What a fog fact is, is a fog fact, i.e. a fact that’s not seriously disputed but also not widely known by people who would find it incredibly important. It’s incredibly important to be aware that there are well-established facts out there that one doesn’t know about but would care passionately about if one managed to get at them through the fog of sports, weather, and every idiotic utterance of Herschel Walker or Joe Biden.
The fact that the George W. Bush gang had put down in writing that they were lying about Iraq was a fog fact when the phrase was coined and still is. At least many (if not all) fog facts seem to endure for great periods of time as fog facts. How to drag any of them into the light is a key question for human survival. What a nuclear winter is, for example, is a fog fact. That Japan was trying to surrender before nuclear bombs were dropped on it is a fog fact.
In fact, in the area of peace and war, fog facts are everywhere. The reason that I can survey a classroom at the start and end of an hour-long event and go from most people believing that wars can be justified to most people believing they cannot, is that it takes less than an hour to unload a small pile of fog facts, such as those about the dominant role the U.S. plays in weapons dealing and war, that it’s responsible for some 80% of international arms dealing, 90% of foreign military bases, and 50% of military spending, that the U.S. military arms, trains, and funds the militaries of 96% of the most oppressive governments on earth, that 3% of U.S. military spending could end starvation on earth, etc., etc. That the U.S. did not want Osama bin Laden put on trial, or that nonviolent action works — these are basic fog facts that many people are paid a great deal of money not to become aware of, and others remain unaware of voluntarily.
But there are fog facts everywhere. Much of the Earth’s climate destruction has happened since the human species possessed the fact that it was happening. If the news had not been the need to cease the destruction, if the news had been that Jesus had come back and was living in Baltimore, or doctors had discovered that candy was good for you, virtually every person in our culture would have managed to become aware of the fact. We have a culture that is inclined toward blissful fog dwelling when it comes to unwanted facts, even when the results are catastrophic. This of course overlaps with the problem of people knowing about something yet failing to act on it — and the line between not knowing and not acting can be blurry.
Catastrophic fogfacting is what we’re dealing with on Ukraine. The vast majority of people in the United States simply have no idea about many basic facts. They know that Russia is committing atrocities. They should know that. It’s true and important. They finally know that wars have huge numbers of victims of physical violence, of displacement, of trauma and disease and poverty. They should know that. Some of us have wanted them to know that for many years even when most of the victims were not “white,” as is still the case today with a number of wars, such as that in Yemen, that are far outpacing the casualties in Ukraine. They may even finally know that wars and militaries cost money. That would be a huge clearing of the fog.
But they just don’t know that U.S. and other Western diplomats, spies, and theorists predicted for 30 years that breaking a promise and expanding NATO would lead to war with Russia. They’ve even managed to unknow that President Barack Obama refused to arm Ukraine, predicting that doing so would lead toward where we are now — as Obama still saw it in April 2022. It’s essentially unknowable that prior to the “Unprovoked War” there were public comments by U.S. officials arguing that the provocations would not provoke anything. (“I don’t buy this argument that, you know, us supplying the Ukrainians with defensive weapons is going to provoke Putin,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).) They’ve not seen a RAND report advocating creating a war like this one. They have no idea that the U.S. facilitated a coup in Ukraine in 2014. They are completely unaware that any violence preceded February 2022. They are just not in possession of the knowledge that the U.S. has torn up treaties with Russia. They do not know that the U.S. has put missile bases into Eastern Europe. They have no idea that the U.S. keeps nuclear weapons in six European nations. And so on. They don’t know that Kennedy took missiles out of Turkey, without which they’d likely not exist. They don’t know that Arkhipov refused to use nukes, without which they’d likely not exist. They don’t know that the supposed ending of the Cold War never involved destroying the weapons or even taking them off hair-trigger alert. All the things that many of us have said over and over and over and over and over on webinar after webinar after webinar after webinar after webinar remain fog facts. At one point I calculated how many more decades of webinars we would need to reach everyone, if everyone lived forever with perfect memories, but it was a very rough estimate.
The chief fog fact is that the U.S. and its NATO sidekicks have been preventing the ending of the war, not just by providing the weapons for one side of it, but by blocking negotiations. I don’t mean just cracking down on Congress Members who dare to utter the word “negotiate.” I don’t mean just producing a whirlwind of propaganda claiming the other side is monsters with whom one cannot speak, even while negotiating with them on prisoner exchanges and grain exports. And I don’t mean just hiding behind Ukraine, claiming that it’s Ukraine that does not want to negotiate and that therefore the U.S., as loyal servant to Ukraine, must go on escalating the risk of nuclear apocalypse. I mean also the blocking of possible ceasefires and negotiated settlements.
It’s worth remembering that a reasonable agreement was reached at Minsk in 2015, that the current president of Ukraine was elected in 2019 promising peace negotiations, and that the U.S. (and rightwing groups in Ukraine) pushed back against that.
It’s worth remembering that Russia’s demands prior to its invasion of Ukraine were perfectly reasonable, and a better deal from Ukraine’s perspective than anything discussed since.
The U.S. has also been a force against negotiations during the past eight months. Medea Benjamin & Nicolas J.S. Davies wrote in September:
“For those who say negotiations are impossible, we have only to look at the talks that took place during the first month after the Russian invasion, when Russia and Ukraine tentatively agreed to a fifteen-point peace plan in talks mediated by Turkey. Details still had to be worked out, but the framework and the political will were there. Russia was ready to withdraw from all of Ukraine, except for Crimea and the self-declared republics in Donbas. Ukraine was ready to renounce future membership in NATO and adopt a position of neutrality between Russia and NATO. The agreed framework provided for political transitions in Crimea and Donbas that both sides would accept and recognize, based on self-determination for the people of those regions. The future security of Ukraine was to be guaranteed by a group of other countries, but Ukraine would not host foreign military bases on its territory.
“On March 27, President Zelenskyy told a national TV audience, ‘Our goal is obvious—peace and the restoration of normal life in our native state as soon as possible.’ He laid out his ‘red lines’ for the negotiations on TV to reassure his people he would not concede too much, and he promised them a referendum on the neutrality agreement before it would take effect. . . . Ukrainian and Turkish sources have revealed that the U.K. and U.S. governments played decisive roles in torpedoing those early prospects for peace. During U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘surprise visit’ to Kyiv on April 9th, he reportedly told Prime Minister Zelenskyy that the U.K. was ‘in it for the long run,’ that it would not be party to any agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and that the ‘collective West’ saw a chance to ‘press’ Russia and was determined to make the most of it. The same message was reiterated by U.S. Defense Secretary Austin, who followed Johnson to Kyiv on April 25th and made it clear that the U.S. and NATO were no longer just trying to help Ukraine defend itself but were now committed to using the war to ‘weaken’ Russia. Turkish diplomats told retired British diplomat Craig Murray that these messages from the U.S. and U.K. killed their otherwise promising efforts to mediate a ceasefire and a diplomatic resolution.”
Who would want to believe that the U.S. government is preventing peace, providing the weapons for the war that is devastating Ukraine, in the name of protecting Ukraine, and then blaming Ukraine for its refusal to negotiate, while Russia keeps proposing negotiations? Certainly not the vast majority of the U.S. population, most of which believes its government lies about all topics other than war.
Fog facts come in clusters. Knowing that the U.S. is against negotiations is better avoided by assuming negotiations to be a ridiculous idea considered by no one sensible. This creates fog facts as well of the fact that numerous nations have been proposing negotiations for months, and that dozens of nations recently made that proposal at the United Nations.
So, the question that confronts us is how to unfog a fact. Can you throw soup at a million-dollar painting and make people know what thousands of hours of television have trained them to not want to know? I wish I knew. I do know that direct real-world conversations can spread the word. But I also know that unless people see something on TV they may reject the findings of their own eyes and ears, and even the consensus of their friends and neighbors. This suggests the urgent need to use all possible forms of advocacy and activism to inject fog facts into mass media.