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When states crush the truth

ADVERTISING / Leaked classified intelligence documents from the White House revealed in April that Ukraine was soon facing a dramatic defeat – quite different from the propaganda we had all long heard. In this essay, our regular writer, John Y. Jones, looks at the many sides of propaganda – as we are today increasingly surrounded by fake news, unsubstantiated claims and politically biased information.


In the extensive work The First Casualty (1976) takes Phillip Knightley imagines the world of war correspondents from the Crimean War to the Vietnam War, i.e. from the 1850s to the 1970s, and opens with the iconic quote by the American politician Hiram Johnson: "Truth is the first casualty of war." Johnson's statement in 1917 coincides with President Wilson's now infamous Espionage Act, which was just being used to stifle the opposition when the president turned 180 degrees and wanted to enter the war in Europe.

Two narratives about the causes of the war

Today's war in Ukraine provides a fascinating wealth of examples when it comes to elucidating the nature and expression of propaganda. Today, we not only have official editor-led and state-owned and operated broadcast media and print media, centralizing media houses with large numbers of units fed with material from the four major news agencies in the world. These make up what we often roughly refer to as established media (mainstream media, MSM) and conveys, as the name suggests, a dominant version of what is happening in the world.

In addition, there are the special conditions of war which give leading militaries an opportunity to control the information. It takes great resources and/or ditto courage to go against the flow of information from leading media players. These constitute a wealth of independent news actors and commentators on the internet platforms. Cross-checking between different voices makes propaganda work more challenging and gives groups the opportunity to expose – but also promote – false messages to a greater extent than before.

According to Western media, the Ukrainian-Russian war lasted until 24 February 2022 with what is often called "an unprovoked, full-scale, brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine". The words in various combinations have been repeated so often and in so many media that it has become a truth that is difficult to challenge. But that's what this article is meant to do.

Dagsnytt 18, Dag og Tid, The Guardian

Hiram Johnson's "truth is the first casualty of war" is today undisputed. The problem arises when we have to acknowledge that 'our side' also uses propaganda. “Are you claiming that NATO engaged in propaganda?” traces John Færseth on Dagsnytt 18 in the spring of 2022, something Elin Floberghagen, secretary general of the Norwegian Press Association, was quick to deny. Of course she didn't mean it. No, you don't joke with the Norwegian self-image.

Neither does the author Kaj Skagen in Dag og Tid on March 17 this year when the Pulitzer Prize winner and journalist icon Seymour Hersh more than suggests that the Norwegian military was involved in the terrorist attack against the gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September 2022: "The suggestion that Stoltenberg supposed to have been a CIA agent, and the problem of finding the Norwegian vessels that were targeted weakens the entire report, not just the part about Norway." There must be a way of sacrilege!

Zelensky's peace program became a war program.

Propaganda is deliberately false or incorrect information done with a particular purpose in mind. That means not all misinformation is propaganda. In 'the fog of war', as the Prussian war strategist Carl von Clausewitz called it, mistakes can be committed by all sides in a conflict. But when the narrator strategically selects, omits, exaggerates elements and uses rhetorical tricks to reduce the other party and pump up "his" side in the conflict, we can talk about propaganda.

One such ploy is 'weasel' journalism (Weasel =small and sloppy). When The Guardian newspaper finally supported the demand that the British government should not extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, it had on the surface a tinge of support for the jailed press man. But The Guardian had to "remind" that Assange had acted unethically by mass publishing unedited material and putting people's lives at risk. The Guardian was well aware that the accusation has been thoroughly refuted through the trial against Assange. In addition, it has subsequently become clear that it was The Guardian itself that published passwords that enabled mass access to unredacted WikiLeaks material. Such weasel journalism colors and leads the reader in the desired direction without the need to say things in pure words. The Guardian could in this way continue its vilification of Assange even in a call for support, with a 'small and sloppy' comment.

Propaganda is not information

In propaganda work, it is, as I said, important to create a 'story' that everyone can take for granted and not question. We get a war with words and images. But today it is no longer called a propaganda war, but information war, since propaganda in people's understanding is synonymous with løgn and deception. 150 years ago, however, propaganda was a word in the Catholic Church, synonymous with missionary work – to introduce the Catholic faith and to convince non-believers of its excellence. It was a word of honor.

Da USA's president Wilson took the Americans into the fight against Germany in the First World War, it was completely contrary to the election promises he had made during the election campaign weeks before, in 1916.

There is an ironic parallel to Wilson's election victory in 1916: Ukraine's Vlodomir Zelenskyi 103 years later. After being elected on a platform of peace, both presidents, for different reasons, quickly went into war mode. Zelensky would wipe out the rebellion in Donbass and take control Krim. Wilson created the Creel Commission, or The Committee on Public Information (CPI), which author Michael Pierce calls “a propaganda apparatus with the best artists to make the American people see the necessity" of joining the First World War. Here were marketers, artists, actors and media people who in a short time turned public opinion in Wilson's favour. Ukraine's comedian and serial actor in turn stood for election, took his TV crew to the presidential palace and showed the world how to do PR work.

After being selected on a peace program to end the war in eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyj quickly traveled to the Donbass region to talk peace. On his return home, he received warnings from his collaborators to stop peace work. One more time and he would be dangling from a telephone pole along Khreshchatyk [Kyiv's main street] with other traitors. [Source: Moon of Alabama, and Grayzone]

Ukraine is in the process of exterminating an entire generation of young people through an aggressive "defensive war".

There was of course a great need in Ukraine to explain the turnaround to the large majority of 73 percent who had elected Zelenskyj – especially the many eastern Ukrainians who had suffered under eight years of bombardment from the government troops. Zelenskyi's peace program became a war program stuffed up by European leaders who Boris Johnson, who in the same spirit, in the spring of 2022, also warned, "end peace negotiations with the Russians", otherwise all support for Ukraine will stop. Zelenskyj, for his part, needed no Creel Committee. He came from the entertainment industry, and few doubt the Ukrainian leader's eminent handling of Western media. The rest of the world, however, Zelenskyj has less success in dealing with.

Milko dalla Battista (Italy) – freedom of expression

Information war or propaganda?

"We have won the 'information war'", Western leaders proclaimed in the spring of 2022. And the whole year after, our media spoke with one voice: NATO's. Many journalists are not familiar with this, but remain silent. In the West, Western media have therefore won, yes. But in Russia rose Putins popularity, because there he was the one who controlled the media. And his target group was fundamentally different from that of Western leaders – who will never have problems finding the occasional oppositionist who can confront Western views.

For this information warone is a clean propaganda war towards its own citizens where the information content is shaped according to what the strategic management wants at all times to shape the media image: Will progress on the battlefield increase the population's support, this is reported. Can external threats increase internal cohesion, this is reported. The information is based on this manipulation and less on dissemination of truthare or facts. Norwegian military strategists are entirely dependent on what they get information from USA og Ukraine. This is fatal for Western and Norwegian media in the long run.

The lie has its time

In April 2023, it also begins to dawn on our media that the 'information' they have been fed with – and have brought forward – has not been based on intelligence facts, but on controlled messages from military strategist. Leaks from Pentagon shows that those who first 'won' the information war are losing the battle for the truth today. While the narrative of losses in the war has exaggerated losses on the Russian side, losses on the Ukrainian side have been contained, say strategists such as the UN's now-retired weapons inspector Scott Knight.

Four times more Ukrainian than Russian soldiers are killed.

It is obvious that optimism is useful for those who want to say that the Ukrainian side will win only if the West supplies enough advanced weapons and ammunition. If, on the other hand, the Ukrainian losses are as enormous as today's leaks from the US show them to be, optimism and the will to continue the war will quickly erode. There are many indications that Ukraine is not only empty of weapons, military vehicles and ammunition [Source: Baud, Operation Z, pp. 271-72, Scott Ritter, Grayzone], but is in the process of eradicating an entire generation of youth by an aggressive "war of defense". Then another side of the propaganda strategy comes into play – perception and sverting without documentation.

Former defense chief Diesen on TV 2

Norwegian defense experts have assured that Ukraine has low casualty figures, and that the Russians are incompetent and are therefore killed to a far greater extent than their counterpart. Former Chief of Defense Sverre This (SD) performed this salvo on April 2, 2023 on TV 2. Note that he does not even attempt to document. As chief of defense emeritus, he is treated with respect by NRK and does not need documents. He simply states:

SD: – We must remember that the Russians are not very skilled, they do not achieve much. But they have two characteristics that make them dangerous: They are eat, and they are brutal. What we have seen in Ukraine so far can confirm the ineptitude and brutality.

TV 2: – Why do the Russians continue with acts of war against civilians?

SD: – Because they are like that. Russian warfare is barbaric and always has been.

Leaked US intelligence documents showed a few days after Diesen's words of wisdom that four times more Ukrainian than Russian soldiers are killed [Daily says 4:1 died in 'favour' of Ukraine]. They have lost 300 men, and close to a million have been seriously injured. Today, Ukraine lacks not only weapons and ammunition. A youth generation has been killed. It is this generation that the Norwegian Storting has decided will be driven even further into the abyss with Norwegian billions of dollars.

The media's responsibility for expression

Boats Russia and Ukraine cracks down on information they don't like. Russia has arrested political oppositional for many years. In Ukraine, after 2014, we have seen an ever-increasing repression of freedom of speech, where the purpose is to prevent people from knowing the truth about what is happening on the battlefield. What in 2003 during the Iraq war was called "embedded journalism", and which Norwegian journalists snorted at as "control of the press", which they should have renounced – it has today become the norm. It is Zelenskyi's press department that runs reportage-guided tours towards the 'front'. And it is Zelenskyj who decides what information EU leader von der Leyen will give.

Fortunately, in Norway we have freedom of speech, but if readers and listeners do not get the whole truth, something else is missing: the media's responsibility for speech. For one year, our media have exclusively conveyed information from NATO-edited switchboards. If not speechresponsibility follows freedom of speech, readers and listeners are deceived. We saw it then von der Leyen in the autumn of 2022 came to say that 100 young Ukrainians had been killed in the war: For her it was important to tell how ugly Russian warfare was. She forgot the other side of the propaganda and was told to shut up and leave the 'information' to Zelenskyi's office. She was quickly back in the fold.

Two principles of international law

But wasn't it the Russians who launched a "brutal, full-scale, unprovoked offensive war" on 24 February? I wonder if these words cannot be found printed on the walls of Norwegian newspaper offices and studios, because they echo each other day after day, week after week. (No later than 9 May in the Klassekampen, could not Anna Krokene don't engage in a tirade where it is fairly unnecessary: ​​"Following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there has been..." It seems that there is a pre-written block inside that pops up when you type 'Russia'.) Wasn't the responsibility hero and team of the Russians? With a war of aggression, you violate international law by crossing a national border with armed force. That is correct. But international law also says that provocation by threatening to use violence is an equally serious breach. We have two principles of international law that collide.

The Ukrainian scenario was foreseen by international lawwriters at the UN. Should it only be up to those seeking violence to stick sticks in the sleeping bear and then shoot with impunity when it wakes up in anger?

Pentagon tankesmie Rand Corporation

What has subsequently turned out to be a script for the war in Ukraine on the part of the USA, precisely contains clear threats, a recipe for how to bring about a 'destabilization' of Russia. Just look at what the Pentagon think tank Border publicly considered in 2019 as possible measures to help to precisely destabilize, or overthrow, the current Russian leadership: blacken Putin in the consciousness of Russians, tarnish Putin's reputation internationally, deploy missiles that can also carry nuclear warheads, increase the production of American liquid gass, increase Europe's ability to receive such gas, tempt highly educated Russians to emigrate, deploy tactical nuclear weapons (!), increase the number of attack aircraft, etc.

The casualty figures were wrong, the enemy images wrong, Ukrainian splendor extolled, Russian atrocities inflated.

The Rand Corporation has decades behind it as a comprehensive resource for planning and advising US defense and warfare. Rand employees Daniel Ellsberg revealed in 1969 that the political leadership and media narratives from Vietnam of quick victories on the battlefield proved to be against their better judgment. Likewise, in April 2023, leaked classified intelligence documents from the White House revealed that Ukraine was soon facing a dramatic defeat. The casualty figures were wrong, enemy imagene mistakes, Ukrainian magnificence extolled, Russian horrors inflated.

None of this was completely new, the American weekly magazine Newsweek had, for example, already in the spring of 2022 been able to pass on leaks that said the opposite of the official narrative about Russian brutality on the battlefield. Russia actually acted more considerately than they needed to, Newsweek could tell. They could use American, 'modern' warfare methodology to bomb Ukraine apart and together before marching in.

The Internet and mobile phones, with their potential for dissemination, have opened up new avenues for whistleblowers and information as an antidote to seductive propaganda. Perhaps it can be said to have provided the same revolutionary possibilities in the Ukrainian War of 2023 that photography and the rise of newspapers had on Europe's warfare in the Crimea in the 1850s.

Roger Fenton's iconic images from the battlefield of Sebastopol still speak of people who want to see, can see. But Fenton was the first to admit that pictures can lie, just as photographers and journalists can. A smiling soldier in Fenton's pictures from 1853 did not tell of dead comrades or fear of rain of bombs.

In 2022, a picture of a corpse in the streets shows in Butsja, but not who killed. A picture of a child on the bus on the way to Moscow does not show whether it was taken under duress or on the way to a holiday colony. The narrator chooses, shapes and colors according to more or less open strategies. It has changed the way propaganda is carried out. But also ways in which true information is obstructed, perverted and exploited depending on what its masters want. In-depth work is still needed to distinguish true from false. There are still elementary rights and duties that journalists must comply with – if one is to penetrate the smoke-and-mirrors world of propaganda.

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES

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