Manipulated Americans: Don’t be a Tool

The Gleaners, Jean-François Millet 1857

There was a rash of news stories this week showing MAGA Republicans at a rally voicing support for Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One lady said, referring to the Russian leader, “he’s just taking back what’s his, I don’t see the problem with it.” Similar sentiments regarding support for Russian advances in Crimea and that troubled region were also made at the recent CPAC meeting. Held annually the gathering always produces some hyperbole but in an election year the content is usually especially spicy and this year was extra hot, given the nature of the contest before us this Fall. So, why am I writing a post about an obscure, and quite dead Welshman beneath an early impressionist painting? Because the Welshman saw something that MAGA lady almost certainly has never heard of, people dying of hunger on the richest farmland in the world. People were arrested or even killed for picking leftover grain, gleaning, from harvested fields. Maybe, who knows, if the MAGA lady knew the whole story it might be a foothold on reality for her. Until then she’s another manipulated American basing her views on Kremlin propaganda, again.

We have to start somewhere to get back to the truth.

How about we start with Peter the Great? Or his spiritual successor Catherine the Great? Peter expanded the Russian Empire and dramatically westernized his country in still visible cultural and other changes. He won wars against the Swedes, the Turks, and the Austrians assisted significantly by the Cossacks, natives of the Zaporiga Region in Ukraine and Russia. Culturally the Cossacks built a reputation as fierce defenders of their territory so often tested by invaders from across the ancient world. Later they were allies and mercenaries for armies who sought their expertise and numbers. But they were separate. Peter made deals with them, and so did Catherine. Their language comes from the same ancient Eastern Slavic tradition but it’s different. The people know which is which and they will tell you if you ask, or maybe if you don’t.

They know they are different, ask them.

“I don’t speak Russian” is one of the first things anyone said to me when I went to Kyiv in 1984. The college I went to had a focus on international experiences and I was there with a group of Economics and Finance Professors as their student researchers. The idea was to familiarize a group of students currently forming their opinions and deciding on careers in business with the realities of a Planned Economy. It was an interesting idea and we did manage to learn even with the dramatic amounts of vodka with which we were presented. Vodka in water glasses with fresh oranges. We were studying Russian Language and trying hard to use our words and the kind Ukrainians helped us, of course. But they corrected us anytime we said they spoke Russian. They know Russian, and they can speak Russian, but they do not as a people speak or understand Russian or Russians.

Picture of Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones

So who is the Welshman? Bet you thought I had forgotten the Welshman. Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones (13 August 1905 – 12 August 1935) was a Welsh journalist who in March 1933 first reported in the Western world, without equivocation and under his own name, the existence of the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, now known broadly as The Holodomor. See, the Russians have for generations asserted ownership of lands between the Southern Provinces and The Black Sea. Crimea was sought by Peter that long ago. Putin is just the latest to treat that Sea as a Russian Lake. Stalin asserted State ownership over millions of acres of Ukrainian farmland during his disastrous klepto-communist reign. That’s what Gareth Jones stumbled on while traveling in the area during this period.

Garth Jones spoke Truth, the NYT published Russian propaganda

Jones was a young man, in his twenties, but when he wrote of his experiences and gave a news conference in Berlin, the world took some notice of him. He reported that Stalin’s policies were killing thousands of people. Of course, it turned out to be much worse, certainly millions of people starved in the Holodomor, a word that means “murder by hunger”. Stalin’s policies asserted that The State owned all production from agriculture so all crops were seized from all harvests. Inspectors swept through barns and houses and lofts, caves, hollow trees, and even graveyards with long sticks to find hollow caches of precious grain. Even “gleaning” was outlawed. Gleaners were arrested and summarily executed in the field, for picking up leftovers once primarily food for gulls. French painter Jean-François Millet painted the painting at the top of the page in 1857, lovingly depicting poor peasants picking from the fields. It was controversial with high society when it was released in Paris. Modern Parisians did not like to be reminded that they were vastly outnumbered by masses of subsistence farmers, some close to starvation and desperate. Around the time of Jones’ visit, maybe a million native Ukrainian people died because of a Russian Land Use Policy directed from Moscow, Stalin’s Five Year Plan. And it was only a hundred years ago. (The photo is of a painting called “The Gleaners” at Musee d’Orsay in Paris).

Fake News (again)!

But wait, there’s more! So I know about Gareth, but there is a pattern here that’s more important than this one Welsh guy, as important as Gareth turned out to be. The real issue is not that most people don’t know about Gareth, that MAGA lady certainly doesn’t, it’s really about the media, truth, and a guy named Walter Duranty who wrote for the New York Times at the time as our Gareth. See, when Gareth published his articles and had his press conference Duranty was a Moscow-resident American journalist. He had lived in Moscow for a decade and wrote articles that won the Nobel Prize and were later denounced by The Times and everyone except the Moscow authorities. Duranty was a hack and wrote to please the Dictator in the Kremlin. While he was disgraced, the Nobel Committee has so far refused to withdraw the prize. The result for many Americans, as today, might be that those reading only the headlines might be tricked into believing a foreign power’s successful attempt to cover up their nasty. Stalin certainly did that successfully with the New York Times and the Kremlin mouthpiece Duranty.

If you were Ukrainian, you do not have an affinity in your heart for Russia. I’ve been there. I know Ukrainians find one and ask them if you don’t believe. They want to Westernize, like most modern Europeans. They want self-determination. They want their borders to stick and to work their differences out with their neighbors through the actions of a modern Civil Society. Drone wars. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, hospitals, and nuclear power facilities do not indicate the presence of now widely accepted rules of civil order. Putin violated those rules and continues to press any advantage, including attacking the soft right flank of the American electorate. Fake news, modern Durantys, are out there today convincing lightly-educated Americans that Russia has some historical right to the homes of other people. They are not historians so I can only assume they got this from Talk Radio or Ticker Carlson or some other promoter of the fringe.

Please, if you value peace, truth, and freedom, push back on the merchants of hate and doom who push these sick ideas. They are only trying to manipulate Americans into believing their lies as a tool to erode support for the people of Ukraine. Don’t be a tool.

PS: Read more about fake news, the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter who testified about things she’d never seen to encourage the US to defend her country. here.