Russian disinformation about Ukrainian Nazism

Someone was alluding to Russia’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine was to tackle Ukrainian Nazism.

If we had called out Zelensky, American support for Ukraine would not have been there and America would be involved in one less “New War[s]”.

In direct reaction to that comment, I spent three hours reading up on Zelensky, accusations of Nazism in Ukraine, accusations against military units and political parties in Ukraine and comparing what has been said from different sources. I read up on the American position, the Israeli view, the view of Ukrainian Jewish groups and the Jewish international media.

I have no axe to grind here, it was genuine impartial curiosity.

Apart from Russian disinformation, there is nothing of any significance in what this person was alluding to. Various media, government, NGO and social groups have looked at what had been going on in Ukraine regarding Nazism, far right politics, treatment of Jews,involvement of Jews in Ukrainian government and military and the like and concluded there was nothing going on that is unusual for 21st century Europe.

The American government did indeed discuss and analyse the accusations about Zelensky and Ukraine and concluded the accusations did not stand up and decided continued support was the right thing to do. This decision was later supported by Jewish academics, media and Ukrainian Jewish groups.

So, what this person was wishing for, did indeed happen, and it concluded continued American support for Ukraine was appropriate.

In short, the reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine was false.

The reflective part of this is that I am so pleased I did my undergrad and Master’s degrees.  Between the lecturers, librarians and other support and training I had, my already-existing research skills were strengthened by the ability to find counterarguments, be open-minded, evaluate sources, understand political and media biases and find an answer for myself in which I can be confident.  Although my conclusion above is lightweight and unreferenced, in three hours I covered a heck of a lot of different sources very efficiently.  I’m please I can do that.

 

Soft power and boat people

There are three main forms of power a country has internationally: military, economic and soft power.  The latter is the power over minds or the power of propaganda.

Soft power works by, for example, showing your country as attractive for its ideals, lifestyle, freedoms or opportunities for economic prosperity.  People in other countries see these and demand the same sort of things in their own country.  In this way ideas and values and social norms are spread from one country to another.

But what happens when the people in the other country have an economy that is so weakened that it cannot offer those things, or are in a failed state where the government has been weakened from outside or broken by war?  In these cases, the citizens see attractiveness of the other country and no opportunity to achieve this at home.  They then become economic migrants.

When the first country, the attractive one, does not want those people it attracted to its shores, then a problem ensues about what to do with those “illegal migrants” or whatever term is used to brand them as ‘bad’ and unwanted people.

The solution is to help the countries they came from provide the same sort of attractive benefits that their citizens would like.  Not to impose sanctions or criticise or add to their burden, but assist them in improving the lot of their citizens.

Using military power + soft power against lesser developed states, or economic power + soft power against them, without providing support and aid and trade and opportunities just creates more problems.  Using soft power can hurt both sides; it is then just another form of international warfare.  I wonder if this is what is sometimes meant by ‘cultural imperialism’?

Nuclear weapons threat, end of German pacifism, NATO expansion and the arms race and censorship

I went to bed reminded of living as a child of the bomb, not expecting to reach adulthood because of the permanent threat of nuclear war and obliteration.  No point working for the school exams or planning a future, because there would not be one.  And now there are news stories looking breathlessly at nuclear escalation as an exciting prospect.

This is why we should have got rid of nuclear weapons by now.  We are still living in fear of total destruction which is supposedly there to protect us.

So the post WW2 constitutional attitude of Germany being a peaceful nation in Europe is over.  It feels like we’ve gone back 90 or more years in European peaceful negotiation and concepts.  Once again a militarised Germany in the centre of Europe, throwing its weight about.  And providing the arms for a war in another country: great way to get back into the game, Germany, by supporting a proxy war.  Start out at a low level, why don’t you?

And Germany has committed to providing 2% to NATO, so NATO’s budget goes up as a result of Russia’s actions.  Well done NATO for coming out the winner in this.  The most powerful state in the world with a national flag, national anthem, guaranteed budget paid by taxpayers elsewhere and with no democratically elected leaders.  Amazing.

Lots of countries are promising to send weapons of various sorts.  Russia is on the outskirts of Kiev.   By the time they have been found, ready to be boxed up, it will all be over.  But the contracts and orders with the arms manufacturers will still go ahead.  It is just throwing money at the arms industry that will have no effect.  What are they going to do with them when they are ready for shipment in a couple of months – send them to the Russians occupying Ukraine?  “Oh, these are items in the stores!”.  They have to be gathered up, boxed up, transport arranged, receipt arranged, training booked, maintenance arranged, documentation provided … it won’t happen.

And the censorship has begun.  During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan I found it very interesting watching the mainstream news and listening to the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Moscow and comparing the different versions of events.  By tracking what each was saying about the front moving back and forth in my school atlas, and keeping track of the losses and gains reported on each side, I was able to work out which was utter bobbins and which seemed reasonably accurate, albeit with some spin.  The Voice of America was utter bonkers fiction; the others were generally aligned.  Fake news and lies in the media are not a new thing.  Censorship in the West is.

What an unpleasant weekend.  How quickly politicians will re-instate a Cold War and military escalation when given the opportunity, rather than trying to sort their problems out.

Welcome to living with fear.

Talk: Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis

Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘.  One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.

The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist).  He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault.  Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy.  He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words.  Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times.  The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki.  What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe.  The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“.  Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay.  Buy his book.

Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University).  She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014.  Some 25,000 people have been displaced.  There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides.  Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.

Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University).  He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church.  It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin.  The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership.  Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity.  Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church.  Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.

Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions.  Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War.  I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.

This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat.  BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“.  Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“.  In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves.  Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.

The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.

Advice on assessing a source

I have just read a free ebook and I cannot determine if it is factual or not.  If anyone else is familiar with it, or looking for a distraction, I’d appreciate another’s opinion edit: no need; I’ve worked it out.

Title: The Diary of a U-boat Commander

By: Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall

Described on FeedBooks: http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4208:The diary of a World War One U-Boat commander. As well as being a fascinating glimpse of life on the German U-boats during the intense submarine blockade, this also reminds us there were humans involved – on both sides of the action – as we read too of the intimate thoughts and intense love of a man longing for his sweetheart.

It begins after World War One with a U-Boat commander requesting a British officer returns another U-Boat commander’s personal diary.  The British officer refuses and decides he will get it translated and published.  What follows is the German’s diary, with translator’s notes.

It is categorised in the ebook collections as non-fiction.  But reading it, it doesn’t feel right.  It feels like someone writing a fictitious diary designed to show what a horrid man a German U-Boat commander is, but who could not get it published before the war ended and published it as it is instead.  As if it was meant as propaganda: “Look what we found”.

It is by (note I am careful to say he is not the author) Sir William Stephen Richard King-Hall.  He was a journalist, politician and playwright, suggesting he may have made the book up.  But he was a naval officer until 1929.

Wikipedia lists this book against Stephen King-Hall link and suggests he was the translator, for what that’s worth.

On ManyBooks, it is listed under ‘Fiction and Literature’ and the reviewers conclude it is fiction, yet plausible.

A quick skim through  A North Sea diary, 1914-1918 by Commander Stephen King-Hall, does not refer to the incident of him getting access to a U-boat commander’s stuff.

A description on Archive.org suggests it is fiction – warning contains spoilers.  They have an online copy of the original, with one review which also cannot determine if it is fiction or not.

A search for the details of the U-boat commander, Karl von Schenk of U122 … gives me the answer.  Of course there are fanatics who trace every ship and its commanding officer, duh.  I knew that.  Should have done that first.  He never existed.

Now, having written all that, I’m going to post it anyway, just as a way of reinforcing the message to myself: do not automatically trust sources that say they are genuine, even when published by distinguished honourable gentlemen with titles, honours and military careers.  (After all, he was also a politician… thoughtful )


Advice given to me:

For what it’s worth, Simon, I tend to look for reviews of books about which I have doubts in academic journals. If no academics have reviewed the book then I start to wonder. Obviously with so many books being published, many will not be reviewed so that’s not the end of it. In this case, I would have wondered about the fact that the author also wrote plays, children’s books and for Children’s Hour. Again, no doubt there are excellent historians who also write or wrote fiction, but, again, it raises a question. However, I gather from the reader reviews that it becomes obvious as you reach the final chapters that the book you asked about is fiction.

But even that isn’t enough to discredit it. King-Hall was apparently awarded a gold medal by the Royal Institution of International Affairs for his thesis on submarine warfare and served in the 11th submarine flotilla in the First World War. There is a possibility, therefore, that the technical detail could be accurate.

On the whole, though, if I had been faced with this question I would probably have put the book aside on the basis that I’ve got too much information from reliable sources without getting bogged down in figuring out how good this is.


My response:

You’ve described the path I took very accurately.  I bounced up and down on that see-saw of doubt many times.  I would have put it aside as irrelevant but for an essay but I wanted to use to practise determining the veracity of sources.  I get the impression part of A327 is teaching us to think “just who really wrote this, and why?*

I particularly wanted to know because the main character is not at all likeable, but totally plausible.  As a Prussian Junker, he gave opinions that seemed to explain how Germany was led by the sort of people who would start a war of conquest as a matter of entitlement.  What made me suspicious was the main character got to do a couple of cross-service activities on short postings and that felt unlikely.

But it was the consequences of its accuracy that bothered me.  Either I was learning valuable insights about German society and culture from a painfully honest artefact written from the heart, or I was being misled by a disingenuous and fatuous work of propaganda or revenge from an embittered victor.

Upon reflection, now knowing it is fiction says more about its author than it does about the Germans.  Knowing it to be fiction being passed off as factual diary, one could use it as evidence to claim “Look how the British want to blame the Prussians for the war, rub Germany’s nose in their loss, obviously the British wanted revenge out of hatred, and would make up lies to show how bad the Germans were, no wonder the Germans complained about the reparations, the reparations must have been unfair, WW2 was the fault of the British“.  Same artefact, totally opposite potential interpretation of history from the one deviously intended by the author.

Was there much material like this?  Were loads of people putting out anti-German literature or was this unusual?  Did it influence the Paris peace talks and European relations in the next two decades?  Alternatively, would anyone reading it at the time have laughed it off knowing full well it was just a light-hearted jab at the nasty stereotypical Hun by another veteran letting off steam?  I don’t know, and it makes me wonder.  What I suppose I’d need for that would be reviews of the book written at the time.

* They are.  Learning outcome 4: The ability to identify, gather and evaluate historical evidence and the work of historians critically; to appreciate the qualities of different kinds of texts, images, audio and visual sources; and see the need to adjust your approach in line with purpose.

Moslem or Muslim or what?

Taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Mussulman – plural Mussulmans or Mussulmen – archaic term for Muslim. From Persian musulmān, from muslim. [So it is valid, just old.]
  • Moslem – variant spelling of Muslim. [So that is also valid.]
  • Muslim – a follower of Islam. From Arabic, active participle of ‘aslama. [So if in doubt, use this.]
  • Muhammadan or Mohammedan – not favoured by Muslims and should be avoided.
  • Islam – from Arabic ‘islām meaning submission, from ‘aslama meaning ‘submit (to God)’.
  • Islamism – Islamic militancy or fundamentalism.
  • Islamist (or Islamicist) – derivative term from Islamism, so militant Islamism or Islamic fundamentalist.

So, IS / ISIS / ISIL could be called ‘the Islamist terrorists’, although there are other groups so it would not differentiate them from the others. ‘Islamist State’, perhaps?  It would be accurate, and annoy them by not quite being what they call themselves.

The call for “Why won’t Moslems protest against Moslem terrorism” could be responded to with this:

We say they are not Moslems, they are Islamists, and we believe what they do is against Islam, not for it” and possibly add “and that is why we say they are not Moslems.

Does that help?  It has helped me.