Stop Gaslighting Ukrainians With Your War-is-Bad Rhetoric

Civilians evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing on March 5, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

War illiteracy, fatalism and cynism are a tyrant's bests friends. One of the pillars of contemporary war illiteracy is the belief that “war is bad”, no matter who starts it, what each belligerent fights for, and how war is made. This widespread belief causes indifference to human rights violations, confusion between the attacker and the victim, unfounded defeatism, which all benefit the enemies of human rights.

1. Cynism and fatalism

When the war began, I heard so many people saying that Ukrainians were going to be crushed by the Russian army. If you listed factual arguments suggesting that Ukrainians could resist the invasion and that Russia was not as strong as the Kremlin propagandist said, you were talked down and regarded as a naive, over-optimistic, idealistic simpleton.

In many Western countries, you look smarter if you make an ugly cynical forecast without any evidence than if you make a morally correct forecast supported by a long list of facts from reliable sources.

Even if the Russian Army were entirely destroyed, pro-Kremlin westerners would keep calling themselves “realists”.

It would be hilarious if their arguments were not as commonly repeated by Western people. The pro-Russian cynic arguments are rooted in war illiteracy : “War is bad, it is all about bad people being bad, so the baddest people are the ones who are going to win for sure, and the good guy who respects human rights must lose”. This argument is as stupid as that.

Most cynical people are posers who have no clue what they are talking about. Like all narcissists, their only preoccupation is “What do I look like ?”, not “Is this true ?”. In order to look like a knowledgeable bad-ass, a cynic will always declare the bad guy the winner and call the good guy dead before the fight even started. Even if the bad guy barely knows how to tie his shoelaces and the good guy is supported by the biggest military powers of the world.

2. Passive compassion

“Pray for Ukraine”, “pray for X, Y, Z”, “End War”, “Peace”, “Stop fighting” (without any mention of who caused the war and who should lay down the arms first).

It reminds me of Christians reacting to scandals of sexual abuse by praying only for the souls of victims of paedophile priests. It allows them to preserve their own reputation without lifting a finger to help the victim get justice and stop the ongoing abuse. This is the typical technique of people who, above all, want to preserve a certain social order. Catching the criminals and bringing them before a court would disrupt their social order.

These people appear peaceful but their vision of “peace” is nothing but mandatory obedience to abusers in positions of power.

These people are not as passive as they seem. They are active enablers of crimes or abuse and they are the first ones to harass and ostracize the victims when they firmly demand justice and protection.

3. Whataboutism

“What about Syria?”, “Violence and human rights violations are everywhere so why focus on Putin’s massive violations of human rights?”, and so on.

This is absolution by dissolution : “Oh, everyone is a bit of a criminal, so why should we stop that criminal who has committed thousands of crimes in front of everyone ?”.

This type of argument only benefits criminals and their partners. Russia massively funds whataboutist propaganda on the internet because it distracts attention from Russia’s violations of Human Rights.

Moreover, whataboutist propaganda ultimately portrays human rights as a joke and discourages people to demand justice.

Whataboutism is always idiotic but is even more nonsensical in the specific case of Ukraine, since Syria, the most used whataboutist example, is also a victim of Putin’s criminal project. Instead of making an absurd opposition between Ukrainians and Syrians, you should rather fight to make Putin pay for his crimes against civilians both in Syria and Ukraine.

In Western countries, pro-Russia whataboutist arguments are mostly diffused by leftist organizations. They wave an anti-imperialist denunciation of the Occident only to promote Russian imperialism.

4. The taboo of weapons

Any person suggesting that we, western countries, should maybe send more weapons to Ukrainians, face accusations of being “a warmonger”.

The only warmongers are the ones who bomb a sovereign country that attacked no one. Period.

Russia started the war against Ukraine and targets civilians deliberately, while Ukraine never attacked Russia and never had the slightest intention to attack Russia.

I recently saw a picture of a pro-Ukrainian protester. He was holding a sign on which we could read : “Send weapons not prayers”. Listen to him.

Weapons are tools. They can be tools of oppression in the hands of an oppressor. They can be tools of liberation in the hands of the victim of the oppressor.

This is not just “a war”. This is a Russian war on Ukraine. If you call for peace, say who should stop fighting first : not the victims defending themselves, but the attackers.

Be mindful of your words. Anti-Ukrainian propaganda is generally worded in a subtle way and often disguises as pacifism.

It is the duty of every westerner to support Ukrainians. Do not spread that toxic war-is-bad propaganda and do not let people around you spread it.

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