Some years after the G. W. Bush administration’s entry into the Iraq war, American news outlets admitted to dropping the ball. Mainstream media acknowledged they did too little to question the purported evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereas challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq and the 9/11 tragedy were linked aired only belatedly. Over a decade later, the U.S. media has again dropped the ball. This time, though, the actors are different: Ukraine vs. Russia.
To hear mainstream U.S. media tell it, one could be forgiven for the belief that any and all claims of a Neo Nazi presence in Ukraine are propagandist fragments of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imagination. The tragic shoot-down of Malaysian flight MH 17 — on the anniversary of World War I — has only added to the pressure that the West intervene. Still, media fails to recognize its role in perpetuating conflict.
Shortly before the U.S. began trotting out the interim Ukrainian prime minister following the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president earlier this year, The Guardian published profiles of Ukrainian parliament members. Putin, it turns out, was not lying. Historically, elements within the region sympathized with fascist Germany and some fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, prompting animosities that exist to this day.
Why does this matter? Because failure to appreciate our present — and to grasp our past — may doom us to repeat history.
In an apparent effort to turn down the heat, journalist and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication dean, DeWayne Wickham, argues in a March USA Today piece that U.S. hegemony in the creation of Panama and Russia’s hegemony with respect to Ukraine are not terribly different.
Judging from the response the piece drew, Wickham’s point was lost on many readers. Accusations mounted: Wickham had attempted to excuse Putin’s audacity in Crimea. Wickham had cited an passé example, irrelevant because the creation of Panama took place over 100 years ago.
It’s all too easy to dismiss the events of the past — or, conversely, latch onto the tragedy of the moment (flight MH 17) — to justify an existing conclusion. But this time getting the facts right matters because the wrong response may very well provoke another Great War.
Wickham concludes that neither the U.S. or Russia has the moral high ground within a historic context. So what’s the point in comparing U.S. and Russian hegemony if it is not for the purpose of excusing anyone? Perhaps this: As Americans better appreciate our role in history, it becomes apparent that escalating international tensions often travel a well-worn path. If keeping history alive to tell the tale of hubris past gives pause to the drums of war, so be it. The alternative is to take two, three, four, even five geopolitical wrongs and to make-believe might makes right.
Haven’t we been down this road before?