Believing the News?

Some of the things Lewis has said about that subject:

“I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They’re nearly all lies…” (Letter of 10/26/55 to Mary Shelburne)

“…the content of the newspapers…is possibly the most phantasmal of all histories, a story written not by the hand of God but by foreign offices, demagogues, and reporters.” (Christian Reflections: 9, 26 – “Historicism”)

“To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then “written up” out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day…is surely an ill use of the mind.”(Surprised By Joy, chapter X).

And now, the relevance of this to the present situation in Ukraine:

The mainstream media and Western governments shout that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is “unprovoked”. This is not the case. The first provocation came in 1998, when NATO decided to expand its borders to the east to countries bordering on Russia, without any provocation by Russia. George Kennan, former ambassador to the USSR, warned that this would end in catastrophe, as it has.

The second provocation came in 2014, when a coup overthrew a democratically elected president who was going to side economically with Russia rather than the European Union. One of the immediate results of this coup was eliminating Russian from its status as an official language of the country. The coup also created a threat to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, and brought about the annexation of Crimea, to the applause of most of its citizens. But when the mostly Russian population of Eastern Ukraine saw their status as Russians become diminished, and how easily Crimea once again became a part of Russia (which it had been until Khrushchev “gifted” it to Ukraine in 1956), they, too, wanted to have the same privilege, and began a civil war, which has resulted in about 14,000 deaths in that part of the country by now. In 2015, an agreement (The Minsk Accords) was worked out between the governments of Ukraine and Russia, with France and Germany as the intermediaries, which would have given more autonomy to eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Minsk agreement was never ratified by the Ukrainian parliament, and the war continued, leaving the people of eastern Ukraine almost totally abandoned economically, both from Ukraine, and receiving very little support from Russia as well, because Putin was reluctant to incur even greater wrath from the West, although, morally, it would have been the right thing to do.

When about a week ago, Russia formally recognized the eastern break-away republics, I thought that, morally, it was the right thing to do. But it seems that the Russian military (according to Putin) thought that this would only result in more arms being brought in from the West into Ukraine, and a full-scale invasion was launched, in order to settle things once and for all. How all this will end is a good question.

There’s a great deal about this situation that doesn’t make sense to me, and of course part of the issue is the issue Lewis identified. That issue is compounded by the fact that today anyone can be a publisher–so there’s a great deal more information coming out, from a great many sources, than would have been the case even 20 years ago, much less during the Great War in which Lewis served.

Consistent with Lewis’ words, I tend to be suspicious of the media–I was two years ago, and if the last two years have shown anything, it’s that I can’t trust CNN to tell me the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. So when all the media are telling the same story, even though I confess a degree of ignorance about the situation, I’m suspicious. And even if I don’t know what it is, I strongly suspect there’s more to the story.

But one thing that makes no sense to me is that the “full-scale invasion” seems to have been very poorly thought through and/or resourced. Tank battalions running out of fuel within 48 hours? A 40-mile-long convoy stopped for a week? Ukrainian farmers stealing Russian tanks by towing them away with their tractors? This really sounds like Amateur Hour on the part of the Russian forces, and that’s never been my impression of them in the past.

Dan, thanks for your input. In the last paragraph, you mention three things. I will start with the last two. I assume that that information has come only from the Ukrainian side, and its credibility depends, of course, on whether one believes the source. The first item, the column of tanks, can, I assume, be verified by satellites. The Russian explanation for the slow movement is that there is no intention of “occupying” Kyiv, but simply to force the authorities to surrender, since it seems that most of Ukraine’s military is concentrated in eastern Ukraine, and not much around Kyiv. Again, it depends on whom one chooses to believe. But there is no question that all this is a great tragedy. The thing is, of course, that no one knew or was interested in the tragedy taking place in eastern Ukraine over the past 8 years.

Well, yes, the story in the west is largely from the Ukrainian perspective. It would, I think, be difficult to fake some of the video I’ve seen, but certainly not impossible.

But from a military perspective, that explanation (drive a giant convoy to about 60 km from Kyiv and park it there as a threat) doesn’t make a lot of sense. It puts a huge pile of targets within relatively easy striking distance by Ukrainian forces, particularly if they get around to an air strike, which it’s been reported has happened.

As I said, I admit a fair bit of ignorance about the bigger picture. But I know about the missionary my church sponsors that was forced to flee his home for safety.

As I said, it’s a great tragedy.

Agreed. Whichever government is the more at fault, the toll on the civilian population (and really, that it’s happening at all) is tragic.