It is said that Winston Churchill put the English language in uniform in WWII. So he did. His words during times of maximum crisis counting for much, as the Brits didn’t have that much more to through at the Germans in the late spring of 1940. That would soon change and Churchill would be up to the task of chronicling that as well.
In the war presently upon Ukraine, the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has taken on the Churchill role. His words and image inspire his nation and the world. So much so that poseurs like Emmanuel Macron of France are pathetically trying to copy his look, to no avail.
Perhaps from his entertainment background, Zelenskyy knows the power of an effective message. Here are some of his words to date.
To Russian troops: “We hear your conversations in the intercepts. We hear what you really think about this war, about this disgrace and about your state. Your conversations with each other. Your calls home to your family. We hear it all. I offer you a choice. On behalf of the Ukrainian people, I give you a chance. A chance to survive if you surrender to our forces,” said Zelenskyy.
“We will treat you the way people are supposed to be treated. As people, decently – in a way that you were not treated in your army. And in a way your army does not treat ours. Choose.”
To the world, including Russian troops and the Russian people: “The enemy is confused. They did not expect such resistance. They flee the battlefield. They abandon equipment. We take trophies and use them to protect Ukraine. Today, Russian troops are, in fact, one of the suppliers of our army…Responsibility for war crimes of the Russian military is inevitable. Responsibility for a deliberate humanitarian catastrophe in Ukrainian cities is inevitable. The whole world sees what is happening in Mariupol. Kharkiv. Chernihiv. Sumy. Okhtyrka. Hostomel. Irpin. In all our cities.”
But Zelenskyy is not the leader of the free world. Like it or not, Biden is. His ability to communicate is impaired by his obviously deteriorating mental condition. However, a way must be found for Biden, or perhaps a proxy like Anthony Blinken, to directly speak to Russian troops and the Russian people. We need an effective psyops campaign. Orrin Knox, call your office.
There are major fissures in Russian society between the young and the old, the urbane class and others. Russian troops are conscripts who are likely fans of American social media. These factors can be used to undermine the Russian invasion of Ukraine with Russian troops in that besieged nation and in the heart of Russia.
Ronald Reagan, perhaps the only president since Lincoln who could have pulled it off, spoke directly to Russians during his visit to Moscow in 1988. He was a hit. The Biden administration must use the power of words and the ubiquitous nature of American culture to speak to Russians in an address that would injure the Russian war effort from within.
Line up every transmitter we and our allies can lay hands on and broadcast over every communications mode a message against Putin, against his war, and with a great regard for the Russian people. Tell their troops their anguish will be ongoing and fatal. Remind them of their Afghanistan adventure.
Tell the people that Putin is not worthy of holy and eternal Russia. Remind them of their already reduced lifestyle because of Putin. Take advantage of Putin’s own ego by rubbing his nose in the inability of his military to perform up to plans. Hold out the carrot of a Russian return to the ranks of civilized nations, and the attendant material perks, if Putin were no longer on the scene.
Do this and you can significantly degrade the sputtering Russian war machine. You can demoralize them in the field and at home. You can sap their strength in ways in which they cannot successfully fight back. As a wise strategist once said, “Don’t just beat him. Break his will to fight.”