24 February, 2023 is the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Not the first anniversary of the current war. It began in 2014, when Russia seized the Crimean peninsula, and poured money, equipment, uniforms and leadership into “separatist” movements in the Donbas.
But the full-scale invasion that began one year ago has had a far greater impact on communications around the world. Not a day has gone by in the past 365 when the war in Ukraine did not figure in the news.
This nonstop coverage quickly established a number of tropes:
- Defiant Ukrainian civilians standing up to the invasion by an seemingly overwhelming foe, gathering to prepare Molotov cocktails, dig defensive ditches, patrol the blacked-out streets, and join militias and the regular army
- Farmers towing Russian tanks when they run out of gas
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a hero, the leader who said “I need bullets, not a ride”…
- …contrasted with Russian President Vladimir Putin staying in the Kremlin (except for highly orchestrated events with paid attendees), or the image of him sitting at one end of an absurdly long table, with others seated at the far end
- Incompetent Russian soldiers and officers, who seem unable to organize logistics—the delivery of supplies and soldiers when and where they’re needed
- The cruelty of Russian invaders and occupiers toward the civilian population, particularly of the mercenary Wagner Group.
There are many more.
And some are quite dark, offering a mirror image to the picture described above.
Some people on social media like to remind us that Zelensky was a comedian, using a sneering tone to imply that means he is simply not qualified to lead a country. (The evidence that he is qualified is right in front of us.) Some go further, asserting that he’s a cross-dresser, a “drag queen.” Because he once wore a woman’s costume for a bit. (Don’t like men to wear dresses? Tell your closest Catholic priest that.)
Or, more dangerously, repeating Russian war propaganda. That Russia is being attacked by NATO. That it’s under imminent threat, and that invading Ukraine is necessary to protect itself.
These tropes get repeated by people who really ought to know better. People like Colonel Doug MacGregor, who says he used to work for the Pentagon. I’ve seen him repeating the Russian lines. I mean lies.
More than two sides to this coin
“There are two sides to every story,” you may say. True. In fact, there usually are a lot more sides to any story.
Sure, both sides of this conflict have committed atrocities. Both sides are rife with corruption.
But here’s the central question: which country invaded whom?
Whose troops are on another country’s soil?
Which troops are killing civilians and taking children out of the country?
The real danger
Fortunately, most people I know, most of the media I read and hear, don’t believe the Russian propaganda. Sure, there are more than one side to the story. There are different sources of news.
But they’re not equal. They’re not all credible. And it is not hard to see which is more credible.
That’s where the real danger comes in. There are people who believe the lies. Who repeat them and use the lies to justify their own political goals and purposes.
So what can we do?
What we always do. Evaluate the stories. Look for hard evidence. Real evidence, not rumours, not circular statements or assertions that deny reality.
Look for credible sources, the kind that provide evidence, that have a reputation for reliability, and not raving conspiracy theorists.
Question everything. I mean, everything. Yes, even the sources that you’ve trusted for years. They could be wrong. Or they could have an unstated agenda.
Ask yourself what someone would gain from having other believe their statements.
And be open to new evidence. Facts that emerge, that become clear over time. We could be wrong. It’s the human condition.
In short, be human. Use our senses and our reason. Be willing to change your mind.