In war, truth is the first casualty. â€”Aeschylus
Aeschylusâ€™ dictum should perhaps be added â€śperspective.â€ť What we believe in and put our energies into often depends on our perspective, and perspective is influenced by what we think we know. And in this digital world that â€śknowledgeâ€ť flows from increasingly limited sources. Itâ€™s not so much that weâ€™re told what to think but rather the breadth of what we are given to think about flows from a tap controlled by fewer and fewer entities.
Several days into the invasion of Ukraine, widely circulated photographs of two high-rise buildings hit by rockets drew international condemnation for Russiaâ€™s seeming wanton attack on civilians. The photo, however, was of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in May of last year, which passed then with little to no outrage expressed even though those targeted were also innocent.
Russia, of course, should be condemned for its unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine. But in the rush to excoriate Putin and his supporters, no mention is made of the invasion and occupation by the United States (and its â€śCoalition of the Willingâ€ť) of Iraq and Afghanistan. No moral judgments invoked for the destruction and devastation those wars caused and continue to cause in those countries. No sanctions enforced. That same silence met Israelâ€™s military assault on the sovereign nation of Lebanon in the early 1980s that resulted in 50,000 casualties and vast destruction to villages and cities, as well as much of the countryâ€™s infrastructure. Nor are Palestinians praised as freedom fighters when they strike back at those who have occupied their territory for the past 74 years.
Millions of Ukrainian refugees are finding shelter and care in neighboring countries: this is the right thing to do, to care for our sisters and brothers less fortunate. Yet again we see here how perspective affects perception. Western commentators, pundits and politicians have referred to Ukrainian refugees as being so like them, which, frequently, is not a very veiled reference to their skin and eye color and their culture and lifestyle. Contrast that with how refugees from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have been treated by these same countries.
A few years ago, Syrian refugees fleeing their war-devastated country were beaten and shot by Turkish border police, resulting in several deaths. And just last year thousands of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia were stuck in a dense forest along the Polish-Belarussian border where news footage showed the Polish army beating them across the border into Belarus. Some refugees it would seem, depending on our perspective, are more deserving of our sympathy and assistance than others.
Is it fair to compare these events? It depends on oneâ€™s perspective, especially oneâ€™s perspective of the truthâ€”truth being a seemingly viscous and fungible commodity these days. The truth, they would have us believe, is whatever those at the podium declare it to be, whether a claim of a stolen election or the rightness of the â€śliberationâ€ť of a country from â€śneo-Nazisâ€ť or â€śreligious fundamentalists.â€ť When truth is no longer anchored to fact, oneâ€™s very existence is called into question. I think, therefore I am, can easily be modified to: You are not entitled to an opinion, therefore you donâ€™t exist.
Hereâ€™s a truth: no good whatsoever comes from any war. We know this, or should know it, by undeniable historical experience. War creates war; becomes a fire-breathing hydra spreading death and devastation. How, at this stage in our â€śevolution,â€ť humankind has not learned that,â€”has not had it seared into its DNAâ€”is unfathomable.
Western estimates put Russian casualties (killed and wounded) at around 70,000 to date. Ukraine has also suffered terribly. Our first reaction might be elationâ€”as well as surprise that the vastly out-numbered and out-equipped Ukrainian forces are doing so wellâ€”to see the invaders get their comeuppance. But, as someone who was a â€śtroop,â€ť I can also feel for those who were manipulated into believing in the justness of the cause they were recruited to, just as I was. Though denied by military leaders, reports are that conscripts fill Putinâ€™s ranks. Most enlistees are from rural, less developed areas and poorer towns of Russia. As in this country, the military is seen as a way out of poverty for young men, or at least as a means of attaining a better life because there are no living-wage jobs available. In essence, there as here, a de facto economic draft exists.
If all our energies, resources, and will went to doing good, a near paradise could be engendered here on planet Earth. That wonâ€™t happen, though, until the double-standard of how we treat all our sisters and brothers is no longer.
This article first appeared in VVAWâ€™s â€śThe Veteran,â€ť Volume 52, #1,
Fred Samia is a freelance journalist who has worked in the Middle East, and is a Marine combat veteran.