Chris Hedges speaks with British journalist Peter Oborne about worthy and unworthy victims, those we are allowed to pity, such as Ukrainians, and those, such as Palestinians or Iraqis, we ignore.
Rulers divide the world into worthy and unworthy victims, those we are allowed to pity, such as Ukrainians enduring the hell of modern warfare, and those whose suffering is minimized, dismissed, or ignored. The terror we and our allies carry out against Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Somali and Yemeni civilians is part of the regrettable cost of war. We, echoing the empty promises from Moscow, claim we do not target civilians. Rulers always paint their militaries as humane, there to serve and protect. Collateral damage happens, but it is regrettable.
This lie can only be sustained among those who are unfamiliar with the explosive ordinance and large kill zones of missiles, iron fragmentation bombs, mortar, artillery and tank shells, and belt-fed machine guns. This bifurcation into worthy and unworthy victims, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky point out in “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” is a key component of propaganda, especially in war. The Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, to Moscow, are worthy victims. Russia is their savior: The 1.5 million refugees and the millions of Ukrainian families cowering in basements, car parks and subway stations, are unworthy “Nazis.”
Worthy victims allow citizens to see themselves as empathetic, compassionate, and just. Worthy victims are an effective tool to demonize the aggressor. They are used to obliterate nuance and ambiguity. Mention the provocations carried out by the western alliance with the expansion of NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany, a violation of promises made to Moscow in 1990; the stationing of NATO troops and missile batteries in Eastern Europe; the U.S. involvement in the ouster in 2014 of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, which led to the civil war in the east of Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s army, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and you are dismissed as a Putin apologist.
It is to taint the sainthood of the worthy victims, and by extension ourselves. We are good. They are evil. Worthy victims are used not only to express sanctimonious outrage, but to stoke self-adulation and a poisonous nationalism. The cause becomes sacred, a religious crusade. Fact-based evidence is abandoned, as it was during the calls to invade Iraq. Charlatans, liars, con artists, fake defectors, and opportunists become experts, used to fuel the conflict.
Joining me to discuss this duplicity and mendacity is Peter Oborne a former political commentator of the Spectator, the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail who covered the war in Yemen. He currently writes about politics for Open Democracy and Middle East Eye and is the author of The Triumph of the Political Class, and The Rise of Political Lying.
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