Since the invasion of Ukraine started, I’ve taken it for granted that the vast majority of Westerners understood the situation. Sure, you had your Tucker Carlsons and Marjorie Taylor Greenes, but there was no need to convey basic facts about the war to Westerners. Talk is cheap, I thought.
This article from the Economist last week was a much-needed wake-up call. According to a poll of Americans between March 19-22, only 56% of those aged 18-29 sympathized more with Ukraine than with Russia. Only about half of these young people cared who won the war and less than half said Russia was targeting civilians deliberately (even though this was abundantly clear during the time the poll was conducted). The support for Ukraine was much higher among those 65 and older. Similar (but smaller) generational gaps exist in France and Britain, according to the article.
I don’t think younger people are dumber or less compassionate or fundamentally more sympathetic toward Putin’s regime than the older generation. The most reasonable interpretation of the numbers above is that young people are not systematically informed about what’s going on. Perhaps the atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine that are coming to light now will shift public opinion on their own. But we know that young people don’t follow news nearly as close as older ones. So we need to take it upon ourselves to reach them.
How does one inform others? Here are some concrete suggestions:
- Make sure that you are informed and stay informed. Obviously you can’t convey what you don’t know. Some concrete suggestions of how to that are here.
- Aim to have at least one meaningful conversation about the war each day. Ideally, it should be with a younger person, but use any opportunity you have to spread the truth. You can start the conversation with something as simple as “Have you read about the massacre in Bucha?” and take it from there. Even if the person turns out to be already informed, you’ve made a difference by showing your support and leading by example!
- Use language that makes it clear who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. Something as simple as saying “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” instead of “war in Ukraine” already carries an important message (and Putin knows the importance of words, having dubbed the invasion a “special military operation”). At this point, the term “war crimes” should also be non-controversial. And you don’t even have to engage in a full conversation about the war to adopt this strategy. Just use clearer terms at any point you mention the war and avoid temptation to “tone things down.”
- Post about the war in places where the war is not being discussed. I’ll admit that it’s a lot more comfortable for me to post about the war on Twitter where everyone seems engaged in war discussions than on Facebook, where people’s posts seem to be mostly about travel, kids’ latest shenanigans, and work. But that is exactly where more information is needed. So please join me in committing ourselves to regularly interrupting our friends’ feeds with a bit of less-than-joyful reality. I know it may be uncomfortable. But if we can’t bear a bit of discomfort to help suffering Ukrainians, how can we hope to be of real help?