A major war is fought on many levels: military, economic, political and through information. The information level of warfare is better described as propaganda. The purpose of information warfare is not to provide balanced and accurate facts about the conflict, but to spur anger towards the enemy and emotional support for one’s own forces.
Propaganda is extremely important to the effective conduct of warfare because the latter produces enormous destruction, suffering and death. The emotion generated by propaganda can render these terrible costs tolerable, at least for those not directly impacted. Unfortunately, the enemy demonization caused by war propaganda often makes compromise nearly impossible: A pact with the devil is, after all, both immoral and perilous.
All participants in warfare engage in propaganda. Thus, it is important to distinguish the critique of propaganda from the ethical evaluation of a war. Consider the current war in Ukraine. Most knowledgeable observers agree that the Russian attack on Ukraine is a violation of the United Nations Charter and a crime against world peace. Nevertheless, United States war propaganda distorts the Ukraine conflict in several critical ways.
First, U.S. war propaganda claims that the Russian attack was entirely unprovoked. This ignores the expansion of NATO to the very borders of Russia, despite repeated and passionate Russian protests. It ignores that Ukraine was promised NATO membership even though Russian leaders frequently emphasized that the prospect of such membership would draw a drastic response. The “unprovoked” claim also overlooks that Russia tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a compromise about NATO expansion before attacking. Russia’s onslaught upon Ukraine may be immoral, but it was certainly not unprovoked.
Second, U.S. war propaganda contends that the United States is an innocent bystander to the Russian assault upon Ukraine. This is far from reality. American political leaders are unanimously committed to maintaining United States global dominance and to defeating any challengers to such hegemony. This entails a steadfast effort to weaken Russia and foment regime change therein.
A central component of this effort is extracting Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence. Thus, the United States connived to make the 2014 Maidan uprising far more divisive, violent and anti-Russian than it might have been.
Since that time, the U.S. has copiously armed Ukraine and rendered it a de-facto member of NATO. Moreover, United States intransigence was the main reason that negotiations prior to the Russian attack failed. Biden’s stupid remark about ousting Putin testifies to these strategic realities.
Third, U.S. war propaganda alleges that Ukraine itself is entirely free of guilt for the Russian assault. Ukraine has a venerable strain of fascistic anti-Russian organizations and movements. Although this strain captures only a small minority of the Ukraine population, it is neither politically nor militarily insignificant.
Indeed, neo-fascist militias made implementation of the Minsk Accords, which might have prevented the war, politically impossible. Some of these far-right militias have been integrated into Ukraine military. They are largely responsible for eight years of attacks upon the Donbas separatist regions in which 14,000 people died. Some reports now indicate that neo-fascist militias engage in false-flag operations designed to draw the United States and NATO into the war.
Fourth, U.S. war propaganda declares that the Russian style of warfare deliberately victimizes civilians and is uniquely barbaric. Actually, the ratio of civilian-to-military casualties in the Ukraine is much lower than typical in modern warfare. This indicates that Russian armed forces are practicing considerable restraint towards civilians in their military operations.
In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere — by way of comparison — United States armed forces exercised far less forbearance towards non-combatants.
Fifth, U.S. war propaganda asserts that the Russian attack can only be understood as empire-building aggression. Yet many countries — including India, Brazil, Turkey and even Mexico — understand the war quite differently. They interpret it in geopolitical terms as a conflict between the United States and Russia about whether the world will be unipolar or multipolar.
Chas Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said: “At root, this is a contest over whether Ukraine will be in the U.S. sphere of influence, the Russian sphere of influence, or neither’s….[W]e are engaged…in a proxy war, and we’re selling a lot of weapons.”
And finally, U.S. war propaganda implies that supplying Ukraine with abundant weapons and cheerleading armed resistance is the only proper policy. But such an approach will prolong the war indefinitely inflicting enormous casualties.
The sensible and humane course of action is to promote a ceasefire with sustained negotiations. The resulting peace agreement should address Russia’s legitimate defense concerns while compensating Ukraine for war-related damage and guaranteeing its independence and security.