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A Selection of Absurd Cultural Hatred During War
“In Julie’s circle, as in many other circles in Moscow, it had been decided to speak only Russian, and those who mistakenly spoke a French word had to pay a fine for the benefit of the donation committee.”
- Leo Tolstoy [War and Peace]
“In the milieu to which Sergei Ivanovich belonged, nothing else was talked or written about at that time but the Slavic question and the Serbian war. All that an idle crowd usually does to kill time was now done for the benefit of the Slavs. Balls, concerts, dinners, speeches, ladies’ dresses, beer, taverns - all bore witness to sympathy with the Slavs.”
- Leo Tolstoy [Anna Karenina]
We had been fed a steady diet of anti-Russian propaganda on TV for years- it all started with the strangely bitchy coverage of the Sochi Olympics. However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February the anti-Russia hysteria has gone truly into overdrive. It’s one thing to seize the superyachts of Russian oligarchs; upset oligarchs could possibly influence Putin, though it seems more likely they would blame the government which took their damn boat than Putin, who did not take their boat [of course, harming you and telling you to blame someone else is just what governments do.] The luxury brands are leaving Russia, because somehow Russians not wasting their resources on extremely overpriced goods harms Russia and helps the countries where the money otherwise would have been sent. These actions are especially curious because the West is openly advocating for regime change and it is obvious these identified oligarchs would not be safe under any future regime and also would not have the West to flee to like the Yeltsin-era oligarchs who left under Putin.
I can understand suspending Putin as the honorary president of the International Judo Federation as this actually has to do with Putin and it’s not a good look for them. But it gets far crazier from there: the University of Milan seriously considered stopping teaching Dostoevsky because he is Russian. US states are pulling Russian vodka from shelves. Boeing is refusing to maintain or supply parts for Russian planes [intentionally making civilian aircraft less safe is definitely what the good guys would do!] Russian cats have been banned from feline competitions. Further, they banned Russians and Belarussians from the Paralympics. What good could anyone possibly think would come from going after Russia’s cats and cripples? But taking the cake for absurdity, some idiot in Montreal went so far as to rename the Canadian dish poutine on his menu.
Paypal and major credit cards have also shut down in Russia. Twitch stopped payments to Russian users. Here is how one [clearly anti-war, notice the hearts] Russian streamer described the situation she finds herself in:
The Babylon Bee summed it up with a timely piece of satire:
I’ve already discussed how these people have boundless and ill-placed faith in sanctions, but what does anyone think that string of nonsense accomplishes? I guess nothing but being virtue signaling that one is with the “Good People”:
If anything, the point they seem to be making is that they hold no values except for materialism and expect the same of everyone else. It genuinely has not occurred to them that a major exporter of energy and wheat can survive a blockade indefinitely. They also don’t seem to realize that the BRICS nations have a larger population than the global population when the West tried the same thing on the Soviet Union. Of course, our elites never saw that communism doesn’t work, so they don’t appreciate how much better the relatively free-market Russian Federation will withstand such things. [On a related note, if communism actually worked the Eastern Bloc was perfectly large enough to be sustainable without Western trade, look at how well the West did without Eastern Bloc trade; as ever, the West did just enough to credit communism apologists while having no other impact.]
What is quite clear from this nonsense is that man is tribalistic and can easily be swayed as a mass. It is also clear that many cannot separate out an ethnicity from a country. This is just like rooting for a sports team to the public except the consequences actually matter. Being part of something satisfies an inherent need in the human soul, and in our increasingly isolated culture people grab that where they can. Nothing builds unity like hatred of a common enemy. This is, in fact, the basic premise of scapegoating.
And thus far, it appears to be working. An alarming 74% of Americans want a “No-Fly Zone” over Ukraine, which is essentially a declaration of war. They have no fear of nuclear conflict [and I’m less scared of nuclear conflict than most people.] The public are idiots, and apparently they like any superficial display which plays into a simplistic narrative.
Sometimes boycotts are reasonable or even virtuous, such as American Revolutionaries drinking coffee to harm the British tea business. But that was actually targeting a major source of revenue for your opponent. More commonly, sanctions are an imprecise foreign policy tool, while the public expresses rage in useless and nonsensical ways. We are, after all, the same species which produced members who went out killing stingrays after Steve Irwin’s death. It should be no surprise then that everything related to Russia became drastically unfashionable rapidly, especially given the narrative promoted by the media.
Unfortunately I don’t happen to have an example from antiquity this time [though one must exist!], but Leo Tolstoy gives us a good starting point for the sort of irrational ethnic mania which arrives from warfare. In Russia in the late 18th and early 19th century French was the first language of the nobility. They had spoken it for a long time, both simply to be sophisticates but also so their servants could not understand them. Very little scholarship took place in Russia, so this is the main language in which the Russian nobility were learning and expressing complex thoughts.
The use of French language was all well and good until after many turns of events Napoleon decided to invade Russia; for some time before Napoleon was quite popular among some of the Russian nobility, because powerful men always attract admirers. But once Napoleon invaded you had to hate the French. The rise of Napoleon had little to do with the French ethnicity in general, and the Grande Armée was in fact multi-ethnic [and indeed, Napoleon was Corsican.] None of that stopped a wave of anti-Gallicism from sweeping Russian society. As Napoleon approached Moscow there were reports of people attacked in the street for speaking French. The character Julie Karagin says something about the above-mentioned French fines- punishing people for using French words- which shows just how absurd this practice was for them,
“I plead guilty to caustique and will pay, and I’m prepared to pay more for the pleasure to tell you the truth, but I can’t answer for Gallicisms…I have neither the money nor the time, as Prince Golitsyn does, to take a tutor and study Russian.”
The nobility was trying to give up their primary language because of a war. This is especially funny in the context of “If not for _____ we’d all be speaking German!” regarding the Second World War. The Napoleonic Wars caused the Russian nobility to try and proactively take away their own language for no good reason. No argument is given to how this anti-Gallicism might have harmed Napoleon’s army.
In Anna Karenina Tolstoy shows the obverse of this, where the public rushes to support an ethnicity [of course in opposition to the Turks.] The so-called “Slavic Question”related to the fate of Slavic peoples living under Ottoman rule and the general idea of Pan-Slavism, that is that the Slavic peoples should be unified. Of course, while loving the Slavs they had to hate the dastardly Turks. It’s notable that Tolstoy refers to the public interest in this as “All the things that an idle crowd usually does to kill time.” This may get to the heart of the issue, as this nonsense comes from people who don’t have any meaningful investment in the problem and are just looking for something to do. What better to do than “hate one group/love one group.”
This sort of nonsense really went to extremes with the American public during the First World War. Though the start of the conflict related to ethnic issues in the Balkans, the broader conflict genuinely had no meaningful connection to ethnicity. There were multiple ethnicities on all sides, the monarchs were all related, and at at the center of Europe the Austro-Hungarian Empire had many ethnicities. Still, somehow in the United States, a narrative was pushed that the issue was that ethnic Germans are bad [and in German the narrative was pushed that Slavs were bad- very awkward for the Austro-Hungarian Emperor whose army was 1/3rd Slavic.] At the time the United States had an enormous German-speaking population, who quite obviously had nothing to do with causing the war. However, that didn’t stop the spread of “superpatriotism” which hated all things German. They banned the teaching of German in schools, which up to that point had been a common practice [ironically, if not for WWI, we might all speak German.] The public turned against daschunds, because somehow it is bad if Rover came from Germany [alleged instances of dachshunds being killed are unverified, however.] They turned sauerkraut into “Liberty Cabbage.” The anti-Germanism had such an impact it was even influential on passing prohibition; it really should not be surprising at all that people taken up with such things would hate freedom. We learn little about the First World War these days, but you really should as its a case study in domestic repression during wartime. Presumably part of what was going on is that since the war lacked a good narrative they had to try all the harder to sell the public on it- though somehow saying they wanted to make the world “Safe for Democracy” by allying with two monarchs worked.
The status of German-Americans as a unique group did not recover to the same levels after the First World War and for the most part they integrated into society. When the Second World War came around there was a surprising amount of sympathy for Hitler in America; as with Napoleon before him, many are fascinated by powerful men who reform society, however violently. Still, anti-German sentiment existed, but rose to nowhere near the same heights.
Instead, ethnic animus was primarily expressed towards the Japanese. Imagine how much you have to hate your neighbor to approve of seeing him rounded up and put in a concentration camp. And the public did see this. There were a lot of Japanese-Americans and they were seen being taken away. Of course, though aspects of the Japanese national character were impactful on the war, the Japanese did not have anything resembling self-government, so even the Japanese in Japan bore little blame for the war, to say nothing of the horribly oppressed Japanese in America. But people who have given into ethnic hatred do not listen to reason, and thus the Japanese were able to be so dehumanized that the public approved the use of the Atomic Bomb. In this instance, the official ethnic hatred was so extreme the public did not feel compelled to do anything silly. Still, it’s a stunning example of what people who allegedly believe in freedom can be driven to accept towards a group they’ve been programmed to hate.
Then of course, with the Iraq War there was the famous “Freedom Fries” issue, attempting to punish (?) France for not supporting the US-led invasion, because apparently even not joining in a war of choice is enough to bring about ethnic hatred, towards our [second] oldest ally. [This is a curious case, as Walter Jones later turned anti-war, and never again showed himself to be nearly so stupid a person.]
Now the public, media, and government are at it again. Would you prefer a White Ukrainian or a Kyiv [sic] Mule? You better cancel going to the Russian ballet. I hope you don’t happen to own a Russian-branded gas station. You should ask yourself what in the name of the gods any of this has to do with foreign policy—because this is all just getting started— there will be real victims, not just oligarchs who lost their yachts.