a slight overreaction. Moreover, every day the city continues to resist is another day when floods of western aid flows into the beleaguered country. Russia, despite having an overwhelming superiority in military equipment, technology, and manpower, is losing its war by any reasonable measure.

Having observed this, it’s worth mentioning that any direct involvement by NATO or the United States in the Ukraine war would escalate the situation rapidly. Even the most optimistic appraisal of the consequences leaves most of Europe uninhabitable, Russia a radioactive parking lot, and most American urban centers an apocalyptic wasteland within the next 90 minutes or so. Everyone involved is aware of this (except possibly Putin himself), so it’s pointless to protest American involvement in the conflict, because it won’t happen. There won’t even be a no-fly zone in the foreseeable future.

Official propaganda is common in wartime, and only to be expected. But why is the unofficial — and highly unlikely — anti-Ukraine version so very popular among Americans of all walks of life, from midwestern Libertarians to pro-Trump reactionaries in the South all the way to Portland Communists, college-based American Socialist groups, and the remains of the Occupy movements? What about this particular counter-narrative is it that makes American citizens so very much want to believe it?

Or is it simply that, in the evident absence of non-corporate media, people are choosing to embrace an obviously fictional narrative as a form of rebellion against the uninterrupted diet of continual crises that the likes of CNN would inflict upon our national psyche?

Your guess is as good as mine.

If you enjoy propaganda, please let us know why in the comments. We’re honestly at a loss. We’ve read better fiction from off-brand Harlequin knock-offs; true love may be a fantasy, but it scans a lot better than some of this crap. I’d sooner read the Enquirer in quest of Elvis and his half-alien love child.

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