Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Reflections on propaganda and procrastination...at the highest levels

 No one can comprehend, justify or interpret the lock-down of some 25 million people in Shanghai, in order to control the spread of COVID.

From CNN’s Steven Jiang, April 19, 2022, in a piece entitled, Hunger and
anger in Shanghai’s unending lockdown nightmare, we read this:

‘People are also seeing Chinese propaganda czars double down, painting Omicron as a potentially lethal threat while stressing that only zero-Covid can save China from the deaths and havoc caused by the virus in the West. Officials have made it clear the policy has the personal stamp of approval from the country’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, who has yet to visit Shanghai-a city he once led- amid the deepening crisis. Xi is expected to assume an almost unprecedented third term later this year, paving the way for him to rule for life….With state media headlines screaming ‘it’s not (the) flu’ against government statistics showing only about two dozen severe cases among the infected in Shanghai so far, nearly everyone seems to agree on the apparent absurdity of the ‘solution being worse than the problem’-particularly as stories surface on social media about deaths relating to those unable to received medical care for non-Covid causes due to the lockdown.’

This story out of China comes at a time when the world is focussed on the deadly and increasingly protracted war in Ukraine, where the Russian czar-wannabe deploys a similar kind, degree and ubiquity of propaganda in order to facilitate/achieve his personal agenda.

Propaganda is defined as information especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. What the definition does not include is the “will” or the “dominance” or the “tyranny” of the agent of its deployment. The word autocrat, (relating to a ruler who has absolute power) too has been so bandied about as to render the western audiences somewhat inured, or perhaps even immune to the full implications of its operation.

Mind control, brain washing, undertaken by men whose conscience seems to have fled their persons, may be the undeclared war that is, like the forest fire in the roots of the trees, spreading from one corner of the world to others. We saw a similar kind of mind manipulation playing out during the four years of the previous U.S. administration. The results, the votes of some 74 million people for trump, astounded many who still cannot reconcile how grown, mature and self-respecting men and women could pull a lever to mark a ballot in favour of such a presidential candidate. And it is not only the content of the lies/propaganda/mind-control that is of serious concern. It is also the machine, comprised of individual men and women committed to carrying out the “orders” of the strong man at the top of the hierarchical pyramid of power.  And that machine also embraces large organizations whose decision-makers have succumbed/surrendered/anaesthetized/medicated their own brains and minds in order to fall in to a quick-step march that feeds their puny, emaciated and starved ego’s. Holding sway over others, regardless of how rich the carrots or how painful the sticks, is nevertheless not only a political problem facing the world; it is also an ethical dilemma that undermines many of the best efforts to take and to enforce measures of public policy that would, for example, re-orient the position of western leaders vis a vis Ukraine, from one of “defending Ukraine” to one of “ensuring that Ukraine wins”.

While the good works of shipping tonnes of military material to Ukraine, and of imposing more stringent sanctions ‘than ever before’ (a political piece of inflated rhetoric instead of the simple word “previously”) must not be either ignored nor unappreciated, it is not enough. And the propaganda that ‘sells’ it as heroic, from the perspective of the American and European media and leadership, does not address the weakness and the futility it exposes. Managing the message, an integral component of every political campaign, and certainly essential to any war effort, is, in an information age of highly sophisticated and universal digital capacity to reach into the hands/hearts/minds of billions of ordinary men, women and children, dependent upon receivers capable and willing to set aside their ‘rose-coloured glasses’ and their generally adaptive and compliant wills to the music of political and corporate leadership that they once considered trust-worthy.

Mind-control by tyrants can only be accomplished through the eyes, ears, minds and hearts of those of us who are on the receiving ‘end’ of their messages. Numbed by any of the normal pain-numbing agents, whose numbers grow as our distaste for the political theatre also grows, we risk falling into a kind of attitudinal and social state of unconsciousness. The lies are so prevalent and to pernicious that we risk tuning them out, while millions, for example in Shanghai, suffer inordinately and unjustifiably. Millions too are suffering in Russia under the blanket of forbidden truth-telling about the ‘war,’ a word which if used in public can result in arrest and  punishment, and up to 15 years imprisonment, on the third conviction.

And the suffering of the Ukrainians, depicted in pictures, which if left black and white are hauntingly reminiscent of those we see in museums, movies and texts from World War II, rises above in both its depth and reach that even of the people of Shanghai. And, as Ukrainian grandmothers and grandfathers keep asking hopelessly in video clips, “Why?” a question that haunts not only those individuals and the reporters engaged with them, but each of us in every nation witnessing this massacre.

Cutting through the propaganda of the ‘western’ liberal democratic leaders, however, is more subtle and more demanding that trashing the lies of a Putin or a Xi Jinping (or a Trump). And that intellectual and psychological rigour needed to push past the good deeds into the reality of “winning” as opposed to “defending” Ukraine, is evident in only a few public thought leaders.

Obviously, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s name comes first to mind, given his daily address to Ukrainians, and anyone around the world who will listen. Thankful for all of the support, and at the same time pleading for more, is a message so obviously and intrinsically authentic that no one is in doubt. And for his native patriots, the message is both inspiring and supportive as well as embodying leadership with integrity. Not only is Zelenskyy’s message, tone, delivery and consistency laudable but placed aside the lies coming from Moscow, Zelenskyy’s purity seems even more unadulterated and Putin’s lies even more despicable. The literary/dramatic foil is on display for all of history.

And then there are scholars like Anne Applebaum, appearing on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin last evening, stressing the need for Ukraine, supported by all of those offering support, to not merely defend themselves against the Russian onslaught, but more importantly, to win this war. In her assessment, the only way for anyone to anticipate the Russians going home, withdrawing their troops, is for a clear win to be achieved by the Ukrainian forces and people. Her insight that there seems to be little if any difference between sending missiles and defence systems to Ukraine and the option of sending military fighter jets, although, based on the information she has learned, those jets will not be either adequate or appropriate for the task facing the Ukrainian forces. Her inference here is that an all-out commitment, without reservations from the west, including both NATO and the U.S., is not only needed, but essential to ensure a Ukrainian win. Just this morning, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, talk of a Ukrainian-imposed no fly zone, rather than one enabled by NATO jets, has started to be voiced.

In another space here, we have signalled the thoughts, perceptions, attitudes and conclusions of such observers as Fiona Hill, Ian Brezinski, Garry Kasparov, and more recently Vladimir Kura-Murza (recently detained), along with William Browder (American investor, targeted for death by Putin, originator of the Magnitski Act(s) after the murder of his lawyer at 37 in Russian hands), all of whom have noted, without reservation, the prophetic and lethal goals of Putin, whom they all believe will not stop with a victory in Ukraine. None of these people, and now even the Director of the CIA, Willian Burns, indicate that threats to use tactical nuclear weapons by Putin cannot be taken lightly. Former NATO commander James Stavridis also warns of a major cyber attack, not only on Ukraine, but also on many of the networks in the U.S. for which he argues we have to be prepared.

The question on some minds this morning, still however, is whether or not whatever military, intelligence and war-materiels are made available to Ukraine will inevitably be too little too late. Diplomatic and legal arguments, however appropriate in a court room, especially in an International Criminal Court, for the determination of criminal liability for ‘crimes against humanity’ and/or for genocide, for example, are no longer warranted or even worthy of honour by the people in the Pentagon, the White House, and in Brussels at NATO. While it is encouraging to learn that both Finland and Sweden are now engaged in the abbreviated application process to join NATO, (as Ukraine is also in the short-circuit path to EU membership), these moves, along with all of the sanctions imposed so far, as well as any more that might be forthcoming, will not be an adequate substitute for those military weapons, intelligence systems, and all of both the software and hardware in the stockpiles in NATO and U.S. arsenals.

The resistance, too, of the corporates in Germany, especially the coal lobby, to any embargo on Russian gas and oil is another of the kinds of realities with which Putin is and will continue to be overjoyed. Some $300 billion-per-day in revenues to Moscow from fuel sales to Europe, vastly drown the $1 million in military aid flowing into Ukraine. And that imbalance bodes badly for Ukraine and for the west, regardless of how and when this war whimpers to a conclusion.

There is a seductive appeal to a defensive campaign, free of all of the ethical and moral baggage of being “offensive”. And there are arguments that all good offenses depend on reliable, consistent and stable defences. Defensive, is the argument that is used to justify all of the nuclear warheads (Russia has approximately 6000); and yet Ukraine, having honourably surrendered her’s, on the promise of security and protection, by nations including both the U.S. and Russia, is now left naked, seemingly dependent on the largess of the U.S. and NATO. Cries from the historians that America should have done more, provided more military materiel, as far back as 2014, when Russia ‘took’ Crimea, while exhibiting an indictment of the Obama administration, do nothing to provide Ukraine today. Similarly, when Obama declared a ‘red line’ in and when Assad (read Putin) ever were to deploy chemical weapons in Syria (read Aleppo), and then ‘defaulted’ into what effectively today looks like ‘do nothing’ for whatever possibly legitimate reasons, these decisions have helped to set the stage for the thousands of lost lives and the millions of displaced refugees. And all of this might have been prevented, if only…..

Urgency, immediacy, immodesty, crying in the wilderness…these are the linguistic and thought modalities of prophets, poets, novelists, and playwrights…and they are anathema to many if not most diplomats and political actors. And then, when the crisis (in whatever sector, region or demographic) reaches a point when it can and will no longer be ignored, then, and only then, does the institutional edifice spring into action, acting heroically, bravely and self-servingly to rescue the tragedy that those same institutions, by their negligence, have significantly enabled.

We enact a parallel pattern in so many of our decisions. Rather than take those small preventive steps, (like cleaning our teeth, or daily physical exercise, or offering hospitality to our circles) for reasons that seem legitimate at the time of our default, only to learn later that we have left the barn door open and the horse has bolted…and then we leapt into a frenzy to “bolt” the damn door!

Shameful and pathetic..and seemingly with impunity! Who is going to go back into history to hold those responsible for ‘sins of omission’ when we are over-committed to addressing those sins of commission that flood our screens and our eyes and minds?


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