On the eve of the US entering World War I, the Creel Commission was set up to convince Americans that entering the war on the side of the allies was the right thing to do. By World War II the promotion of war became more sophisticated, with movies, radio shows and dramatic storytelling.
Even in the 1st Gulf War, an elaborate PR effort was used to convince the public that the cause was just.
Today we are seeing something rather new. The first war fought on social media in an invaded democratic nation, part of Europe, with a sophisticated immediate sharing on social media.
The Russian Invasions of Ukraine is one of the first where a modern, European nation is under pressure in a brutal invasion, putting itself on a digital stage. Every citizen is a reporter, and the Ukrainian government has been ironically talented in using social media to communicate and connect.
Ironically, the Russian disinformation juggernaut has not been as successful as in its past campaigns, mostly because it is not telling the truth in this invasion, but because its lies and misinformation look ridiculous in the face of war crimes and brutal aggression being captured every day by people.
The cruelty of an enemy is nothing new. The Creel Commission played up German aggression to get American sympathy to the Allied cause. So-called Spanish brutality and the mysterious attack on the Maine were enough to get the US to launch the Spanish American War. The unbelievable brutality of the Japanese capture of Nanking was the source of massive outrage. But it was Hollywood storytelling, more than actual stories and footage.
And it is hard to forget the fake evidence from the US government to justify a war against Iraq.
But this is different. The invasion of Ukraine is playing out like a reality show. The video quality is impressive, and in the face of Russian lies, many media outlets are tossing out neutrally. No wonder: You have a green T-shirted Ukrainian President speaking directly to his people, juxtaposed with the image of the Russian leader at an awkwardly long table reminiscing about a nation that no one is nostalgic for outside of Russia.
Then there are the images of dads kissing their kids goodbye at train stations, and old ladies handing seeds to Russian soldiers.
Russia’s propaganda looks old and feels like lies. Check in at RT for lots of fake news with all kinds of propaganda that is flat out false. The image of a massive aggressor trying to punch down but make the nation they invade look like “they had it coming.”
From a communications perspective the facts are clear — the West is not very interested in voices from wars in the developing world. But, set up a conventional war in a European nation and the world will respond. War propaganda has shifted from sophisticated back rooms to live steaming desperate stories - what remains to be seen is how long the world will stay engaged. If it goes on for weeks, the face of war will have changed forever.