“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” So was the message of Winston Churchill to explain Allied psyops and propaganda efforts during WWII. These days, with social media ubiquitous, victory in war can rest on perception. In politics it always has.
So yes, no doubt there have been recent instances where Ukrainian public relations, the “Ghost of Kyiv” comes to mind, has gained a decisive advantage in the press. This writer has wittingly aided the Ukrainian side with positive analysis because I have never bought the moral symmetry argument in wartime.
To paraphrase William F. Buckley, Jr: To draw a moral equivalency between Ukraine and Russia is like saying a man who pushes an old lady out of the way of a bus and a man who pushes an old lady in front of a bus are just two guys who like pushing around old ladies.
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In the Ukraine War, like many others, there are good guys and bad guys. When the bad guys gain the perception upper hand tragedy unfolds. A case in point: Vietnam.
The myth that the Vietnam War “divided the country in two” or was unpopular is one of the greatest scams ever to be perpetrated in US culture and history. It was sold as the truth by the Leftist press and their North Vietnamese allies.
Richard Nixon, certainly no dove on the Vietnam War, was elected president in 1968 with 43% of the vote in a three man field. George Wallace, who was to the right of Nixon on the war, received 13%. So 56%, of voters supported the US war effort in 1968 during the height of the so-called anti-war movement. Nixon won 301 electoral college votes. Add the 46 of Wallace? A big victory for the war effort. No division, consensus.
The 1972 election, also after massive anti-war protests and press agitprop for the communist North Vietnamese? Nixon wins 49 out of 50 states, 60% of the vote, and 520 electoral college votes. A landslide, a decisive mandate, and a massacre for the implicitly pro-communist anti-war movement. The allegedly “torn apart” America was nothing more than the perception war effort of trendy New Left college students, pop culture, and their media cheerleaders. The election numbers told the real story.
Also, remember the Tet Offensive? A solid US win portrayed by the press as a loss. Recall the famous video of a man being shot in the head by a South Vietnamese official? The man who was shot was portrayed as an innocent victim of South Vietnamese government murder. Nope. He was a North Vietnamese assassin who had just murdered three people and then been captured. He got what he deserved. But America was told differently and we lost the Perception War. When we lost Vietnam tragedy unfolded for millions. A better public affairs campaign, a better perception effort, could have stopped that horror. For we never lost Vietnam on the battlefield. We lost it on the pages of liberal newspapers and in the news broadcasts of leftist television networks.
Today we can see the same thing unfolding in Ukraine, as the Russians launch their psyops efforts. As such, Putin called the Ukrainians Nazi drug addicts. Clumsy, so few are buying it. But there is a fifth column in this nation who wants to believe Putin. They are on the populist Right. They think the Ukraine War is being fought at the behest of international oil, or at the command of a shadowy electric car conspiracy, or at the request of a gerbil named Allan.
These people are loons who don’t read history. This war is being fought for reasons from time immemorial: Power and land. If the aggressors are going to be stopped, as history teaches us they must, then many weapons at our disposal must be used. This includes perception and the language itself. For those too dim to understand that, who think a war between freedom and tyranny has nothing to do with them so they can just sit on the sidelines and wax poetic on truth, Churchill has another message, “I decline utterly to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire.”