In a recent column, military analyst William Astore wrote, “[Congressman] George Santos is a symptom of a much larger disease: a lack of honor, a lack of shame, in America. Honor, truth, integrity, simply don’t seem to matter, or matter much, in America today… But how do you have a democracy where there is no truth?”
Astore went on to compare America’s political and military leaders to the disgraced Congressman Santos. “U.S. military leaders appeared before Congress to testify the Iraq War was being won,” Astore wrote. “They appeared before Congress to testify the Afghan War was being won. They talked of “progress,” of corners being turned, of Iraqi and Afghan forces being successfully trained and ready to assume their duties as US forces withdrew. As events showed, it was all spin. All lies.”
Now America is at war again, in Ukraine, and the spin continues. This war involves Russia, Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies. No party to this conflict has leveled with its own people to honestly explain what it is fighting for, what it really hopes to achieve and how it plans to achieve it. All sides claim to be fighting for noble causes and insist that it is the other side that refuses to negotiate a peaceful resolution. They are all manipulating and lying, and compliant media (on all sides) trumpet their lies.
It is a truism that the first casualty of war is the truth. But spinning and lying has real-world impacts in a war in which hundreds of thousands of real people are fighting and dying, while their homes, on both sides of the front lines, are reduced to rubble by hundreds of thousands of howitzer shells.
Yves Smith, the editor of Naked Capitalism, explored this insidious linkage between the information war and the real one in an article titled, “What if Russia won the Ukraine War, but the Western press didn’t notice?” He observed that Ukraine’s total dependence on the supply of weapons and money from its Western allies has given a life of its own to a triumphalist narrative that Ukraine is defeating Russia, and will keep scoring victories as long as the West keeps sending it more money and increasingly powerful and deadly weapons.
But the need to keep recreating the illusion that Ukraine is winning by hyping limited gains on the battlefield has forced Ukraine to keep sacrificing its forces in extremely bloody battles, like its counteroffensive around Kherson and the Russian sieges of Bakhmut and Soledar. Lt. Col. Alexander Vershinin, a retired US tank commander, wrote on Harvard’s Russia Matters website, “In some ways, Ukraine has no choice but to launch attacks no matter the human and material cost.”