Part 1 of this series argues that elites aggressively seek to acquire and control resources and power—primarily for their own personal enrichment. Part 2 outlines how the Western elites enact this agenda against nations that are targeted for resource pillage and inclusion within the broader sphere of Western influence for ongoing power projection and exploitation. This part deals with narrative as a tool of war.
Narrative is a key lens through which we form our view of the events and the world around us. Each event or account of the world comes as a form of story that is shaped by the storyteller and relayed to us for a purpose. Most of recognise this fact when we call out the Murdoch press or perhaps view with suspicion news sources like TASS, the Russian news agency or China’s CGTN. Critically, the importance of taking control of the narrative is also well known to governments and to the military and security agencies. Since Operation Mockingbird came to public attention, it is well known that the CIA has been shaping narratives in the USA and around the world for decades though its involvement in the US news and entertainment industries.
In 2018, hacked computer files revealed that a UK government program called the Integrity Initiative, which had been set up to produce anti-Russian propaganda using a network of journalists who had been commissioned to produce articles for insertion into the mainstream media. The UK’s Covid-19 pandemic response team includes a group called the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which features behavioural psychologists and media specialists whose objective is to shape public opinions and behaviours to align with government objectives.
As part of an ongoing battle for our consent and compliance, numerous narratives and narrative distortions are constantly being fed to us through popular culture, the corporate media and conventional histories. History has been written to construct a particular narrative of events that paints our side as virtuous and the other as evil—inevitably, history is written by the victor (at least in the first instance). These narratives have been shaped to justify elite actions and elicit popular consent and even willing participation. That is the role of propaganda and the corporate media.
In the context of the wars on target nations, many of the narratives employed to shape our world view pop up repeatedly, so that it is possible to identify a system of narratives which must be kept in mind while considering the reported actions or purported intentions of the leaders and elites of a target nation. Some of the key narratives and examples of their current usages against nations targeted include:
- Threats to democracy and freedom:
- Election Hacking
- Social media influence
- Hating us for our freedom
- Evil leader – real or cartoon character:
- Inhuman murdering tyrant
- Unstable insane megalomaniac
- Diabolically evil mastermind
- Government brutality – political and physical abuse of the population:
- Rigged elections and opposition suppression
- Assassination and torture
- Mass incarceration and indoctrination
- Mass starvation
- Organ theft
- Warmonger – intent to harm us physically or economically:
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Restricting freedom of navigation
- Computer hacking
- Intellectual property theft
- Socialism (no need to explain what this means, it’s always bad) or communism (which is worse):
- Impoverishment of population
- Mind control and political repression
- Threat to democracy
- Death panels (eg socialised medical care)
- Spreading like a cancer.
Narrative in Unconventional War
Sharmine Narwani, an academic who has studied the narratives used to support the war in Syria and the 2010 Unconventional Warfare (UW) manual of the US Military’s Special Forces, found that defining the narrative was a key device used in gathering momentum for that war.
“Four key narratives were spun ad nauseam in every mainstream Western media outlet, beginning in March 2011 and gaining steam in the coming months.
– The Dictator is killing his “own people.”
– The protests are “peaceful.”
– The opposition is “unarmed.”
– This is a “popular revolution.” ”
Source: Syria: The hidden massacre
The 2010 Unconventional Warfare (UW) manual defines a warfare strategy focussed on how to “exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by developing and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives”. In shaping the acceptance for change of a suitable target population the “Will of the Population” is identified as a key element so that:
“1-16. Information activities that increase dissatisfaction with the hostile regime or occupier and portray the resistance as a viable alternative are important components of the resistance effort. These activities can increase support for the resistance through persuasive messages that generate sympathy among populations.”
1-17. In almost every scenario, resistance movements face a population with an active minority supporting the government and an equally small militant faction supporting the resistance movement (Figure 1-2). For the resistance to succeed, it must convince the uncommitted middle population, which includes passive supporters of both sides, to accept it as a legitimate entity. A passive population is sometimes all a well- supported insurgency needs to seize political power. As the level of support for the insurgency increases, the passive majority will decrease.”
The manual goes on to deal with the importance of ideology in the following terms:
“2-9. The insurgents must have a program that justifies its actions in relation to the movement’s grievances and explains what is wrong with the status quo. The most important aspect of a successful insurgency is the viability of the message. It is essential that the message physically reaches the people and possesses meaning to their way of life. The insurgency cannot gain active or passive support without achieving these goals. This makes the language, culture, and geography of the masses particularly important. Ideology is an important factor in unifying the many divergent interests and goals among the insurgency membership. As a common set of interrelated beliefs, values, and norms, ideology is used to manipulate and influence the behavior of individuals within the group. Ideology will serve as the rallying call for all members of the population to join the struggle. The ideology of the insurgency and the motivation of the insurgent must remain linked. Once delinked, the counterinsurgent will be able to address individual grievances and negate the unity of the insurgency.” [Emphasis added]
One of the primary aims of the warfare strategy is to reshape and redirect the narratives upon which the ideologies and impressions of the target populations are based so that these are conducive to the attacking nation’s objectives via the complicit existing or newly created resistance forces. This means discrediting their leaders and creating a sense of discontent or at least ambivalence among the wider population. In a narrative war, propagandists therefore focus on leaders as being synonymous with the governments and body politic of the opposing parties. They then attempt to draw attention to their supposedly evil (their guy) or good qualities (our guy) so the opposing leader is painted as supremely evil (often invoking archetypes like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini or Genghis Khan) and our guy can do not wrong. This is narrative is often formed rather like a Hollywood superhero movie where the super evil bad guy is supremely powerful and is faced by the morally upright and often flawed hero, who in spite of his relative disadvantaged position struggles to overcome his more powerful opponent and finally wins out, proving that goodness and moral rectitude prevail over evil.
Super hero Zelensky versus arch villain Putin
In the context of Russia’s 2022 special military operation in Ukraine, we can see how this good versus evil narrative in full display in the context of how Ukraine’s Volodimir Zelensky is positioned in relation to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, both of whom are often referred to as solely representative of their nations.
From a western position, Zelensky is a plucky relatively youthful ex-actor who has by some accident of fortune has been elevated to President of a nation that has come under unprovoked attack based on the apparently imperialistic ambitions of the older, ex-KGB operative Putin who has total dictatorial control over the vast resources and armies of nuclear armed Russia. Zelensky’s youth and inexperience are emphasised by props and devices such as the iconic army green tee shirt and casual trousers as opposed to Putin’s formal suit and tie. When not making urgent impassioned video and in-person pleas in various western legislative forums, Zelensky is often portrayed in ostensible warzone scenes or out in the street, where portrayals of Putin often have him walking in a formal suit through the opulent white and gold high ceilinged imperial corridors of the Kremlin with liveried attendants opening doors as he goes.
On the other hand, Russian media portrays Zelensky as a mere puppet and mouthpiece of the western and domestic oligarchic interests that created him and placed him in power. The Russian narrative portrays Zelensky as a front for neo-Nazi Banderite elements of western Ukrainian society—such as the Azov Battalion—which have been implicated in various human rights abuses against the Russian speaking peoples of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine over the period from the 2014 coup, as well as events like the 2 May 2014 massacre of forty-two ‘pro-federalist’ protesters at Odessa’s House of Trade Unions building. Russian media position Zelensky as a front man for western imperialist ambitions aimed at weakening Russia and Balkanizing this vast nation into some five to seven weaker nations which can then be individually subject to western corporate predation and economic warfare that will result in the transfer of Russia’s vast resource wealth into the hands of western elites—much as was attempted during the Yelstin years after the USSR fall and before Putin came on the scene to set Russia back on its feet as a world super power.
Creating dissention in the enemy population
Western leaders have been quite forthright in telling us that their aim in Russia has been to remove Putin from power. For instance, an NPR article of 26 March 2022 quotes US President Biden as follows:
“Speaking in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, President Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Shortly after Biden spoke, a White House official downplayed Biden’s remarks that appeared to be a call to remove Putin.
“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” the White House official said.”
These direct statements of intent at the start of the Russian special military operation were accompanied by appeals to elements within the Russian hierarchy to take direct action to remove Putin from power, such as this article from 22 March 2022:
“Speculation about Putin’s fate is rife, with Ukraine’s intelligence agency now claiming that Russian elites are planning to remove Vladimir Putin as Russia’s President, reports news.com.au.
According to the news outlet, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) is citing methods like “poisoning, sudden disease and accident” as the methods the country’s business and political establishment could install the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov in the top position.
“Their goal is to remove Putin from power as soon as possible and restore economic ties with the West, destroyed due to the war in Ukraine,” the agency wrote on its official Facebook page.
“It is known that Bortnikov and some other influential representatives of the Russian elite are considering various options to remove Putin from power. In particular, poisoning, sudden disease, or any other ‘coincidence’ is not excluded.”
The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine also cites Russia’s military failures as a potential reason for Mr Putin’s ousting.”
Over and above these direct enticements to remove President Putin from power, the extensive sanctions enacted against Russia has been aimed at the general Russian population and—particularly, in more recent sanctions packages—at an increasingly wide group of individuals within the Russian power structure. There is no secret that sanctions packages have been used by the western powers, not so much against the direct interests of leaders of target nations, as as punitive actions against the peoples of those nations with the goal of fomenting civil unrest and regime change in the country. In the case of Russia, such sanctions have included preventing established popular consumer brands from operating in the country—including things such as fast food, electronics, fashionwear, and credit/debit cards—as well as making tourism to and work in most western nations largely impossible. As an added incentive to foment rebellion, many of Russia’s diaspora of westernized oligarchs have had their assets seized and now progressively appropriated.
While much of western propaganda about Russia is directed at gaining consent for the actions against that nation, the anti-Putin narrative is also aimed at a significant slice of Russian society that is western facing and which sees the west as a sort of Eldorado of modernity. These, mostly cosmopolitan, elements are often young, attuned to western trends and switched into western social and mainstream media. For these people, Putin is portrayed as an elite serving increasingly isolated dictator who has eschewed the wise counsel of his advisors to embark on a project of personal ambition and aggrandizement. An example of this sort of narrative building is provided in a New York Times article of 1 March 2022:
“Does President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have the support he needs at home to wage a costly war in Ukraine?
That may seem like an odd question. After all, Mr. Putin has already invaded Ukraine, suggesting he feels confident in his resources. And his public image is that of a strongman, with the power to direct the Russian state as he pleases.
But no leader can govern alone. And a series of events this week, including Russia’s decision to throttle access to Facebook and censor news about the war in Ukraine, raise questions about just how much political support Mr. Putin will be able to draw on during the conflict.
Author note: Bolds added.
Many other such articles provide a picture of strenuous attempts by western propagandists to create and emphasize a narrative speaking of distance between President Putin and both his supporters within the government, the Russian people and the military:
- In Rare Display Of Dissent, Lawmakers In Russia’s Far East Urge Putin To Stop Ukraine War. By RFE/RL’s Siberia.Realities, May 27, 2022
- Putin’s war grinds on, with dissent from Russian hawks and peace-seekers. By Amy Cheng Washington Post, May 28, 2022
- The Fractured Russian Opposition. By Naomi Cohen, Dissent, June 8, 2022
- Putin’s latest crackdown on dissent and information. By U.S. Mission Italy | 26 July, 2022
- Just Say Nyet: Russia Faces Dissent In The Military, Putin faces an anti-war movement within the ranks of his own military. By Alec Dubro | September 6, 2022
- ‘Russia will be free’: Putin critic makes jail a soapbox for dissent. By Dasha Litvinova Associated Press, September 9, 2022
- Russia’s military divided as Putin struggles to deal with Ukraine’s counteroffensive, US sources say. By Katie Bo Lillis, CNN, updated September 22, 2022
- Blunt criticism of Russian army signals new challenge for Putin. By Anton Troianovski and Neil Macfarquhar, The New York Times, Oct 7, 2022
See also: My article Propaganda: Discrediting Leaders as a Hybrid War Device
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