English | History | Citizenship | PSHE

Propaganda: ‘Fifth horseman of apocalypse’

Reprinted with permission. © Bill Bramhall, NYDN

Are wars ultimately won with stories? Beyond all the bombing and shooting, a ferocious propaganda war is being waged by both Russia and Ukraine. A 12-year-old girl sits in the television studio. Her hair is plaited into pigtails with baby blue ribbons.  “Today we are talking about how you can investigate what is happening”, she begins. “We are talking about events in Ukraine.”  This is Sofia KhomenkoThe singer is hosting a programme aimed at children in Russia to help them spot "fake news" about the war., a musical prodigy who shot to fame in 2017 for singing about her love for Russia. Now, she is working for the Kremlin’s Ministry of Education – teaching children in a new programme about how to spot western “disinformation”. According to her – and to all state-run media – there is no war with Ukraine.  Five hundred miles away, the Ukrainian president posts another video on TelegramToday: an encrypted instant messaging app. In the past: a message sent via electric wires and delivered as a printed piece of paper. As every word was expensive, making the message as short as possible became an art. A famous joke telegram sent from Venice read, "STREETS FULL OF WATER PLEASE ADVISE".. Dressed in Khaki, his eyes revealing his tiredness, he praises the “heroic” resistance and condemns the “sneaky” enemy, “full of hatred for our country.”  This is the information war being waged across Europe. On one side, Ukraine tells stories of heroism, patriotism, bravery. Its focus is on martyrs. It compares Putin’s invasion to Adolf Hitler’s massacres of Ukrainians in World War Two.  Moscow insists that events in Ukraine are part of a “special military operation”. In this version of events, Ukraine is not a real country. Ukrainians have been brainwashed by Neo-Nazis and NATO. Russia is not the aggressor – and those who say so are "foreign agents" and "extremists".  It is a story that is becoming increasingly difficult to deny in Russia. On Friday, the Kremlin passed a new law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading “fake news”. It is now a crime to say there is a war.  Last week, authorities pulled the plug on the radio station Echo of Moscow and the independent TV Rain aired its last show. And over the weekend, global news outlets including the BBC and CNN were forced to suspend reporting in Russia.  For historian Yuval Noah Harari, "nations are built on stories." He says true stories of heroism are stronger than Russia's propagandaInformation, which may be biased or misleading, used to promote a certain viewpoint. . They “give courage” to Ukrainians and the rest of the world. Will this matter if Ukraine loses? In Russia, Putin's opponents fear a future where "Ignorance is Strength." Are wars ultimately won with stories? Truth or lie? Yes: In war, morale is everything. Battles are won by the side with the most confidence. And the bravest fighters are those who believe in their cause and are prepared to die for it.

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