Recently one of my readers sent me this very accurate country ball cartoons, which just goes to show how thanks to the internet, more and more people are becoming familiar with Kremlin talking points and debate tactics.
Yep, that’s pretty much the way it goes. But I was thinking about some whataboutist tactics lately and this reminded me of how pointless it is to try to teach these people by using your own country as an example. Kremlin supporters love to bring up the Vietnam War and all manner of heinous crimes carried out by the US government, but they forget two very important facts.
The first is that many of these crimes were opposed by either large numbers of people or at least prominent Americans. The second is that one reason they know about these crimes is because so much material on them has been published and popularized by Americans themselves. Want to know about US interventions and dirty wars since 1945? Check out Killing Hope by William Blum. Check out anything Noam Chomsky has ever written. Check out Michael Parenti. RT loves giving air time to authors and commentators who criticize American foreign policy without ever giving much thought to how easy it was for them to find people who have made their careers with that criticism.
I used to think that calling out the problems with the United States would show some of my Russian interlocutors that my condemnation of the Russian system, which is largely formed via personal experience and communication with hundreds of Russians in many different cities and towns over a period of more than eight years, is by no means an unfair, one-sided attack on Russia itself. Long time readers of this blog have seen how I have often compared the atmosphere in Russia today to that in America during the first few years after 11 September 2001. True, in the US you had a lot more leeway to protest and criticize the government, but a lot of people were intimidated out of fear for their job, fear of losing friends or colleagues, or even alienating their own family members.
Lately I realize that this kind of “criticize America, criticize Russia,” style is really a colossal waste of time. If you criticize the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, or the shoddy handling of Syria or Euromaidan, your listener doesn’t hear your analogies, they don’t see the point you’re trying to make. They don’t think, “Hey wait a minute, Americans actually criticize their government all the time and don’t listen to everything their media says! Maybe I should do the same!” What they think is “Here is an American who’s badmouthing America. This confirms what I already believe!”
I’ve actually written about this topic before, namely how Russians and Americans can agree when they’re condemning the actions of the US government, but the former see no solidarity with the latter. All that matters is that like Tim Kirby, you’re confirming what their intelligentsia and media has been telling them for years. Now I think I’ve finally found a way to illustrate what appears to be going on in these conversations. Enjoy:
1. Kremlin Supporter uses: Whataboutism. It’s super effective!
“Aggression in Ukraine? What about slavery? What about Ferguson? What about Vietnam? What about Iraq?”
2. What you say:
“Well I’m really glad you brought that up because you see, countries like America, the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, and so on achieved their position today largely because they had massive struggles involving millions of citizens. Through debate and self-criticism, these countries learned to evolve and improve. This process never stops, but as long as people are allowed to speak their mind and participate in politics these struggles will continue and society will improve. Nobody can deny that 21st century America is far freer and functional than 19th century America, for example.
You mentioned slavery. Obviously Americans condemn slavery and fought their most destructive war to end it. Now there are some Americans who want to suppress the history of slavery because they claim that teaching that history is unpatriotic. Luckily there are plenty of people opposing that incorrect view, which is no longer dominant as it was decades ago. Pointing out America’s flaws is the first step to correcting them. As for Ferguson, the protests you see show why civil society and freedom of speech are so important. Police brutality is a major problem in America today, but as you see people have organized on their own initiative to bring this issue into the spotlight. This is the first step towards change, and luckily that change doesn’t require them to overthrow the American government.
You mention wars like Iraq and Vietnam. Were you not aware that both wars were opposed by millions of people and radically altered American politics? Failure in Vietnam brought down one administration and the Iraq War totally discredited Bush and his neoconservative ideologues. The next time an American politician tries to float the idea of invading and conquering another country, they will be confronted with Iraq and the horrible legacy of George W. Bush. “
3. What they hear.
“Well I’m really glad you brought that up because you see, countries like America, bzzzzzz, Japan, Germany, and so on achieved their position today largely because they had bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Nobody can deny that 21st century America is far freer and functional than bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
You mentioned slavery. Obviously Americans bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz slavery and fought bzzzz most destructive war bzzzzzzzz. Now there are some Americans who want to suppress the history of slavery because they bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz patriotic. Luckily bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz that bzzzzzzz view, bzzzzzzz is bzzzzzzzzzzzz dominant bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. As for Ferguson, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Police brutality is bzzzzzzzzzzzz in America today, but as you see people have organized on their own initiative to bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz overthrow the American government.
You mention wars like Iraq and Vietnam. Were you not aware that bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz radically bzzzzzzzz American politics? Failure in Vietnam bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Bush and his neoconservative ideologues. The next time an American politician tries to float the idea of invading and conquering another country, they will be bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz George W. Bush. “
This is basically what happens, though you can only truly appreciate this when you’re arguing face to face. You can almost tell when they are paying attention and when they are tuning out because you started mentioning one of Russia’s problems.
There are some people who should openly acknowledge Western mistakes when discussing Russia, namely Western leaders and diplomats. But for those of us living in Russia and dealing with the consequences of the government’s policies just like any other Russian citizen, there is no such obligation. Obama’s crap policies in regards to Syria didn’t cut people’s salaries in half or cancel any commuter trains in Russia.