Vladimir Putin’s March 20 speech on the proposal of accepting Crimea into the Russian Federation sure tops the moronic and dishonest logorrhea that regularly issues from the mouths of the White House. No doubt this is because these speeches are written by hired public-relations hacks, whose mentality is grounded in ideas of branding and marketing.
Listen to Obama, threatening Putin: “The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
“Costs,” not consequences. The language of corporate accountants.
Our country’s political ethos is now so corrupted with commercialist language and values that you can no longer call it propaganda. It’s gone to the bottom: it’s political infomercial.
Listen to Kerry: “America is proud to be more engaged than ever, and, I believe, is playing as critical a role, perhaps as critical as ever, in pursuit of peace, prosperity, and stability in various parts of the world.” This pronouncement is absurd. The world has taken a different view in a historic poll: a large majority of the world’s people concluded recently that the US is the greatest threat to peace on the planet, echoing Martin Luther King’s prophetic words: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”
The people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, and Palestine now, hearing this, can be forgiven if they will think that the message is being broadcast from Mars. As will the people of Albania, Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Greece, Grenada, Guam, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Uruguay, USSR, Venezuela, Vietnam, Virgin Islands, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire—countries the US has invaded, or whose elected leaders it has overthrown; whose democracies and self-determination it has trampled, organizing coups, installing and supporting torture regimes, dividing ethnicity against ethnicity in order to rule both; and whose economies it has crippled with debt, whose social services it has crushed in favor of servicing the debt; whose forests, fields, and waters it has poisoned with depleted uranium, napalm, or agent orange for generations to come; whose people it has burnt with phosphorus and starved with sanctions, even after bombing them back to the Stone Age.
“Why do they hate us?” Because, as George Orwell wrote, “In order to hate imperialism you have to be part of it.”
The world has been part of American imperialism since the first colonists set foot in the “New World” and, as all colonial settlers do, proceeded to expropriate the lands and decimate the native inhabitants, substituting indentured labor with imported slave labor. It’s not the kind of beginning that one can incorporate into convincing propaganda. The infamous historical amnesia that informs every political speech addressing this or that global crisis is nothing but the result of repressed guilt. How else to explain that extraordinarily persistent claim that dropping the first and only nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was undertaken to save lives—and only American lives at that. From the land that proclaims itself the teacher of freedom and democracy to the pupil countries of the backwards world, that claim is the mother of all lies in the sorry canon of post-war American propaganda lies. (For the role of the US corporate media now in selling the idea that America’s chief export is democracy, presently in the context of Ukraine/Crimea.)
Delivering peace, stability, and democracy to the world? I don’t think so—nor do the decent people of the United States who are sick of hearing that they are Number One, while their economic conditions sink to the level of the third world countries that these plunderers of the world are equally impoverishing.
The only Number One is the 1% and their plutocratic pockets. Love of country? Look at the unemployed, the poor, the sick, and the hungry. Do you call this social catastrophe “love of country”? Do the 1% who rule us love us, do they care for us, do they educate us free of charge and to our moral and practical advantage, are they at our bedside in sickness—no, because they have no love of country and even less for their countrymen, whom they treat as serfs or as disposable pieces of inhuman machinery. We are the “service society”—subjects, in their ruling-class hubris, rather than citizens. We don’t matter.
But why do I claim, in my title, that American propaganda, as we know it, is dead after Putin’s speech on Crimea? My judgment is based on the startling difference in the treatment of the audience between a standard Washington speech and the words that issued from the Kremlin.
An effective speaker has to know his/her audience, appeal to the real history they have shared, the struggles they have overcome, the sacrifices they have made, the trials they must yet face, the strength they must muster, the fear they must suppress, and the respect they must bear to countrymen and foreigners. Above all, respect for law, for without it there is only violence and the gun. Read Putin’s speech. Cicero would be proud. It is a tightly woven piece of flowing, interwoven threads—and, though the central word is “law,” the theme is justice. Plato would have approved: “They say we violate international law. Good they remember international law exists. Better late than never.” This is not, to use our shallow medialect, a “sound bite”—this is recalling us to Plato’s idea of justice. There can be no “republic” without the memory of justice, which is delivered, however imperfectly by the law.
Where the memory of justice is forgotten and its handmaiden, the law, is trampled this is what happens to civilization: “They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”
It is easy to imagine with what enthusiasm Putin’s words are received across the suffering world, which, knowing imperialism to be the enemy of peace, stability, and democracy, has yet to suffer it in these names. The world hates a lie, more than the suffering it causes, for a lie is the insult to the injury.
Yet, Putin offers his “partners” in the West a stern appeal: “Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the Cold War and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs. Like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”
The whole speech has, in its gravity and rational grounding, an old-fashioned quality. In less infantile, dishonest and corrupted rhetorical times, perhaps, it wouldn’t even sound remarkable. But in comparison to the bloated diet of propaganda overreach we have had to ingest ad-nauseam since 9/11—the chronic patriotic bombast, logical gobbledygook, cherry-picking of facts, paranoia-inducing fear-mongering, and a neurotic phobia towards employing basic cause-effect logic—Putin’s speech sounds statesman-like, adult, liberatory, and even grand. In the enthusiasm of hearing something that makes sense, the elated audience may even be tempted it to invest it with Shakespearean grandeur.
Some critics say it is a declaration of war, not necessarily a hot one yet, but a setting of boundaries—in Obama’s favorite trite phrase, a “red line,” warning of attempting no more trespassing. I take a more philosophical view. Putin’s speech sounds to me more like an appeal to turn back from the moral abyss in which the West has fallen through the trashing of its own laws and customs, its arrogance and dictatorial actions. Portia, in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” makes a similar appeal in a court of law, recalling the merchant, Shylock, from the brink of moral disintegration, no matter how justified his motives:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Luciana Bohne is an Intrepid Report Associate Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.