A Propaganda War
A War of Propaganda
Long ago in a land far away, I played in the Great Southeast Asian War Games. One of the events in which I participated was the sport of what we called “bullshit bombing,” an event dating back to World War II when British bombers dropped propaganda leaflets over German cities during the “Phoney War” before the German invasion of the Low Countries turned the war into something other than phony. (Brits also referred to the period as the “Bore War.”) We’d load a C-130 with 70-pound boxes of printed paper at our home base at Naha, Okinawa than fly across the South China Sea to Da Nang in what was then South Vietnam. We’d spend the night in a hooch then go out the next evening and drop the heavy boxes over North Vietnam. Each box was packed full of leaflets with a message written in Vietnamese. We didn’t know what was on the leaflets – our job was merely to dispense them. The leaflets were written and printed by psychological warfare experts at an Army psychological warfare unit at an Army facility a few miles from the base. We had an identical mission off the coast of North Korea but that’s another story.
I HATED those missions! They meant an hour or so pushing the damn boxes to the back of the airplane along skate-wheel conveyers like the ones seen in grocery stores while sweating in our cotton flight suits and nylon flight jackets even though it was well below freezing outside. It was a tedious job – the boxes had sat on the conveyors for more than twenty-four hours and the rollers had sunk into the cardboard bottoms. The boxes had rolled easily into the airplane but rolling them out was hard work. My oxygen mask would start slipping around my sweaty face; even worse, the odor inside my mask became nauseating. Fortunately for me, I only flew a handful of those missions.
A year or so later, the Air Force declassified the North Vietnam mission (the North Korea missions may still be classified for all I know.) A display case was put up by the sidewalk in front of our squadron with examples of the leaflets with the translations beside them. Some were counterfeit money, but most had some kind of message. My favorite was one that gave first-aid advice on how to treat medical problems that might crop up during the long march down the Ho Chi Minh Trial to South Vietnam. The punchline was “If you follow these suggestions, you may live to die in South Vietnam.”
I thought of that leaflet when I was reading some of the accounts of the exploits of the beloved Ukrainians against the hated Russians right after the current war broke out. I read one about a woman who greeted Russian soldiers with sunflower seeds and told them they should put them in their pockets so they would sprout, and beautiful sunflowers would grow over their graves. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was propaganda. The wording was different, but the message was exactly the same as the one represented on the first-aid leaflets we had dropped decades ago. It was obvious the video was faked.
I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that that video and the myriad of others flooding social media were prepared by people who had been taught by US military advisors. After all, the US has been providing advice, equipment and training to the Ukrainian military since the Obama administration supported the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Ukraine in 2014. Not to mention that Ukraine’s current government, which is made up to a large degree of former members of the media, specifically the Ukraine president’s own production company, has the means and expertise to spout rhetoric and make videos that are nothing but propaganda, propaganda aimed not at their Russian enemies but at the Western world which Ukraine hopes to influence to come to their aid.
Ever since this war started, the world has been deluged by messages and videos from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor turned politician who became ruler of Ukraine, or “the Ukraine” as it was called before the Ukrainian parliament declared the Soviet Republic to be an independent country some thirty years ago. Zelensky and members of his government make claims that are obviously exaggerations if not outright lies. The media reports these claims without question and Western military analysts make projections based on what they’ve been told by Ukrainians. Some probably are aware it’s propaganda, but they have their own agenda, or rather they’re supporting the agenda of the Biden Administration and neoconservatives who see Ukraine as a means of instituting “regime change” in Russia. Much of the analysis reported in the media, including overseas outlets such as the BBC, come from The Institute for the Study of War, a neoconservative organization in Washington, DC that includes such prominent neocons as William Kristol, the former editor of the failed “conservative” news magazine The Weekly Standard, and David Petraeus, the head of the CIA under Barrack Obama. The founder of the organization is Kim Kagan, the niece by marriage of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, whose wife Victoria Nuland has played a prominent role in Ukraine. Nuland is of Ukrainian ancestry and the Kagans are descended from Lithuanian immigrants. Lithuania borders Ukraine and, along with Poland, ruled the Ukraine before they conveyed the eastern third of the region to Russia in return for assistance in their war with the Turks. (Whether it means anything or not, they are all Jews which seems to be common in the US foreign policy community.) The think tank was founded by Ms. Kagan in 2007 to study the ongoing war in Afghanistan, where she later spent time as an advisor to Generals Stanley McCrystal and Petraeus, with whom she, the Kagans and Nuland have a close relationship. Although her organization initially focused on the Middle East, they switched their focus to Ukraine during the Trump presidency. The Institute published a report in 2018 warning that NATO was ill-prepared for a war with Russia in Ukraine. To state the Institute has a vested interest in Ukraine would be an understatement.
The media takes Ukrainian claims of having killed astronomical numbers of Russian soldiers and destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks at face value, never mind that such claims are highly unlikely, especially since Ukraine claims they’ve suffered comparatively fewer losses of their own. When they do make claims of Ukrainian dead, it’s always civilians “targeted” by Russia, specifically the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. That Ukraine is grossly exaggerating numbers is illustrated by the claim that the “bomb” that struck the theater in Mariupol killed 300 when someone who was actually in the theater says the number is more like 100. Now, 100 people dead is a big number but it’s only a third of 300. The individual also said that the number of people actually in the theater at the time of the explosion was much less than the 1,300-1,500 the Ukrainian government “estimated.” He said there had been that many, but most had left. Considering the claims being made by Zelensky and his staff, I doubt this is an isolated incident. (There are also claims that the Ukrainian nationalists in Mariupol planned a “false flag” operation for propaganda purposes. These claims are vehemently denied as “Russian propaganda.” However, it is possible since the defenders of Mariupol are to some extent Ukrainian nationalists who have no love for the Russians who populate the city and surrounding area.)
Immediately after the war broke out, Kiev claimed that Russian assassination teams were planning to assassinate Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders. They claim there have been several attempts, but all were thwarted by Ukraine intelligence. Now, Zelensky’s home and offices are in downtown Kiev. If Putin wanted to destroy the Ukraine government, Russian troops would have saturated the area with artillery, missiles and bombs, yet there has been no attempt by the Russians to destroy downtown Kiev, and they have the capability to do it. Putin said at the outset that he had no plans to destroy the Ukrainian government and he has made no attempt to do so, yet Kiev has made claims of such an intent.
Propaganda has been a weapon in wartime for centuries (and it’s often repeated in history as fact.) Propaganda’s purpose is to influence perception. In Ukraine’s case, Zelensky is desperate to convince Americans and Europeans that Putin is vicious but that the “brave” Ukrainians can defeat him – with Western help. He has been pressing for NATO to establish a “no-fly zone” umbrella over Ukraine even while the Ukrainian military claims it’s knocking Russian airplanes out of the sky like swatting flies and keeping Russian missiles from hitting their targets. If this is true, what’s the need of a “no-fly zone,” which is an impossible proposition in a situation such as that found in the current conflict? He wants Javelin antitank missiles and Stinger antiaircraft missiles – which are ineffective against high-speed aircraft and only have an effective range of some 12,000 feet – and he’s getting them. At least the weapons are being appropriated by the US and other Western governments. Whether they’re actually reaching the Ukrainian forces engaged with the Russians is another story.
Zelensky has made numerous untrue claims in an effort to influence opinion in the US and Europe. He claimed that thermobaric bombs, which were developed first by the United States during the Vietnam War, are “forbidden by the Geneva Convention.” They are not. He later claimed that bombs and artillery shells using white phosphorus are forbidden. They’re not either. He has been prolific with claims that Russia is “targeting” hospitals and the US media has been repeating the claims, without considering that the likelihood of hospitals, schools and other structures being hit by artillery, bombs and missiles is high in urban warfare. Not to mention that military forces often use such structures because they are supposed to be off-limits. Various international conventions have prohibited war waged specifically against civilians, yet it’s impossible for civilians not to be hit by bombing and shelling. Allied bombs killed hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese civilians in World War II after all – and some, particularly the firebombing missions that caused tremendous damage to German cities and arguably ended the war in Japan were deliberately aimed at civilians. Firebombing missions against Japanese cities caused more casualties then either of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, both of which were aimed at civilian populations.
Some Western leaders, particularly Americans, have been prolific with propaganda themselves. It’s become apparent to some that they are intent on waging war against Russia – using Ukrainians. They know that the use of NATO forces in Ukraine is a recipe for disaster, but they believe they can avoid it by supplying Ukraine with arms without becoming militarily involved themselves, at least not overtly. It’s likely there are already US and other Western personnel already in Ukraine. The CIA has a long history of providing “advisors” to one side or the other in conflicts in which the United States has no real public interest. (In the case of Ukraine, their goal is to undermine Putin and force him out of office.) They have waged secret wars all over the globe, from Africa to Vietnam. In most cases, their efforts have failed. The disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq are good examples of American failures, although both were fought using conventional military rather than CIA advisors and contractors.
The CIA also has a long history of supplying information to US media outlets, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post. It has recently come to light that fake stories were planted in the US media, including stories claiming that Russia planned to use “chemical” weapons. Now, bear in mind that ALL modern weapons are chemical! The doddering Joe Biden pronounced that if Russia used “chemical weapons” in Ukraine, the United States would respond, although how he planned to respond is unclear. The US claimed to have destroyed its stock of chemical weapons decades ago. (Never mind that the Bluegrass Arsenal outside Lexington, Kentucky has long been the storage facility for such weapons.) The shocking claim appeared immediately after Victoria Nuland revealed that there are biological research laboratories in Ukraine, laboratories financed at least in part by the United States. Furthermore, the London Daily News has revealed that there is evidence on presidential son Hunter Biden’s notorious laptop that he was involved in awarding the contracts to the labs. The CIA has also been found to have made claims such as Russia’s plans to buy weapons from China and that Russian president Putin is being fed false information by his advisors even though there is little or no evidence backing up the claims.
The media are also accomplished propagandists, and they’ve been putting out tons of it in this war. I’ve seen articles claiming that Russia “must be running out of precision weapons” because they were using “dumb bombs.” Look folks, precisions weapons, bombs and missiles that use an internal guidance system, were developed for use against high-value targets and they are very expensive to purchase and maintain. So-called “dumb” bombs are merely conventional bombs, the same kind of bombs used in World War I and since. They are simple and easy to build; they are merely a casing filled with explosives with a fuse to set it off. They cost pennies compared to the “smart” bombs that require a sophisticated guidance system. They are just as effective as “smart” bombs when used against targets such as troop concentrations and airfields where pinpoint accuracy is not required. Media accounts love to focus on injuries to civilians, and the thousands of refugees who have taken to the roads to flee the carnage.
There is also another problem unique to the current conflict. In recent years people with little else to do have taken to the Internet and become “sleuths” who seek out information to solve crimes. This practice has spread to “intelligence” as “Open Source Intelligence” or OSINT. OSINT practitioners use computer programs to dredge up information that they then compile as “intelligence.” Bear in mind that “intelligence” is actually a euphemism for information, information that may or may not be factual and in any case is open to interpretation. In many respects, this is exactly what government/military intelligence “experts” do, except military intelligence specialists have been trained to interpret the information they collect then make an analysis of that information. Much being reported in the media regarding Russian losses, etc. comes from such “intelligence.” Never mind that for OSINT to be available, it first has to be published on the Internet and it’s not likely that Russia is going to publish figures on the Internet for the world to see. After all, casualty numbers DO provide an enemy with valuable intelligence. (I know for a fact that US aircraft losses in Vietnam were immediately classified.) OSINT “companies” and individuals claiming to be companies have made claims such as that one Russian elite parachute regiment has been badly damaged based on “open source” information that most likely came from Ukraine. Another example is the “stalled” military convoy that halted for several days on roads north of Kiev. “Intelligence” regarding this convoy came from commercial photographs taken by satellites owned by a US company that provides its photographs to government agencies, and the media, for a price. OSINT “experts” made all kinds of claims about how this convoy had stopped for myriads of nonexistent problems when the vehicles had simply halted to wait in reserve until they were needed.
Ukraine has been prolific with its publishing of videos and photographs that seem to reinforce their claims of Russian “atrocities” and even of “genocide” as well as “war crimes.” One of the most recent is the claim that bodies of Ukrainian “civilians” were found in the city of Bucha, a suburb of Kiev after Russian troops withdrew. Some were allegedly found with their hands tied behind their backs. The video came from the Ukraine National Police, which makes the account suspect. Now, using corpses in warfare is not uncommon. One of the most famous was Operation “Mincemeat,” the use of a corpse from a London morgue to feed a false “invasion plan” to the Germans prior to the invasion of Sicily in 1943. Now, when the Russians first launched their “invasion” (Russian troops have been fighting in Donbas since 2014), the Ukraine government immediately began arming all Ukrainian civilian men – and perhaps some women – which means there are NO civilians in Ukraine and made an open season on Ukrainians, men in particular. Perhaps Russian soldiers did capture some Ukrainians then shoot them, a practice that is not all that uncommon in much of the world. One Buchan resident has said that the Russians went looking for men who had fought against the “separatists” in Eastern Ukraine, particularly those with neo-Nazi sympathies. Incidentally, there have also been videos posted showing Ukrainian soldiers shooting captured Russians. (Earlier in the war, Ukraine was posting videos allegedly showing Ukrainian women consoling young Russians who had just surrendered. They were even providing cell phones for them to call their mothers.)
One piece of propaganda that has been widely accepted in the US is that Putin was expecting a quick victory in Ukraine after his forces rolled up the Ukrainian opposition and captured Kiev, then took Zelensky out and hung him from a light pole. Never mind that Putin said at the outset that he had no intention of capturing Ukraine, but that his intentions were to protect the two provinces that had seceded from Ukraine. Yes, Russian troops moved into position in the vicinity of Kiev, but I suspect their presence was a feint to draw Ukraine’s military away from the real target, the city of Mariupol on the Black Sea. Mariupol is not only an important port city, it lies between Russia and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 after the population voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia (Crimea was originally an oblast but in 1954 the new Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, who had ties to Ukraine, transferred it to the Republic of Ukraine.) There is another reason the city was on Russian radar – it’s the headquarters of the infamous Azov Regiment of the Ukraine National Guard.
The Azov Regiment was originally formed as a battalion in 2014 by Nazis who had played a large role in the overthrow of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych earlier in the year. Much of Ukraine supported Germany in World War II and there are still large numbers of Ukrainians who embrace Nazi philosophies. The battalion was formed specifically to fight the separatists in Donbas and has been stationed in the Mariupol region since it’s formation. Ukraine acknowledges that the regiment was originally formed by Nazis and neo-Nazis – as many as 20% of the battalion were acknowledged Nazis – but now claims it is no longer a Nazi organization. However, Russian president Putin doesn’t seem to think so and has attributed his motivation to order additional Russian troops into Ukraine to the regiment. The regiment is especially known for its propaganda activities, particularly the posting of videos, some taken from drones, on social media.
All in all, there is reason to distrust anything and everything coming out of Ukraine, including the various analysis posted on various web sites and in media AND the pronouncements from US government officials. It’s a propaganda war.