BY EFFIE DEANS
What happened in Bucha? The vast majority of us have no doubt that atrocities were committed. The pictures, films and reports are convincing. We still basically trust the Western media to tell the truth. Yet the Russians deny they have done anything wrong. This is a problem, not because it will convince the majority of us that the Russian forces are innocent, but because it will leave room for doubt with a small minority here who are already sympathetic to the Russian cause and more importantly it will allow the Russian population to avoid confronting the reality of what happened.
There is a long history of this. In Katyn Forest near Smolensk in 1940 the Soviet Union murdered over twenty thousand Polish soldiers and spent the next fifty years denying that it had done so. The Soviets blamed the Nazis and initially the Allies believed this story, but it was false. The power of the lie is such that even when the crime was admitted it didn’t become particularly widely known in Russia. So too it is not widely known or admitted that Soviet troops raped huge numbers of German women or that they drove out German women and children from what is now Poland and Russia at the point of a bayonet.
After the Second World War there were war crimes trials, but only German and Japanese people were tried. There were no trials of Soviet leaders, nor indeed of British and American leaders who had authorised the bombing of civilians. Few in Britain and America think of Hamburg or Hiroshima as crimes. We denied that they were at the time. Perhaps we were right. But it was never tested in a court, because we only tried those we defeated.
The denial by Russia that its troops committed atrocities is part of a long history of denial in which people do not accept that they did wrong even when they clearly did. We chose to prosecute only the worst Nazi offenders and left the vast majority of soldiers to live ordinary lives in which they pretended to be blameless. The Germans came up with a myth that it was the SS who committed war crimes and it was the Nazis rather than the German people who were responsible for mass murder. This was completely false, but German society could not have functioned in the years after 1945 if we had punished everyone who was guilty. At least the Germans were more honest than either the Japanese or the Soviets about the mass murder committed by ordinary people.
There is a tendency even today in Russia to emphasise the successes of the Soviet Union, defeating the Nazis in particular, rather than be truly honest about the horrors of the Gulag and the people who committed mass murder. So too in the West we tend to excuse and minimise the atrocities in the Soviet Union in a way that would be completely unacceptable were we to minimise or excuse the Holocaust. Being a communist is still acceptable in a way that being a fascist is not.
But truth is objective and there is a fact of the matter. Truth is different from opinion. Only by recognising this can we report what happened in Bucha and convince others that it really did happen. Only by being fiercely honest and by telling the truth no matter what and by doing this always can we be trusted.
But this is our problem. The West has lost sight of truth and our politics has become full of propaganda. We may not be such liars as the Russians when they claim that the corpses in Bucha were planted there, but neither are we as honest and fearless in telling the truth as we ought to be.
The Left in the West has tried desperately to substitute opinion for fact. A prime example of this is the idea that being a man or a woman is not a matter of objective fact based on our bodies, but a matter of opinion based on our desires.
Take two people with male bodies. One says he is a man, the other that she is a woman. What once was a fact has become an opinion. But if we cannot even determine whether someone is a man or a woman, which previously was the most straightforward matter of fact, how are we to determine who killed people in Bucha?
To arrive at truth, it is necessary to have an absolute right to free speech. If in the Soviet Union I had been allowed to speak freely about Katyn, or Gulags or the crimes committed by the NKVD then it might have been possible for Russians to arrive at the truth. When free speech is limited by society it is harder to arrive at the truth.
But in the West people are frequently condemned for speaking freely or holding an opinion that is unfashionable. On certain topics such as race, sexuality, transgender and homosexuality the only opinions allowed are the woke ones. Failure to conform may lead to being banned from Twitter or Facebook or sometimes even being kicked out of a university course or losing one’s job. But how can we arrive at truth if statements which may well be the truth are banned? Only by allowing everyone to speak freely and to discuss and argue about anything and everything can we expect to be able to get to the truth. But it is just this that most universities fail to allow. Try disagreeing with feminism on your women’s studies course.
In Scotland I may commit a criminal offence for saying something I believe to be true if someone else finds that statement hateful. Worse than this we have moved away from there being a shared truth about politics where we differ only in opinions to there being a truth that is believed by independence supporters and a truth believed by the rest of us.
Every year the Scottish Government publishes economic figures (GERS) and every year there is a dispute about their truth. Politics ought to be about opinions. What do we do to deal with our shared facts? But we have lost touch with the facts because each side is concerned more about spin.
Politicians who tell lies about GERS or shipyards are morally no better than Sergei Lavrov when he denies the undeniable. By refusing to admit that Scotland depends on money from the UK Treasury and by failing to be honest about the true cost of independence, the SNP like many other politicians in the western world contribute to the concept of truth being undermined. In a small way it helps those who deny atrocities.
We still largely trust the BBC and other western media organisations to tell the truth at least about international affairs. But at the same time many recognise that there is a liberal/left bias in how the BBC reports. This bias that can also be seen more generally in the media and social media makes both less trustworthy, makes them more like the Soviet Union where only one opinion was allowed. But it is just this that contributes to some people in the West failing to believe that there were atrocities in Bucha.
Only when our politicians of all parties and our media decide to tell the truth even when they really don’t want to, will we once more be able to know that we are not being deceived by those who would manipulate us. Labour, the Conservatives, the SNP and the BBC should have shared facts and the debate should be about our opinions of these facts and what to do about them. We can only defeat Russian lies if we are brutally honest with ourselves.
I don’t trust Nicola Sturgeon to tell the truth if it would cost her votes, which makes her no better than Putin.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.