It is a popular conception to believe that we in the west are blessed with a free and democratic media which is often used as an example of how we are fundamentally more free and better off than the people of the old soviet union.
One man, Nikolai Lanine, has spent years collecting media articles from soviet russia, translating them and comparing the content with modern western media. His conclusions are that the content of the propaganda by both sides are remarkably similar.
No doubt the Russians were a lot more violent in their control of public perceptions, but the control and distortion of information in the mainstream corporate press is eerily similar to that of the state media under the direct control of official propagandists.
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle ... emID=14365The Soviet media presented the invasion essentially as a peacekeeping operation intended to prevent enemy atrocities. Krasnaya Zvezda [Red Star], a major Soviet military newspaper, reported in May 1985:
"Since the establishment of this [Soviet] base, [the Mujahadeen]'s predatory extortions, violence, [and] reprisals have stopped; and poor peasants are [now] working the land peacefully." (Krasnaya Zvezda, May 1, 1985)
The same paper noted:
“Before the arrival of the Soviet soldiers here, [the area] was literally swarming with [insurgents]... [who] were ruthlessly killing... everyone, who was desperately longing for a new life... However, Soviet soldiers arrived, and life in the district has started normalising." (Krasnaya Zvezda, October 27, 1985)
Voenni Vestnik [Military Bulletin] took it for granted that "...[Soviet] paratroopers are protecting peaceful [Afghan] citizens". (Voenni Vestnik #4, 1983)
This, of course, was a reversal of the truth that the Soviet superpower was killing large numbers of civilians and causing great suffering to the population.
Pravda insisted that the Afghan army had conducted military operations “at the demand of the local population” and because of “the danger to lives and property of citizens” posed by the resistance. (Pravda, February 7, 1988)
Military personnel constantly echoed government claims that intervention was required “to help the hapless Afghan people to defend their freedom, their future”. (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 5, 1988)
The invasion was also portrayed as an act of self-defence to prevent a “neighboring country with a shared Soviet-Afghan border... [from turning] into a bridgehead for... [Western] aggression against the Soviet state”. (Izvestiya, January 1, 1980) Soviet intervention was also a response to unprovoked violence by Islamic fundamentalists (described as “freedom fighters“ in the West), who, it was claimed, planned to export their fundamentalist struggle across the region “’under the green banner of Jihad’, to the territory of the Soviet Central-Asian republics”. (Lyahovsky & Zabrodin, p.45) The Soviet public were told they faced a stark choice: either fight the menace abroad, or do nothing and later face a much greater threat on home soil that would, geopolitically, “put the USSR in a very difficult situation”. (Sovetskaya Rossia [Soviet Russia], February 11, 1993)
This theme was endlessly stressed by the Soviet media system - Soviet forces were “not only defending Afghan villages. They keep the peace on the borders of [our] homeland”. (Pravda, April 2, 1987) The goal was "peace and security in the region, and also the security of the southern border of the USSR". (Mezhdunarodnyi Ezhegodnik, 1981, p.224) The unquestioned assumption was that Soviet forces had no option but to act “pre-emptively” in “self-defence”.
Does that look familiar to anyone? The exact same justifications can be found in pretty much every single western newspaper regarding the U.S. and British occupation of Afghanistan.
While we in the west are perfectly able to understand why the Afghans revolted under Soviet rule, our media seem utterly incapable of considering whether or not attacks against the west might have something to do with decades of western violence against some of the poorest nations in the world. Al Qaeda are only attacking us because 'they hate our freedom' and we ascribe to these small cells of fighters motives of conquest that allow us to frame our attacks as defence. (but our attacks are never described as conquest)In near-identical fashion, the British and American governments have presented their invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as acts of self-defence which also happen to be in the best interests of the Afghan and Iraqi populations.
In 2001, the then UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon insisted that, in Afghanistan, Britain “was acting in self-defence against Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qa'ida network”. (Ben Russell, ‘Parliament - terrorism debate,’ The Independent, November 2, 2001)
As with the Soviet media, the self-defensive, humanitarian intent behind both invasions are staples of much US-UK media reporting. On the April 12, 2005 edition of the BBC's Newsnight programme, diplomatic editor Mark Urban discussed the significance of a lessening of Iraqi attacks on US forces since January:
“It is indeed the first real evidence that President Bush's grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work.” (Urban, Newsnight, BBC2, April 12, 2005)
When George Bush declared: "we are not conquerors; we're liberators”, he could have been quoting one of the top Soviet generals in Afghanistan, who said:
“We didn't set ourselves the task of conquering anyone: we wanted to stabilise the situation.” (Varennikov, CNN Interview, 1998)
In April 2002, Rory Carroll wrote in the Guardian:
“Whoever is trying to destabilise Afghanistan is doing a good job. The broken cities and scorched hills so recently liberated are rediscovering fear and uncertainty.” (Carroll, 'Blood-drenched warlord's return,' The Observer, April 14, 2002)
The point being that, for Carroll, as for George Bush, Afghanistan really had been “liberated” by the world’s superpower.
The New York Times wrote in September 2007:
”Military statistics show that U.S. forces have made some headway at protecting the Iraqi population, but there are questions over whether the gains can be sustained.” (Michael R. Gordon, ‘Assessing the “surge”,’ New York Times, September 8, 2007)
Even in reporting that a large proportion of world opinion wants to see the US leave Iraq, the BBC managed to boost the claimed humanitarian intent:
“Some 39% of people in 22 countries said troops should leave now, and 28% backed a gradual pull-out. Just 23% wanted them to stay until Iraq was safe.” (Most people 'want Iraq pull-out,' http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/m ... 981553.stm, September 7, 2007)
The idea that Iraq might not be safe +until+ US-UK troops leave, is unthinkable to many Western journalists, as it was to Soviet journalists.
In some cases, Western reporting perhaps even surpassed Soviet propaganda. As US tanks entered Baghdad on April 9, 2003, ITN's John Irvine declared:
"A war of three weeks has brought an end to decades of Iraqi misery." (ITN Evening News, April 9, 2003)
International law is always on our side, just like it was on the side of the soviets when they attacked Afghanistan, and when the war failed, the soviets never discussed the rightness or wrongness of the war (the war was always the right thing to do) merely the strategy employed by the military (If only they had used more troops)
The exact same debate is taking place in our media today re Iraq. The war was always the right thing to do, it was just the execution that was flawed
During the soviet afghan war the soviets claimed to have been invited by the 'legitimate government of Afghanistan'. Such claims were never entertained for even a moment by western media who made constant references to the 'puppet regime'Soviet Chief of General Staff Ogarkov argued in 1979 (before the invasion), that the decision to send troops to Afghanistan was “inexpedient” because the initial invasion force of 75,000 was insufficient to the task, which was to “stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.” It was “impossible to achieve this goal with such a [small] force”, he claimed. (Quoted, Lyahovsky & Zabrodin, 1991, p.59). General Gareev, a top Soviet advisor to the Afghan armed forces, argued in his memoirs that “from the military point of view, it was perhaps more advisable to conduct a more massive and powerful invasion of Afghanistan”. (Gareev, 1996, pp.45-46)......
........ When the US and UK governments talk of their “just cause” in Afghanistan they are essentially repeating the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya which quoted an Afghan official declaring that the Soviet and Afghan soldiers were fighting “for a just cause and happy new life for all Afghan people”. (Izvestiya, January 14, 1986)
Similarly, and almost exactly echoing Izvestiya, an Observer editorial commented in October 2006:
"The UK has responsibilities to the elected democratic government of Iraq, under a UN mandate. Britain must honour its commitments to its partners in Baghdad and in Washington." (Leader, ‘Blair should heed the general's reality check,’ The Observer, October 15, 2006)
While the manifest illegality of the 2003 Iraq invasion is presented by newspapers like the Observer as a kind of initial teething problem rendered irrelevant by a subsequent “UN mandate“, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan takes a different view:
“The Security Council’s mandate was for us to help the Iraqi people. I don’t think one can say that the Security Council sanctioned the occupation of Iraq, it merely noted the occupation of Iraq and asked the UN to help the Iraqi people...“ (Mark Disney, On The Edge, August 2007)
In fact, of course, Western reporters were never in doubt about the truth of the Soviet invasion. When we conducted a search of newspaper archives, we found, for example, dozens of media references in the 1980s to the Soviet “puppet government” in Kabul. The New York Times commented in 1988:
“Soviet troop withdrawal will leave behind a puppet Government whose ministries are laced with Soviet ‘'advisers.’” (A.M. Rosenthal, ‘The great game goes on,’ New York Times, February 12, 1988)
In February 1990, Tony Allen-Mills reported for the Independent:
“Many former freedom fighters have made their peace with the puppet government left behind by the departing Soviet army.” (Allen-Mills, Out of Kabul: ‘Why pride must not come before a Najibullah fall,’ The Independent, February 19, 1990)
By contrast, the same newspaper reported of the Taliban in June 2006:
“Their focus is the ‘puppet’ government of Mr Karzai and its complicity in what is portrayed as the Western military persecution of ordinary Afghans.” (Tom Coghlan, ‘Karzai questions Nato campaign as Taliban takes to hi-tech propaganda,’ The Independent, June 23, 2006)
Readers will search long and hard before they find an example of a news reporter describing the current Afghan government as a “puppet government” without the use of inverted commas.