Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Russia's war with Ukraine is a weird and unsettling mess to watch.

The war in Ukraine that Russia started has been a really strange one to watch as it plays out on the world stage, and through incredibly well-informed media that is able to throw light on things. Moves that Russia has made would have been seen as clever or brilliant in another era. Now, they just look comically stupid and the acts of a deranged madman.

The latest of these "acts" is a ploy by Moscow to create a pretext for escalating the war in Ukraine by detonating a dirty bomb within Ukraine's territory and then saying that Kyiv did it and not Russia. This is what the Secretary of State calls a "false flag" operation, meaning it is done to create a pretext for intervention. In case you don't know what a dirty bomb is, it's a phrase that describes a conventional explosive wrapped with radiological waste.

Other such "false flags" that Russia created involved Ukraine supposedly planning to use a chemical weapon. Want a second example? American Intelligence uncovered a plot by Russia to hire crisis actors to create a false pretext for invasion. Like seriously...Russia was going to hire actors to run through a script so that they could appear as heroes coming to the rescue. This would be laughable if it wasn't real. And it's real.

The firehose of propaganda coming from Russia is a strange and unsettling phenomenon. In the past, it has worked really well. And we see it work really well in our own country as (apparently) it is easy to dupe people if they have a reason/grudge to buy into a false narrative anyway. For example, they've said that U.S. mercenaries were preparing biochemical weapons in Ukraine. A little bit later, the propogandists made up an explosion that supposedly happened in Donetsk in early February. And the list goes on and on. All of these things are designed to get Russian citizens and its allies on-board with the land grab that Putin is trying to complete. It's so weird, especially when you consider how big Russia is already.

One of the most unsettling things about all of this (for me) has been the realization that what we all know comes from either direct-hand observation or by believing other people. And by and large, the history of the world has been shaped by believing other people as direct-hand observation simply hasn't been possible until the modern era with cameras nearly everywhere. Cameras have been a godsend and being able to check the photographic record or the satellite imagery against what a person says has (time and again) exposed just how duplicitous, petty, and awful many people are. And history is always written by the victors, and it is clearly biased.

George R.R. Martin shows us this in HBO's spinoff of House of the Dragon. This is a story about the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. But more than that, Martin wrote it to show through a fictional lens what a historical civil war between two women might look like if it were written within the context of a patriarchy and the authors were men. And this is exactly what we are seeing in House of the Dragon. It's that last thing that really fascinates me about the series, and the two women (the two "Queens") devolve into petty hatreds and histrionics over their particular desires to rule the Iron Throne (or to install their heirs on it). Despite the comicality of imagining this as a fantastic tale, how is it any different than what we see in real life? It isn't...not one bit. And that is how wars start and hundreds (if not thousands or even millions) of people die as a result.

That is an incredible thing to observe and then realize about humanity. We are all living in the most interesting of times.


  1. The advent of TV really changed the face of war, as evidenced by the backlash against the Vietnam War when every night news broadcasts would show the latest horrors going on there. Of course the Pentagon has tried to be more careful since then with "embedded reporters" going with troops but with social media it is so much easier to spread truth and lies about wars.

    It's just too bad for Russia their actual on-the-ground warriors aren't nearly as good as their cyber warriors or they'd probably be winning. But all Putin has to do is wait until Republicans take over Congress in January and the flow of American aid will be cut off and then it will be much easier for Putin to grind Ukraine down.

  2. It's scary to think this is every war. The atrocities... But this must be what every war has been like, only we didn't get the minutiae like we can now.