If the Vietnam war was the first war to be brought into the living rooms of middle America by television, then the Ukrainian war may be the first to be placed in the palms of our hands by social media.
From its opening salvos the dramatic clips of bombings, planes, broken down tanks, brave locals confronting soldiers, and extremely attractive Ukrainian military recruits, started circulating on Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, even Linked In.
Much of it was quite literally fake and most of it was some form of propaganda.
Turns out the little Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier, was actually a Palestinian girl confronting an Isreali soldier in 2012, the horrendous bombing clip of Kyve was actually a fire in a fireworks factory in Beijing in 2009. As for the cigarette smoking local manhandling a live Russian antitank mine into the forest with a lit cigarette dangled from his lips….really?
All Governments seek to influence their image and their people, and during a war this reaches a new level.
Authoritarian regimes seek to control the message and physically repress naysayers, liberal democracies tend to drown out counter narrative by volume, moral outrage and conviction.
China and Russia build vast machines of state to censor the Internet and punish and silence any alternative voice. The west makes up stories irresistible in their simplicity and emotional appeal then presents them in a package that is not only believable, but makes the believer feel comfortable and superior.
So which is best?
Repression is almost immovable. Once the course is set its lack of challenging voice means that long after the narrative has become irrelevant and ridiculous it keeps going, even when nobody is listening.
Putin can’t move on from his silly de-Nazification claim about Ukraine because nobody can challenge them. Like a stuck record they are more and more discordant, but the state only has one master and the master’s voice must be heard.
The West is only marginally better. The moral high ground is narrow and it can be lonely in the valleys. Naysayers may not be jailed and the media less vigorously censored, but a ‘different’ view during a war is unpatriotic, gives comfort to the enemy and is untrustworthy and suspicious.
Those calling for peace during the Vietnam war were very much on the outside for most of its 20 years of action. They literally became the ‘counter culture’, until one day they weren’t and their narrative took over the high ground and soldiers be damned.
In the West the dominant narrative created by the State is strong, but it is not unchallenged. It may move slowly, but it can adapt to a changing environment. The population is also more skeptical about what they are fed because the consequences are only marginalization, not actual jail.
So the fog of war is pretty thick for both authoritarians and liberal democrats. Eventually it lifts in a democracy and that’s got to be better than being permanently lost.