Thursday 28th of September 2023

hiding the true motives......

By David Barsamian and Norman Solomon / TomDispatch

[The following is excerpted and adapted from David Barsamian’s recent interview with Norman Solomon at]

David Barsamian: American Justice Robert Jackson was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He made an opening statement to the Tribunal on November 21, 1945, because there was some concern at the time that it would be an example of victor’s justice. He said this: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Norman Solomon: It goes to the point that, unless we have a single standard of human rights, a single standard of international conduct and war, we end up with an Orwellian exercise at which government leaders are always quite adept but one that’s still intellectually, morally, and spiritually corrupt. Here we are, so long after the Nuremberg trials, and the supreme crime of aggression, the launching of a war, is not only widespread but has been sanitized, even glorified. We’ve had this experience in one decade after another in which the United States has attacked a country in violation of international law, committing (according to the Nuremberg Tribunal) “the supreme international crime,” and yet not only has there been a lack of remorse, but such acts have continued to be glorified.

The very first quote in my book War Made Invisible is from Aldous Huxley who, 10 years before the Nuremberg trials, said, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” Here we are in 2023 and it’s still a challenge to analyze, illuminate, and push back against that essential purpose of propagandists around the world and especially in our own country where, in an ostensible democracy, we should have the most capacity to change policy.

Right now, we’re in a situation where, unfortunately, across a lot of the political spectrum, including some of the left, folks think that you have to choose between aligning yourself with U.S. foreign policy and its acts of aggression or Russian foreign policy and its acts of aggression. Personally, I think it’s both appropriate and necessary to condemn war on Ukraine, and Washington’s hypocrisy doesn’t in any way let Russia off the hook. By the same token, Russia’s aggression shouldn’t let the United States off the hook for the tremendous carnage we’ve created in this century. I mean, if you add up the numbers, in the last nearly twenty-five years, the country by far the most responsible for slaughtering more people in more lands through wars of aggression is… yes, the United States of America.

Barsamian: What’s your assessment of the war coverage of PBS and NPR? You know, a rarified, polite media where people speak in complete sentences without any shouting. But have they presented dissident voices to challenge the hegemonic assumptions you just cited when it comes to American war policies?

Solomon: The style there is different, of course, but consider it just a long form of the very same propaganda framework. So, you can listen to a 10-minute segment on All Things Considered or a panel discussion on the PBS NewsHour and the style and civility, the length of the sentences, as you say, may be refreshing to the ear, but it also normalizes the same attitudes, the same status-quo assumptions about American foreign policy. I won’t say never, but in my experience, it’s extremely rare for an NPR or PBS journalist to assertively question the underlying prerogatives of the U.S. government to attack other countries, even if it’s said with a more erudite ambiance.

You’ve got NPR and PBS unwilling to challenge, but all too willing to propagate and perpetuate the assumption that, yes, the United States might make mistakes, it might even commit blunders — a popular word for the U.S. invasion of Iraq that resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of deaths. Still, the underlying message is invariably that yes, we can (and should) at times argue over when, whether, and how to attack certain countries with the firepower of the Pentagon, but those decisions do need to be made and the U.S. has the right to do so if that’s the best judgment of the wise people in the upper reaches of policy in Washington.

Barsamian: Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), has talked about the guest list on such PBS and NPR programs. There’s a golden Rolodex of what he calls “formers” — former undersecretaries of state, former lieutenant colonels, retired generals, et al. But what about dissident voices like Medea Benjamin, yourself, or Noam Chomsky?

Solomon: Over the years, FAIR has done a number of studies ranging from commercial networks to NPR and the PBS NewsHour, and found that, particularly when issues of war and peace are on the table, it’s extremely rare to have opponents of U.S. military action on the air, sometimes below one percent of the interviewees. And this is considered “objective journalism” and goes hand in hand with a deeper precept, usually unspoken but certainly in play in the real world: that if an American journalist is in favor of our wars, that’s objectivity, but if opposed, that’s bias.

I’m sometimes asked: Why do journalists so often stay in line? They’re not, as in some other countries, going to be hauled off to prison. So, what makes them feel compelled to be as conformist as they are? And a lot of the explanation has to do with mortgages and the like — hey, I want to pay for my children’s college education, I need financial security, so on and so forth.

To my mind, it’s a tremendous irony that we have so many examples of very brave journalists for American media outlets going into war zones, sometimes being wounded, occasionally even losing their lives, and then the ones who get back home, back to the newsrooms, turn out to be afraid of the boss. They don’t want to lose their syndicated columns, their front-page access. This dangerous dynamic regiments the journalism we get.

And keep in mind that, living in the United States, we have, with very few exceptions, no firsthand experience of the wars this country has engaged in and continues to be engaged in. So, we depend on the news media, a dependence that’s very dangerous in a democracy where the precept is that we need the informed consent of the governed, while what we’re getting is their uninformed pseudo-consent. Consider that a formula for the warfare state we have.

Barsamian: At the White House Correspondents’ dinner President Biden said, “Journalism is not a crime. The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society.” Great words from the White House.

Solomon: President Biden, like his predecessors in the Oval Office, loves to speak about the glories of the free press and say that journalism is a wonderful aspect of our society — until the journalists do something he and the government he runs really don’t like. A prime example is Julian Assange. He’s a journalist, a publisher, an editor, and he’s sitting in prison in Great Britain being hot-wired for transportation to the United States. I sat through the two-week trial in the federal district of northern Virginia of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling and I can tell you it was a kangaroo court. That’s the court Julian Assange has a ticket to if his extradition continues.

And what’s his so-called crime? It’s journalism. WikiLeaks committed journalism. It exposed the war crimes of the United States in Iraq through documents it released, through the now-notorious video that came to be called “Collateral Murder,” showing the wanton killing of a number of people on the ground in Iraq by a U.S. military helicopter. It provided a compendium of evidence that the United States had systemically engaged in war crimes under the rubric of the so-called War on Terror. So, naturally, the stance of the U.S. government remains: this man Assange is dangerous; he must be imprisoned.

The attitude of the corporate media, Congress, and the White House has traditionally been and continues to be that the U.S. stance in the world can be: do as we say, not as we do. So, the USA is good at pointing fingers at Russia or countries that invade some other nation, but when the U.S. does it, it’s another thing entirely. Such dynamics, while pernicious, especially among a nuclear-armed set of nations, are reflexes people in power have had for a long time.

More than a century ago, William Dean Howells wrote a short story called “Editha.” Keep in mind that this was after the United States had been slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines. In it, a character says, “What a thing it is to have a country that can’t be wrong, but if it is, is right, anyway!”

Now, here we are in 2023 and it’s not that different, except when it comes to the scale of communications, of a media that’s so much more pervasive. If you read the op-ed pages and editorial sections of the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets of the liberal media, you’ll find such doublethink well in place. Vladimir Putin, of course, is a war criminal. Well, I happen to think he is a war criminal. I also happen to think that George W. Bush is a war criminal, and we could go on to all too many other examples of high U.S. government officials where that description applies no less than to Vladimir Putin.

Can you find a single major newspaper that’s been willing to editorialize that George W. Bush — having ordered the invasion of Iraq, costing hundreds of thousands of lives based on a set of lies — was a war criminal? It just ain’t gonna happen. In fact, one of the things I was particularly pleased (in a grim sort of way) to explore in my book was the rehabilitation of that war criminal, providing a paradigm for the presidents who followed him and letting them off the hook, too.

I quote, for instance, President Obama speaking to troops in Afghanistan. You could take one sentence after another from his speeches there and find almost identical ones that President Lyndon Johnson used in speaking to American troops in Vietnam in 1966. They both talked about how U.S. soldiers were so compassionate, cared so much about human life, and were trying to help the suffering people of Vietnam or Afghanistan. That pernicious theme seems to accompany almost any U.S. war: that, with the best of intentions, the U.S. is seeking to help those in other countries. It’s a way of making the victims at the other end of U.S. firepower — to use a word from my book title — invisible.

This is something I was able to do some thinking and writing about in my book. There are two tiers of grief in our media and our politics from Congress to the White House — ours and theirs. Our grief (including that of honorary semi-Americans like the Ukrainians) is focused on those who are killed by official enemy governments of the United States. That’s the real tier of grief and so when the media covers, as it should, the suffering of people in Ukraine thanks to Russia’s war of aggression, their suffering is made as real as can be. And yet, when it’s the U.S. slaughtering people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, that’s something else entirely. When it comes to the people at the other end of U.S. weaponry, the civilians, hundreds of thousands of them directly slaughtered, and millions indirectly killed by U.S. warfare, their tier of grief isn’t, with rare exceptions, on the media map. Those human beings just don’t matter.

Here in the USA, people find this unpleasant to hear or even think about. But our own humanity has been besmirched, damaged, undermined by such silences, which, in many ways, represent the most powerful propaganda of all. We need to break that silence.

Barsamian: The media landscape is radically changing from podcasts to blogs to all kinds of new media. Will that help?

Solomon: Technology’s never going to save us. Robert McChesney, the scholar of media history, has written eloquently about this. Every advance in technology was accompanied by these outsized promises that therefore we will have democracy. That’s going back to the first telegraphs, then radio, then broadcast TV, then cable television. At every step, people were told, hey, this technology means that no longer do we have a top-down relationship to power, we can make the changes happen ourselves. And yet as we’ve seen with all of those technologies, and this includes the Internet, technology never freed anybody.

Barsamian: What’s to be done? What practical steps would you recommend?

Solomon: I believe in organizing as the key element in turning around such dire circumstances, including corporate power, class war waged from the top down, and the militarization of our society and our foreign policy. That means a shift in mindset to see that we’re not consuming history off the shelf like Wonder Bread. As the saying goes, whatever your first major concern may be, your second should be the media. We need to build media organizations and support the ones that are doing progressive work, support them financially, support them in terms of spreading the word and also of learning more about how to — and actually implementing how to — organize both people we know and those we don’t. And I think that’s pretty antithetical to the messages the media regularly sends us, because really, the main messages from, say, television involve urging us to go out and buy things (and maybe vote once in a while). Well, we do need to go out and buy things and we certainly should vote, but the real changes are going to come when we find ways to work together to create political power both inside and outside the electoral arena.

When you look at the corruption of the Federal Communications Commission, for instance, that’s not going to change until different people are in office — and we’re not going to get different people in office until we elect them to overcome the power of Big Money. And there’s also the real history that we need to be reminded of: that everything we have to be proud of in this country was a result of people organizing from the bottom up and generating social movements. That’s truly where our best future lies.

Barsamian: You conclude War Made Invisible with a quote from James Baldwin.

Solomon: “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”





















looking at it....

After 15 months of conflict, The New Yorker’s reportage by Luke Mogelson and photographer Maxim Dondyuk shows us the war in Ukraine that the propaganda machine has been concealing.  



By Patrick Lawrence
Original to ScheerPost


Let us consider the following paragraphs, which appear in the May 29 edition of The New Yorker:  

“While Tynda and his team were fighting from the trench, long and powerful fusillades had issued from another Ukrainian position, on a hilltop behind them. I later went there with Tynda. In a blind overlooking the no man’s land stood an improbably antique contraption on iron wheels: a Maxim gun, the first fully automatic weapon ever made. Although this particular model dated from 1945, it was virtually identical to the original version, which was invented in 1884: a knobbed crank handle, wooden grips, a lidded compartment for adding cold water or snow when the barrel overheated…. 

“In the course of the past year, the U.S. has furnished Ukraine with more than thirty-five billion dollars in security assistance. Why, given the American largesse, had the 28th Brigade resorted to such a museum piece? A lot of equipment has been damaged or destroyed on the battlefield. At the same time, Ukraine appears to have forgone refitting debilitated units in order to stockpile for a large-scale offensive that is meant to take place later this spring. At least eight new brigades have been formed from scratch to spearhead the campaign. While these units have been receiving weapons, tanks, and training from the U.S. and Europe, veteran brigades like the 28th have had to hold the line with the dregs of a critically depleted arsenal.”

The piece, from which this passage is drawn, carries the headline, “Two Weeks at the Front in Ukraine” and is the work of Luke Mogelson, a magazine correspondent of a dozen or so years’ experience.

Mogelson’s text is accompanied by the photographs of Maxim Dondyuk, a Ukrainian of roughly Mogelson’s age, either side of 40, whose work focuses on history and memory, topics that suggest a lot of thought goes into those 1/1000ths of a second when Dondyuk clicks his shutter.   

There are many things to think about and say as we read this piece. I will shortly have more to say about the excellence of Mogelson’s text and Dondyuk’s photographs. For now, the first thing to note is that, after 15 months of conflict, their work suggests Western media may at last begin to cover the Ukraine war properly.

I will stay with the conditional verb for now, but this could mark a significant turn not only for the profession — which could use a significant turn, heaven knows — but also in public support for the U.S.–NATO proxy war against the Russian Federation. 


As astute readers will already know, apart from a few staged forays near the front lines — officially controlled and monitored, never at the front lines — correspondents from The New York Times, the other big dailies, the wire services, and the broadcast networks have accepted without protest the Kiev regime’s refusal to allow them to see the war as it is.

Content these professional slovens have been to sit in Kiev hotel rooms and file stories based on the regime’s transparently unreliable accounts of events, all the while pretending their stories are properly reported and factual.

The exceptions here are Times correspondents such as Carlotta Gall, whose Russophobia seems reliably unbalanced enough to satisfy the Kyiv regime, and the two Andrews, Higgins and Kramer, who have an exquisite talent for stories that make absolutely no sense.

It was the two Andrews, you may recall, who had the Russians shelling the nuclear power plant they occupied and, later on, bombing their own prisoner-of-war camp in eastern Ukraine.

If correspondents cannot see the war and it makes no matter to them, we will not see it either. The result, as your columnist noted a while ago, has been two wars: There is the presented, the mythical war, and the real war.

“Our current brainwashing for war is similar to that preceding other wars,” John Pilger, the journalist and filmmaker, wrote in a Tweet the other day, “but never, in my experience as a war correspondent, as unrelenting or bereft of honest journalism.”

This is what makes Mogelson’s file so startling. In its graphic honesty it is a major step on from the gruel of propaganda corporate media have fed us since the Russian intervention began in February 2022. Those three Times correspondents just mentioned? They all have many years’ experience on Mogelson. None of them could change his typewriter ribbon, as we used to say.


Two Weeks in Trenches

Mogelson and Dondyuk spent two weeks this past March with a Ukrainian infantry battalion as it fought in trenches “at a small Army position in the eastern region of the Donbas, where shock waves and shrapnel had reduced the surrounding trees to splintered canes.”

This was just outside a village south of Bakhmut, the much-embattled city lately lost to Russian forces. I have no doubt these two journalists were officially embedded with the high command’s approval. That is the way the Kiev regime is running this war. But, for whatever reason — and I will get to this question in a sec — there is no whiff of inhibition or self-censorship in either the reportage or the photographs. Both are raw, unflattering, as unforgiving as the scenes they depict:

“By the time I joined the battalion, about two months had passed since it had lost the battle for the village, and during the interim, neither side had attempted a major operation against the other. It was all the Ukrainians could do to maintain the stalemate. Pavlo estimated that, owing to the casualties his unit had sustained, eighty percent of his men were new draftees. ‘They’re civilians with no experience,’ he said. ‘If they give me ten, I’m lucky when three of them can fight.’

We were in his bunker, which had been dug in the back yard of a half-demolished farmhouse; the constant rumble of artillery vibrated through the dirt walls. ‘A lot of the new guys don’t have the stamina to be out here,’ Pavlo said. ‘They get scared and they panic.’ His military call sign was Cranky, and he was renowned for his temper, but he spoke sympathetically about his weaker soldiers and their fears. Even for him, a career officer of twenty-three years, this phase of the war had been harrowing. On a road that passed in front of the farmhouse, a board had been nailed to a tree with the painted words ‘to moscow’ and an arrow pointing east. No one knew who’d put it there. Such optimistic brio seemed to be a vestige of another time.”

Mogelson then introduces us to others in the battalion:  

“Just two of the soldiers who were rebuilding the machine-gun nest had been with the battalion since Kherson. One of them, a twenty-nine-year-old construction worker called Bison — because he was built on like one — had been hospitalized three times: after being shot in the shoulder, after being wounded by shrapnel in the ankle and knee, and after being wounded by shrapnel in the back and arm. The other veteran, code-named Odesa, had enlisted in the Army in 2015, after dropping out of college. Short and stocky, he had the same serene deportment as Bison. The uncanny extent to which both men had adapted to their lethal environment underscored the agitation of the recent arrivals, who flinched whenever something whistled overhead or crashed nearby.

‘I only trust Bison,’ Odesa said. ‘If the new recruits run away, it will mean immediate death for us.’ He’d lost nearly all his closest friends in Kherson. Taking out his phone, he swiped through a series of photographs: ‘Killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . wounded. . . . Now I have to get used to different people. It’s like starting over.’ Because the high attrition rate had disproportionately affected the bravest and most aggressive soldiers—a phenomenon that one officer called ‘reverse natural selection’ — seasoned infantrymen like Odesa and Bison were extremely valuable and extremely fatigued. After Kherson, Odesa had gone awol. ‘I was in a bad place psychologically,’ he said. ‘I needed a break.’ After two months of resting and recuperating at home, he came back. His return was prompted not by a fear of being punished — what were they going to do, put him in the trenches? — but by a sense of loyalty to his dead friends. ‘I felt guilty,’ he said. ‘I realized that my place was here.’”

Reporting and writing of this caliber makes Mogelson look the dazzling star next to the correspondent-reenactors in their Kiev hotel rooms. But for my money he also keeps pace with a lot of standout names from the past. I see in his copy a little Dexter Filkins, a little Bernard Fall, a little Michael Herr, a little Martha Gellhorn, and I’ll go so far as to say a little Ernie Pyle.

As for Dondyuk’s pictures, the way they leap off the page brings to mind Tim Page, Horst Faas, Robert Kapa, and some of the other great war fotogs of their day. If this piece portends a turn or return (however you want to think of it) to reporting with some integrity to it, the project could not have got off to a better start. But let us stay with “if” for now. 

There are at bottom two kinds of journalists: There are the analysts, as I call them, who add an interpretive dimension to their coverage — understanding in addition to knowledge. And there are the reporters, empiricists in the just-the-facts vein who stay close to the ground and do not much dolly out for any kind of larger take.

Mogelson is of this latter type. Reporters of his sort invite us to infer from what they tell us. What shall we infer from superbly tactile, eye-of-the-camera reportage?


No Pretense of Victory

Luke Mogelson is not telling us about an army on the way to victory — or an army that pretends to itself it is on the way to victory, or one that wants the world to think it is on the way to victory. There are no battlefield successes, no advances, no high expectations in Mogelson’s story. There is “holding the line,” although few seem to hold, and there is staying alive. This is a story more given to severe attrition among soldiers waiting for the end and wondering how distant in time the end will prove. 

In Mogelson’s writing we meet conscripts sent to the front after little or no training. He describes one man who was kidnapped on a city sidewalk and was under Russian fire three days later. Paralyzing fright, exhaustion, demoralization, desertions, a sort of Beetle Bailey incompetence — these are rampant among the green draftees that now make up the majority of the AFU’s infantry. They fight with Vietnam-era vehicles shipped from the U.S., or muzzle-loaded mortars long out of production, or Soviet-era weapons left over from the pre–1991 days—and, withal, too little ammunition for this kind of matériel to make any difference at all. 

A 1945 Maxim gun of 1884 design? Jeez. Mogelson is right to question, if too briefly, where may be all the weapons the U.S. and NATO allies are shipping into Ukraine. A great number of them have already been destroyed, he reports, which comes as no surprise. Being as close to the scene as he put himself earlier this spring, he would have done well to tell us something about the greedheads who run the regime and the military as they sell shocking amounts of arms into the black market as soon as they arrive across the Polish border. 

At one point, Mogelson and Dondyuk spend a day in a dugout with a seasoned sergeant named Kaban and a 19–year-old codenamed Cadet, so young he hasn’t lost his baby fat. “Later, Kaban entertained us with stories about his past romantic escapades,” Mogelson recounts, “and Dondyuk, the photographer, asked him whether he’d imparted any lessons to Cadet.

“ ‘There’s no point,’ Kaban said. ‘He’ll be dead soon.’

Cadet laughed, but Kaban didn’t.”

These are the voices of the war Mogelson tells us about. Can’t you just cut the anxiety in Cadet’s laugh with a knife? 

I have to mention some wonderful touches in Mogelson’s report because they are superlative writing of the kind that is too rare these days. Of the soldier firing that Maxim gun: “The gun’s operator, a rawboned soccer hooligan with brass knuckles tattooed on his hand, spoke of the Maxim like a car enthusiast lauding the performance of a vintage Mustang.” Describing an unwieldy personnel carrier of Vietnam vintage, Mogelson tells us: “It looked like a green metal box on tracks… The maxed-out machine sounded like a blender full of silverware.”

Did Gellhorn do any better as she covered the Spanish Civil War for Colliers?

Mogelson shows us the war a few independent journalists have written of but a war we have not heretofore read about in mainstream media. This is the war the propaganda machine has kept from us. And now we know that what correspondents reporting for independent media have been describing is by and large the war as it is.

Among much else we can now see the obvious indifference the Kiev regime and its Western backers display for those doing the fighting — who, Mogelson tells us, are now working-class Ukrainians, the more privileged having dodged the draft or otherwise avoided service. 

Mogelson reported this piece in March, and we can justly assume conditions on the front line of this war are now three months’ worth of worse. His report makes me want to bang my shoe on the table, Khrushchev-style, in equal measure for the disgraceful conduct of mainstreamers reenacting the work of correspondents, for the senseless loss of Ukrainian lives in the service of the presented war and for the AFU soldiers — veterans and the untrained draftees they command — who the Kiev regime has not quite but nearly abandoned. 



Why Now? 

The obvious question is why this piece appears now in The New Yorker, a magazine thoroughly committed to every liberal orthodoxy you can think of, including the wisdom of this war and the certainty of an AFU victory. Hell broke loose last year, you will recall, when Amnesty International and then CBS News lifted the lid on the realities of the Ukraine conflict. What is different now?

This is hard to say. But the larger picture suggests publication of this eye– and mind-opening piece reflects a creeping recognition in all sorts of places —among the policy cliques, at the Pentagon, in corporate media — that Ukraine is not going to win this war and the time has come to prepare for this eventuality.

The new drift on the vaunted counteroffensive is that it is not going to make much difference. There is more talk now about the conditions necessary to begin negotiations. NATO officials, per Steven Erlanger, the Times’ Brussels correspondent, are now thinking about doing in Ukraine what the allies did in postwar Germany: Divide it such that the West joins the alliance and the east is left to the East, so to say.

Mogelson’s intent, surely, was to do good work, full stop, and he has. But read in this larger context, its publication looks to me the start of an effort to get all those people with blue-and-yellow flags on their front porches ready for a dose of the reality from which they have been shielded all these months. The Wall Street JournalThe New York PostBusiness InsiderForbes: They have all recently run pieces not nearly as good as Mogelson’s but in the let’s-get-real line. 

If I am right, the real war and the presented war will eventually be one. About time, I would say. Not that mainstream media are about to ’fess up to their sins and disgraces in their pitiful coverage of this war.  They never will. Let us not get carried away on this point. 



Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of  Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His new book Journalists and Their Shadows, is forthcoming from Clarity Press. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.  His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site

This article is from ScheerPost.











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