Wars are times of opportunity and self-righteousness among ruling elites. Every conflict comes with its own propaganda offensive. The war in Ukraine is no exception.
Western powers, the Ukrainian government and Russa are working flat out to maintain popular support for the deadliest military mobilisation in Europe since the Second World War.
Criticism of industrial-scale Russian disinformation is routine. But the Western propaganda machine, run by a hawkish US government, a right-wing Tory administration, the EU establishment, and the military industrial complex on both sides of the Atlantic, doesn’t barely exists.
Its claims are blindly accepted by virtually the whole of the media and, in Britain at least, almost the whole of the political class, as well as an alarming array of normally left-wing figures. While its arguments are widely rejected in the global south, and at least debated in some European countries, any questioning in Britain is met with McCarthyite-style denunciation.
The central justification for Western support for the war is that our leaders are set on defending the rights of the Ukrainian people. There is a long and dishonourable history of going to war in the name of the rights of nations or peoples.
Britain’s entry into in the carnage of the First World War was pitched as defending ‘poor little Belgium’ against the German invaders. The US couched its war in Vietnam as a defence of the South Vietnamese against the ‘threat of communism’ from the North.
The US and its allies first invaded Iraq in 1991 to ‘restore the integrity of Kuwait’ and the estimated 50,000 casualties of the West’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 were regarded as ‘necessary’ to protect the national rights of Kosovans.
The exact dynamics differ, but the argument for supporting any of these wars and for backing NATO in Ukraine involves signing up to the idea that the Western powers work their foreign military policy around the interests of foreign peoples.
Given their long colonial and imperial histories, this is something of a leap of faith. It’s a particular stretch when you consider that the blood is barely dry from the invasion, occupation and mass bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya and the West’s enthusiastic backing of the dreadful Saudi- led assault on Yemen.