On Ukraine, and studying the past to make sense of the present.
I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to create this section for months now—whether “blog posts” needed to be separated from art posts, whether I even wanted to get into the weeds and start sharing more than just the occasional tweet thread, whether what I think even matters—but after everything that has happened over the past couple of months, it’s become impossible to limit my thoughts to just 280 words.
If you’ve followed me on Twitter for even a short amount of time, you’re probably aware that I’m not shy about sharing my views on a range of topics, but I do try to keep the focus on art and art-related things because I’m aware that most people aren’t following me for amateur punditry or even my personal opinions in general. And that’s ok.
If you’ve decided to follow me here, you also have every right to want to just see art posts; everybody has different levels of bandwidth for current events and I understand that not all of you are going to want to spend what little free time you have reading wordy posts from a comic artist. And that’s also ok. I’ve created this separate section of JBC in an effort to keep things organized, but also to allow you to be selective about what kinds of newsletter emails/notifications you want to receive. Just like JBC [After Dark], if you want to opt out of a specific section without losing notifications on new art posts in the main feed, you can.
That being said, I don’t believe one should (or even could) separate art from artist, and I hope that you’ll consider me a package deal. I’ll be using this section to talk about topics I feel are worth discussing—so if you stick around and read these posts, just know I appreciate you, and I promise I’ll be back to posting art on a regular schedule this week. In fact, here’s my latest that I didn’t send via email because I didn’t want to spam you guys: Black Cat for Marvel PRIDE #1 🐈⬛✨
Like a lot of people, I’ve been closely following news about Ukraine since Russia invaded, and while I’ve done my best to stay away from Online Discourse™, it has been virtually impossible to avoid seeing a wide range of spicy takes from a growing number of armchair geopolitics/military experts online. And, like many domestic issues within the USA, chatter about Ukraine has been heavily steeped in a targeted 8-year disinformation campaign—which has created an additional layer of murkiness within the fog of war that makes ‘the truth’ ever more evasive.
Many times over the past 63 days, in an effort to examine even seemingly straightforward claims, I’d find myself pulling on a piece of thread that was much longer and much more intricately woven into a larger tapestry of information—leaving me with a tangled mess to sort through in order to get a clearer picture. It turns out that when two 1000+ year-old countries go to war, there’s a lot of history that must be unraveled in order to gain enough context to truly understand what’s happening. Everything is connected in one way or another, and in my opinion, rampant misrepresentation of the past is one of the biggest disservices being imposed on those of us living in the present.
So, instead of contributing to any additional haze being kicked up online, I decided to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. And I began to notice a strange paradigm shift; of course there were the usual warmongering types who were practically salivating at the prospect of entering into WWIII, and there were plenty of reliably anti-war types who blamed The West for everything—but what I found surprising was the steady stream of hand-wringing coming from folks who usually don’t mince their words—often along the lines of, “Obviously what Putin is doing is wrong, and what’s happening in Ukraine is terrible, but..” ahead of an essay or tweet thread parroting a litany of Russian Propaganda.
I grew increasingly confounded by the bizarre romanticization of the USSR I kept seeing, which always culminated in a failure to acknowledge that the Russian Federation (which is a neoliberal, capitalist, imperialist nation run by an autocrat) is not the Soviet Union (which, for the record, was also, at best, a state capitalist oligarchy that did not achieve communism). People I never would have seen as Useful Idiots kept revealing themselves to have massive blind spots.
And what became devastatingly clear is that a lot of self-identifying leftists actually don’t have an established system of ethics and instead simply start at “America Bad” and work backwards from there. More often than not, this formula works because it often is the truth, America is to blame for much of the world’s injustices, and if it’s not us, it was probably Britain, and if it’s not them, it was likely France. But the war in Ukraine is more complicated than that, and many of the factors that led to Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24th predate “The West”.
I do want to be clear that I think those of us who qualify as Westerners—especially Americans—should first seek out information and opinions from Ukrainian voices and practice a healthy level of humility before speaking on international conflicts and/or geopolitics, as we’re notorious for having an incredibly narrow view of the world and a very limited understanding of history outside of our own borders, if not an outright warped one altogether.
Those of us who are lucky enough to actually have some level of wider exposure to world history will know that the USA rarely (if ever) has the moral standing to point our finger at other countries without sounding extremely hypocritical. Yes, it’s true, the USA is also a neoliberal, capitalist, imperialist nation that has invaded other countries. It’s also true that despite this, or perhaps because of it, many of us are able to recognize modern imperialism when we see it.
But frankly, everyone should be able to recognize what’s happening when it comes to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, as the situation is remarkably cut and dry: The Russian Federation is attempting to subjugate and subsume a sovereign nation through violent and destructive means. That dynamic between the two nations can actually be traced back centuries, to a time well before the USA even existed, so regardless of whether you’re pro or anti-USA, there is absolutely no reason to make excuses or false equivalencies on Russia’s behalf.
Obviously, the part that is less clear is what role The West should play in this, because even if we weren’t involved in forming the original dynamic between the Russian Empire and the Cossacks of Ukraine, in a post-WWII sphere, the United States is the global hegemon and we cannot detach ourselves from the effect that has had on intercontinental relationships since the mid-20th century. And because of this reality, Westerners, especially Americans, should do everything in our power to pull back the veil of our own propaganda that paints us as champions of democracy and actually try to understand how we’ve historically failed both Ukraine and Russia—so we don’t repeat the same mistakes that contributed to circumstances today.
However, as embedded as American propaganda is, it doesn’t even begin to compete with modern Russian disinformation warfare. Russia has been ramping up its disinformation machine since at least 2008, but it wasn’t until 2014 that it actually started making an active push toward erasing Ukraine through historical revisionism. And in just 8 years, it’s made a lot of progress in this area. So doing proper research and sharing actual facts feels like the only defense any of us have against falling into Putin’s funhouse mirror alternate reality that seems to have trapped so many otherwise logical thinkers.
Disinformation campaigns don’t actually bare the burden of having to provide plausible or even believable alternate viewpoints—they instead function mostly by creating a cacophony of lies that cause so much confusion it takes a herculean effort just to try to find the truth. The obvious problem this creates is that most people cannot dedicate hours of each day to researching and comparing different sources, especially since most news agencies in 2022 have a heavy political slant in one direction or another, leading to a growing lack of confidence in journalism and ultimately disengagement from news as a whole.
Luckily for me, my favorite types of media to put on while drawing are historical documentaries, nonfiction audiobooks, podcasts, interviews with historians, and college lectures. Pretty sure my Netflix profile is that of a 63 year old man who collects stamps and substitute-teaches a high school geography class, lol. I never thought my dry taste in work background noise would actually turn out to be useful in any capacity, but I’ve actually had a big interest in Eastern European and Russian history for years now, so in an effort to combat disinformation and persuade folks not to disengage, I’m gonna do my best to provide verified information along with my perspective on some of the most common pieces of propaganda I’ve seen online in the hopes that I can at least give you guys some extra context to serve as a starting point for you to do your own research if you wish.
So here’s the deal: I’m gonna split this up into multiple posts, because the amount of misleading or just outright false information that has been circulated for 8+ years now is actually insane. Rather than tackling all of it in one giant, meandering essay, I’ll address the most common bits of disinformation I’ve encountered individually. If you’re feeling a little like “Yeah I’m not gonna read all that, happy for you tho” I get it, but before you check out, I’d like to impart just one important reality that should inform your perspective:
Russia’s war in Ukraine is what colonialism looks like in a post-colonial world.
Back when Ukraine was ‘The Ukraine’, it was conquered by Catherine the Great in a series of partitions that began with Crimea in the east and went all the way out to Odessa in the west. This evolved into the goal of making the entirety of what today is modern Ukraine, “The First Great Colony of Russia,” an idea that later grew into the concept of Novarossiya.
The vision of Novarossiya was not dissimilar to how Britain viewed its many colonies, but it especially mirrors how they viewed North America before it became the United States and Canada, how Spain viewed Mexico and South America, how France viewed its territories in the West Indies and North Africa, and how Imperial Japan viewed Korea, Manchuria, and the South Pacific. From the Ukrainian perspective, Russia is its colonizer, oppressor, and occupier—and the Ukrainian people have endured countless atrocities at the hands of Russian rulers for literal centuries.
There is an unequivocal moral imperative to end this war now. What that actually means, and how that can actually be accomplished, is something politicians, military experts, historians, economists, and pundits will continue to debate as long as this goes on—but for those of us who are average citizens of the world, who viscerally feel a sense of urgency but lack the power to enact immediate change—the best thing we can do is get educated and apply collective pressure to our representatives.
I hope by sharing my thoughts with you, I’ll be able to help identify which pressure points are worth targeting together. Thanks for sticking with me through the end of this one. More tomorrow. 💡✨
Great read! As a US resident I also have avoided any takes on the war and your above summary/analysis is really refreshing and informative! 👏👏
Jen, thank you, this is wonderful. Please keep the thoughts coming. I learned a lot already.