There is simply no denying the wickedness and cruelty of Vladimir Putin. He is not, by any estimation, a tolerant or good man. His career in East Germany as a KGB agent brought him into close contact with cold-blooded terrorists who did the dirty work of the Soviet Union in western Europe. As leader of Russia, he has cracked down on political dissent; employing the instruments of state to criminalise, imprison, torture, and in some cases murder his political opponents. It is highly probable he has for a decade at least spearheaded a media and online disinformation campaign in the West designed to polarise opinion and weaken the bonds of common understanding on which healthy democracies depend. We can safely assume he has interfered in a number of important elections in the United States, the European Union, and Britain.
Inside Russia, his ideological troika of Nation, Church, and Might has been erected on the culturally manufactured fear and hatred of minorities; making life intolerable for many thousands of ordinary Russian people whose sexual orientations do not conform to the hyper masculine norms of the imagined ideal of Russian manhood or womanhood. LGBTQ+ people face disgustingly high levels of discrimination in Russia from a society that quite clearly feels empowered to alienate and punish this segment of the population. Although it is not illegal to be gay in Russia, gay men and lesbians have very few legal protections when it comes to discrimination at work and when seeking somewhere to live. Vladimir Putin has presided over a country that has made open discrimination and even homophobic hate crime a patriotic virtue.
His control of the media and his close ties to the most corrupt oligarchs — people who made billions from stealing the wealth of the Russian Federation — give us serious cause for concern. It is difficult to see Russia under Putin as anything other than a vicious kleptocracy intoxicated by myths of a glorious past and an unrealistic fantasy of the Russian nation and its idealised people. We are right too to be worried by his engineered apotheosis, by his efforts to set himself up as an idolised and messianic leader of a new resurgent Russia readying itself to reclaim its place in the world. World leaders like Putin should and do cause us a considerable amount of anxiety — and for good reason. Yet, it would be unfair to suggest that this style of statesmanship and statecraft are entirely unfamiliar to us in the so-called free world. In this regard, Vladimir Putin is not altogether unlike the many would-be messiahs western democracies have produced.
Over the last ten years or so western governments and media outlets have been waging a full spectrum propaganda war against Russia, with a particular interest in monsterising Vladimir Putin in the popular imagination. And, in all fairness, most of what they have said about him is true — and yes, he does deserve to be seen as a monster. He is a monster. But his invasion of Ukraine (24 February 2022) has sparked a frenzy of anti-Putin propaganda in the western media and a competition among western politicians to portray the Russian premier in the most monstrous and Hitleristic light. Bad as it is, Ukraine is not the most violent, deadly or ‘barbaric’ invasion in history. In an instant, Putin has been slapped up on the West’s wall of infamy with all the baddies; Attila the Hun, Ghengis Khan, Hitler (of course), and Stalin himself.
But this is typical of what Noam Chomsky described as the propaganda model of the western media, a way of doing the news which is specifically geared towards building public support for a desired political end — and in this case that end is war. Civilians have indeed suffered in Ukraine. Sady, civilians suffer in every conflict (except in US-led ‘interventions’ where there is only ‘collateral damage’). These civilian — innocent — victims, in every conflict, become the grist of state and state media war propaganda, and there are always ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims in this propaganda model:
A propaganda system will consistently portray people abused [by] enemy states as worthy victims, whereas those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy.Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
Let us be clear, all civilians killed in conflict or by despotic or tyrannical governments are worthy victims. They are all human beings. But this is not how the propaganda model we are being subjected to in the West presents these different victims of war. The worthy victims of the war in Ukraine are of course the people of Ukraine who are suffering greatly — both as a result of Russian military aggression and at the hands of their own government that has robbed them of their civilian status by issuing them with weapons and at the hands of extremist Nazi units that have murdered civilians attempting to flee the violence (yes, this has been documented). The unworthy victims are all the many thousands of innocent civilians and children who have lost their lives around the world because of western aggression. The suffering of these people has been and is being methodically hidden from us — and for the simple reason that there are far more of them than there are Ukrainian victims, and for the reason that the West needs these Ukrainian victims for its propaganda. Without the suffering of these worthy victims there is no useful western narrative to justify its desired war with Russia.
While the great threat right now being held over our heads is the threat of nuclear war, only one state has ever used nuclear weapons in war and this was the United States in 1945 — and these were used against civilian targets. When President Harry Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nazis had been defeated in Europe and the war against the Empire of Japan in the Pacific was coming to an end. Other than hastening the inevitable defeat of Japan, there was no military need to use the atom bomb. Still, the US military wanted to see what this new weapon could do and the US government wanted to send a message to Russia. These were the only real justifications for dropping the bomb — killing in the region of 200,000 innocent civilians with just two bombs. But the western narrative never considers the worthiness of these ‘enemy’ civilians.
Since the 1960s, Britain waged a war of state-sponsored terrorism against its own people in the north of Ireland, with the London government, the British Army, and government-funded paramilitaries colluding in a campaign to harass and murder innocent Irish Catholic civilians and drive them from their homes. When the British Secret Service, the SAS, and loyalist murder gangs were working together to burn Belfast Catholics out of their homes, the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ never got anywhere near the British press. Refugee camps were set up over the border in the Irish Republic, but these refugees were never afforded the sainted status of worthy victims by the British government and its controlled media. Not even when the British paratroop regiment massacred unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry or went house to house in Belfast indiscriminately killing men, women, and children, were these people treated as worthy victims. In fact, the British government and media continued to treat them as terrorists until decades later when the courts established their innocence and the criminal complicity of the British state in their murders.
Since 2008, the United States has been funding, arming, and training openly Nazi militias in Ukraine — militias with the power to bring down the Ukrainian government in 2014 — which have been used by the Ukrainian government to wage a war of state-terror against the Russian people of eastern Ukraine. This too has been a war against a civilian population, but we have not been told about this. According to the western government and media narrative, these people are not worthy victims — they are ‘Russian-backed separatists.’ Yet, the reality is that they are ordinary men, women, and children who have been made the victims of ideological Nazi kill squads operating with the support of the US and Ukrainian governments and with NATO special training.
People hearing this for the first time are rightly shocked and have some difficulty in believing that the American government could do this, but this is what the US government has always done — and we all know it. The application of the Monroe Doctrine throughout the twentieth century has seen the US government sponsor one far-right military junta after another in central and south America, resulting in the deaths and disappearances of thousands upon thousands of innocent people. In Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua the CIA backed brutal paramilitary groups in ‘counter-revolutionary’ projects that brought down democratic governments to further the ends of US hegemony in the region. But very little of this has ever come to our attention. We have never really been told of how the CIA assisted in the trafficking of cocaine into the US, thereby funding right-wing paramilitaries in Nicaragua and generating the cash to supply Iran with missiles; all the while producing suffering on a global scale. This is what the United States did again in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Right-wing paramilitary groups have become the calling card of CIA involvement abroad. In Iraq and Syria the United States government backed various paramilitary groups which were in reality nothing more than al-Qaeda rebranded — the very group behind the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Millions have died because of western military ‘intervention’ since the end of the Second World War and the rate of this killing only increased when the US was no longer challenged on the international stage by the Soviet Union, but not one of these people — these victims, not even Archbishop Oscar Romero, has been dignified in the western media as a worthy victim. And Vladimir Putin would have a job of work ahead of him if he is to ever match the body count of the United States and Britain. Of course, none of this justifies what Putin has done. It merely serves to illustrate the awful propaganda bubble we are in, and this distorted western narrative is being spun to push the public in the West to demand more bloodshed.
Jason Michael McCann, M.Phil. (TCD) Conflict Studies The author holds a postgraduate degree in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict from the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and an academic fellowship in the study of conflict from the University of West Flanders. He has published on the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the murder of the Hungarian Jews in 1944.
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