Rumors true and otherwise continue to appear on the pages of US newspapers regarding the conflict in Ukraine. The latest ones trumpet the removal of Russian forces from the city of Kherson; a removal Moscow says took place to avoid unnecessary casualties. US media tells their readers and viewers something different: it is a retreat and an important victory for Ukraine. Most likely, the action and its meanings lie somewhere in between. This fact doesn’t stop US liberals and some on the Left to point to the Youtube videos showing Kherson residents cheering the arrival of Ukrainian forces into the town as proof of the righteousness of the ongoing war. I can’t help but be reminded of the neocons’ use of similar videos as proof of the righteousness of their invasion of Iraq, even though the majority of the residents are not to be seen in any of the videos from Kherson or Iraq.
As the conflict in Ukraine heads towards its first winter solstice, one thing seems clear. This war is not over and it continues to cry out for a ceasefire and serious negotiations. Indeed, citizens of other European nations are beginning to demand an end to the flow of arms to Kyiv and a reconsideration of the sanctions. It’s too early to say if most of their governments feel the same. Even in the United States, a growing number of people of varying political allegiances are beginning to question the reasons for this war and its continuation. If we are to believe mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post, this questioning reaches into the officer ranks at the Pentagon.
Therefore, the timing of the publication of the book War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless War couldn’t be better. This text, written by antiwar activist Medea Benjamin and journalist Nicolas J.S. Davies, provides the reader with a clear and well-argued understanding of the Ukraine-Russian war that rejects the pro-war narratives of Kyiv, Moscow and Washington. The text tackles the conflict from a viewpoint that acknowledges Moscow’s February 22, 2022 aggression as illegal and wrong while also arguing that the conflict itself represents a greater geopolitical conflict where Washington is the instigator and the more aggressive actor.
The result is a succinct telling of UKraine’s history since 1990. Its 1991 decision to become an independent state, the debates between different political forces in the nation, the rise of the far right, the greed and corruption of various oligarchical entities and the effect of this all on the people of Ukraine; all of this is detailed. Even more useful and important, this history is discussed in the context of Washington’s determination to subjugate Ukraine’s political and economic system as part of its decision to keep Moscow as a competitor, if not an outright enemy. The authors describe the much-discussed events of 2014 and 2015 known as the Maidan revolution and the roles played by Washington, Moscow and Ukrainian fascist elements in that period. The story they tell is both a classic tale of US “soft” intervention and manipulation–a story that describes a combination of sophistication, brutality and plausible deniability. While giving agency to the Ukrainian players in this history, it is clear that outside powers–especially in Washington and EU headquarters–were critical to the outcomes. The Minsk negotiations and agreements are presented in a similar manner, as are the Ukrainian elections and their outcomes.
One important section of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless War makes one aspect of this war quite clear. The section, titled “Information Warfare,” represents just how important the control of information is in modern warfare. This truth is even more so in this age of social media and the internet in all its manifestations. The authors take a look at the triumphalist nature of western (esp. US) media coverage of the conflict, while also outlining the Russian media’s misrepresentations of the conflict. In addition, the censorship of non-NATO-friendly media by western government and media platforms is compared with Moscow’s similar censorship. Neither side should be given any awards for press freedom. Beyond these more obvious manipulations of the media, Benjamin and Davis point out US media’s new concern for the civilian casualties of war. In a pointed look at the lack of similar coverage in wars where Washington has inflicted casualties well beyond those inflicted by the Russian military in Ukraine, the authors note that US media rarely mentions them. This type of coverage has not served the cause of negotiations or ceasefires; one might assume that the press has no interest in either.
This text is an important and vital addition to the growing debate around the Russian-Ukraine conflict. Every public library in the United States should order a copy if they genuinely consider their role to be the free flow of information. The more US residents can find out about this war, the more likely it can be resolved sooner rather than later and without escalating into a greater conflict–a scenario no sane person wishes to see.