Ukraine: How the Propaganda System Works
Glen T. Martin
www.oneworldrenaissance.com 28 June 2022
I have long argued that the system of militarized sovereign nation-states is inherently a war-system. Nations, recognizing no enforceable laws over themselves, struggle for economic and military ascendency, for expansion of global markets, investments, and resources. Often there is a single imperial center, such as Spain in the 16th century, Britain, in the 19th century, or the USA since World War II. Capitalism, in the sense of striving for the accumulation of wealth in service of the accumulation of privilege and power that wealth brings, emerged centuries ago out of the same post-Renaissance system, as did the so-called “sovereign” nation-state.
World Systems Theory involves social scientific study of the inner works of the world system that involves these two interrelated dimensions: global capitalism and militarized sovereign nation-states. This discipline has been developed by many critical social thinkers, especially over the past five decades.[i] It is discussed in virtually all my books since Millennium Dawn in 2005 up to my most recent, The Earth Constitution Solution in 2021. Generally, in analyses by world systems thinkers, three levels of nations are identified.[ii]
The first is the global imperial center (today the USA), in the 19th century Britain. The center possesses the largest concentrations of wealth (capital), the most advanced technology, and the most powerful military which it (necessarily) uses to promote and protect its global economic and military dominance. During the era of colonization, this process simply involved conquering and colonizing peoples for the benefit of the imperial center.
However, there are two more categories of nations: the periphery and the semi-periphery. The periphery, of course, involves the vast majority of countries (often in the global South of Asia, Africa, and Latin America) who typically supply cheap labor and low-cost resources to the industrially and militarily advanced countries. The semi-periphery includes all the industrially developed nations who can directly rival the imperial center in wealth and military prowess. They function as either allies or rivals of the center.
Today, there is a very complex relationship among the nations of the global semi-periphery, but to simplify one can say that the US and its allies (in Western Europe and elsewhere) are in a global struggle with China, Russia, Iran, and their allies. During the era of Spanish domination, the semi-periphery included a rush to colonize as much of the world as possible by such nations as France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. As world systems thinker John Smith points out, the industrialized nations do not compete with the “underdeveloped” nations, but with each other, as part of their world system struggles, while the poor nations compete with one another to sell off their cheap labor and resources that make the wealthy classes and their nations richer.[iii]
Therefore, the world system is basically one of militarized sovereign nation-states competing economically and militarily with one another. Under the capitalist system, of course, it is the capitalist ruling class in each nation that runs the show. They are managers of giant multinational corporations and banking cartels that are concerned to use the military and resources of their respective nation-states to enhance their wealth and power (and by extension the wealth and power of their nations).
Hence, the Chinese ruling class (largely inseparable from the Chinese government) is ruling to enhance the wealth and power of China, the Russian ruling class (largely inseparable from the Russian government) is ruling to enhance the wealth and power of Russia, and the USA ruling class (in many ways inseparable from the US government, whether Democrat or Republican) rules to enhance the wealth and power of the US and to maintain its global dominance as the imperial center.
This current imperial center has promoted coups or overthrows on every continent in literally dozens of countries around the world, including many democratically elected governments. The imperial center sets aside billions of dollars to train, equip, and subsidize troops and security forces in more than eighty countries worldwide, making them not only beholden but using the opportunity for propagandize them into the imperial worldview. Many of these countries are already dictatorships in which case the training increases the brutality, lawlessness, and repressiveness of the systems. In many other cases, such as Saudi Arabia’s relentless destruction of Yemen or the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the US sells weapons systems to the aggressor nations.[iv]
There is also ample evidence of the US funding and empowering terror groups around the world to further its perceived geopolitical interests, to help destabilize governments, and create ungovernable social chaos for the victims.[v] These are all in addition to dozens of direct US military interventions since World War II. The imperial center truly is a global empire, penetrating everywhere on the planet, making the brutalities of the Spanish or British empires before it appear as a child’s game in comparison. Excellent analyses of how this has worked in the decades leading up to the Ukraine war are available online for those who care to search them out. The empire now wants to install nuclear missiles in Ukraine four minutes flying time to Moscow. Intended victims of the empire must draw the line somewhere. With this latest outrage, Putin had his back to the wall. He knew the costs of invasion but felt he had no choice.
This sordid history of the empire should at the very least make thinking people suspicious of President Biden’s announcement that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was “unprovoked.” One might then investigate and find out for oneself. One finds that the US and NATO interference in the Balkans during the 1990s and into the early 21st century acted in utter disregard for Russian’s interests there, in effect initiating a new Cold War against Moscow. On-going “new Cold War” provocations included active anti-Russian support for the conflict in Georgia in 2008. They included betraying US promises of “humanitarian intervention only” by requesting Russia to withhold its veto of action with regard to Libya at the UN in 2011, while really intending to overthrow the Russia-friendly government of Libya (which it did) and later attempting to do the same in Syria.
The list goes on and on. One finds that the US betrayed its promises to Gorbachev not to expand NATO to the East. This was articulated very clearly in Putin’s well-known 2007 Munich speech. One finds that the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected pro-Russian President Yanukovych in 2014 was openly assisted by the US. One finds that the US has openly opposed the economic integration of Russia and Europe and has worked to defeat the completion of the Nord Stream II pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Ultimately, one finds the publicly stated goals of the US to remove Putin from leadership and to break up Russia into a collection of small states (as they already did with the Russian friendly Yugoslav Federation).
The world system of domination and exploitation worked quite well for the benefit of the rulers and ruling nations (and not the majority of humanity) through the 19th and early 20th centuries. But by the late 18th century, a wild-card had entered the discourse: “democracy,” and in the 19th century, another wild-card linked with democracy: “socialism.” Some people had the crazy idea that everyone had human rights and dignity. They had the crazy idea that the economy is supposed to work for everyone on the planet, not just the wealthy ruling classes. They even had the crazy idea that the people should have the right to run government on behalf of the common good of the people and not on behalf of the ruling classes. This madness clearly had to be stopped.
Who says there is no God (at least the god to whom the ruling classes pray)? The ruling classes were very worried when the vote was extended to all men in the early 20th century; then extended to all women, then even to all races. Would the ignorant common people be taking over the system and directing wealth for the common good of all, and perhaps even attempting to end war? But God sent a lifeboat for their system, today called “propaganda.” This was discovered by the US government and effectively applied during World War I. It has been increasingly perfected since then. Today, the brilliance, subtlety, and power of the propaganda system is approaching flawlessness.
Some scholars, such as Helen Caldicott, Noam Chomsky, and Robert McChesney have traced the history and operations of this system, going back to World War I.[vi] In that war the people of the USA were firmly against getting into a foreign, European war. But the US government (not a function of the will of the people either then or now) wanted to be part of it. I will not go into the often-repeated story of how the government managed, through propaganda, to completely change the minds of the people in a very short time until they were howling for war.
It is actually very simple: demonize and dehumanize the enemy, attribute horrible acts and atrocities to them, sanitize or hide one’s own atrocities, valorize one’s own heroic leaders or allies as standing up for what is good, and just, and right. Bury or marginalize contradicting information (or outspoken dissenters). Accuse them of hating their own country, or of supporting the “monsters” who comprise the enemy, etc.
When the US government managed to change the mind of the American people overnight through a media blitz using these techniques, the big capitalist corporations were in the wings taking careful notes. They knew God had provided. The survival of the war system and the ruling class system was assured. Since then, they have mastered and perfected the dynamics of the propaganda model.
The model is, of course, incompatible with free journalism, free inquiry, and ultimately freedom of thought and speech, that is, with democracy. That is why the mass media had to be owned by the big corporations and the rich. Thought and information need to be carefully controlled. Nevertheless, during the Vietnam war, there were enough of these features of democracy remaining within the USA to expose, in more or less real time, the atrocities and lies the Pentagon and the government were telling the American people. After that war, and the public exposure of the Pentagon’s utter brutality and cruelty, the Pentagon began to move the propaganda system to a higher level. It would never again allow the public to discern what it is doing in real time.
Since then, during the destruction of Yugoslavia, the destruction of Afghanistan, the destruction of Iraq, destructions of Syria, Libya, Yemen, and dozens of other lesser-known invasions, overthrows, or atrocities, the people of the US have not seen visual evidence, nor seen real, critical mainstream journalism describing these things. But they have seen plenty of propaganda. In addition, the Pentagon has spent tens of millions promoting and facilitating movies like “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise, “Under Siege” with Steven Seagal, “Battleship” with Bruce Willis, or “Hunt for Red October” with Sean Connery to glorify the image and mission of the US military. Whistle blowers have been hounded and hunted. Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers was hounded and prosecuted. Chelsea Manning was jailed. Edward Snowden barely escaped with his life, and the entire life of Julian Assange has been muted and ruined.
It has come out later, of course, after every US war or invasion, about the massive lying to the American people that went on in order to get “democratic” support for the slaughter. And it has come out repeatedly that the ruling-class-owned media have parroted Pentagon propaganda in a coordinated effort to rally support for its wars. The first question to ask of any news source is who owns it and what are their interests? How does the use of propaganda increase their profit margin?
The techniques of propaganda have been studied and elucidated by Noam Chomsky in The Manufacture of Consent and by many others. It remains true that independent and objective journalism (not corporate owned) can be found online and in-print, but it takes growth in critical thinking and active discernment to identify the best and most reliable sources. Truth in this area must be worked at, it does not come through being a passive recipient of Fox News, MSNBC, or the Washington Post.
Pentagon propagandists have long distinguished between “tree tops propaganda,” directed toward the more literate types, where the carefully designed images and lies are expressed in a literary form that appears convincing to those who think themselves literate intellectuals. The New York Times and the Washington Post are perhaps the paragon examples of this propaganda type. One of the quality non-propagandist commentators on the Ukraine War is Scott Ritter, a senior analyst of US wars since the first Iraq War of 1991.
It was during the Iraq conflict, where he was one of the UN weapons inspectors, that I invited him as a guest speaker at my university—to try to penetrate the propaganda mill with a more objective point of view. In a new article on Ukraine, Ritter writes: “Had The New York Times bothered to check the resumes of the ‘military exerts’ it consulted, it would have found two men so deeply entrenched into the Ukrainian propaganda mill as to make their respective opinions all but useless to any journalistic outlet possessing a modicum of impartiality. But this was The New York Times.”[vii] Indeed, the New York Times looks for such pseudo-experts to project a patina of respectable corroboration for its propagandistic ideology.
Ordinary people, who are not “treetops,” prefer “Top Gun” or “Under Siege.” In either case the result is the same. There are never serious challenges to the dominant world system, nor to the lies of the propaganda system. People are conditioned to think of any rationally proposed alternative to this insane scenario as “hopelessly utopian.”
Yet the scenario appears to successfully work every time. Even literate people appear incapable of learning from the past, just as they appear unwilling to make the kind of efforts that lead to intellectual growth and understanding. Supposedly critically informed people today are calling Putin an absolute “monster” intent on invading and “swallowing” another country (contrary to all evidence of Russia’s behavior since the fall of the Soviet Union).
They are crying about the right of Ukraine to be a “free” country, about how it is an “experiment in democracy,” etc. And all of this with little or no understanding of the history of Ukraine, the global politics of oil, the history of moving NATO’s nuclear attack capacity ever closer to Russia’s borders, or the US interest in bating Russia into this war and the immense benefits to the empire that the war brings to the US ruling class. With little comprehension of the Pentagon’s geopolitical strategy of neutralizing its designated enemies: Russia and China.[viii]
Hence, we see another victory for the ruling class, another failure of our democratic ideals, yet more so-called “peace leaders” compromised—people who appear really, at bottom, advocates for the war-system rather than a genuine peace-system for our planet. They react with emotional fervor to the Pentagon’s propaganda images, rather than working to find real solutions to this global problem that threatens the very future of humanity. As I have elaborated elsewhere, these solutions are found in the ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[ix] There can be no authentic democracy, peace, or freedom anywhere on Earth unless we create a world system actually premised on democracy, peace, freedom, and an informed citizenry, rather than on naked wealth and power.[x]
[i] See, for example, Terry Boswell and Christopher Chase-Dunn, The Spiral of Capitalism and Socialism: Toward Global Democracy, or James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-Liberal Capitalism.
[ii] See Thomas A. Shannon, An Introduction to World Systems Theory.
[iii] See John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis.
[iv] For an overview of the system see F. William Engdahl, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. For the long list and descriptions of specifics, see Michael Parenti, Against Empire: A Brilliant Expose of the Brutal Realities of U.S. Global Domination or William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. See also Douglas Valentine, The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World.
[v] See, e.g., Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism or Engdahl’s Full Spectrum Dominance.
[vi] See Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies; Helen Caldicott, If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth, Chapter 8; Robert W. McChesney, Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. Also see my Millenium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation, Chapters 3 and 9.
[vii] Scott Ritter at: The Fantasy of Fanaticism (informationclearinghouse.info). Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.
[viii] Several of the above-named books elucidate this geopolitical strategy. For the geopolitics of oil intimately related to today’s proxy war in Ukraine see Pepe Escobar, Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War. Also see Escobar’s recent articles about the war in Ukraine.
[ix] See, for example, my Triumph of Civilization: Democracy, Nonviolence, and the Piloting of Spaceship Earth (2010).
[x] The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is found online at www.earthconstitution.world and www.wcpa.global. The grounds for a world system premised on democracy, peace, and freedom are articulated in Glen T. Martin, ibid., Triumph of Civilization, Martin, One World Renaissance: Holistic Planetary Transformation through a Global Social Contract (2016),and Martin, The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet (2021).