With the constant flood of Ukraine footage, I’ve found myself contemplating wartime propaganda in the social media age. What would Twitter and TikTok have looked like had they been around in the Second World War?
It’s always been the case that truth is the first casualty of war, and the Russia-Ukraine War is no exception.
We’ve all seen the videos of Ukrainian farmers towing away Russian tanks or young people taking them out for joyrides. We’ve seen Ukrainian politicians arming themselves with AK-47s and taking to the streets to defend against Russian invaders. We’ve also seen the devastation caused by this war (and any war, for that matter).
Most of us accept these images at face value because they feel right in the moment we share them. That is, by definition, propaganda – even if it’s true.
Propaganda can be used to boost morale by showing how much you’re winning, or elicit sympathy by showing the destruction your enemy is causing. While I’ve been predominantly focused on Russian and Ukrainian propaganda, I have to give honorable mention to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own wartime demo reel touting his supposed accomplishments in Europe last week.
Trudeau says he met with “close to a dozen world leaders who are absolutely focused, like we are, on standing with Ukraine and pushing back against Russian aggression.”
Included in the reel is b-roll of Trudeau meeting with a number of these leaders, including Boris Johnson and Kamala Harris. He also takes a touristy stroll by Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate and waves to someone offscreen.
(Given Trudeau’s frosty reception in the United Kingdom I can’t help but question whether it might just have been a random tour group.)
Trudeau’s video also includes footage of him greeting Canadian soldiers in Latvia. I’ll give him some credit for keeping the blazer on and not donning the combat fatigues many other leaders clamour for in these sorts of photo ops.
When asked what the trip accomplished, Trudeau cited increasing sanctions and support for refugees – both of which Canada was already doing – and “bringing home the reality of what Europe is facing to Canadians.”
I can assure you no one is looking to Trudeau to for a reality check, least of all on what’s happening in Ukraine.
The trip was only a win for Canada in the sense that Trudeau managed to get through it without dressing up like a Beefeater or wearing lederhosen or Latvian folk dress.
Political crisis porn has never sat particularly well with me. It’s especially ubiquitous in the United States when, after a big flood or earthquake, the motorcade rolls through town so the president of the day can be photographed putting a sandbag in place or serving a cup of hot chocolate at a shelter.
At least in these photo ops the leaders have the sense to pretend they’re offering something of value and not just showing up to seen. Trudeau did no such thing.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the trip when asked by a CBC reporter why such a large Canadian delegation needed to be in Europe with crises at home that could use some government attention.
“This is a really, really important trip for the prime minister and for Canada,” Freeland insisted as party music blasted in the background.
Freeland did, however, say she needed to have dinner with the German finance minister to help her in “understanding what the economic impacts of this war are as we finalize our budget.”
So if you’re not happy with Canada’s next budget, make sure to direct your blame to the German finance minister.
Freeland isn’t the only one learning from the Germans on this trip. This passage from the Canadian Press jumped out:
“Justin Trudeau gained deeper insight into Vladimir Putin’s state of mind during a three-hour dinner in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week, a senior official told The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.”
While I’m glad Trudeau and Freeland are learning so much, this isn’t a gap year Eurotrip. It’s a large and costly junket to a continent gripped by war, attended by the most senior Canadian ministers. It would be nice to know they were there because they were contributing something.
Not that I don’t welcome the return of travel and face-to-face interactions in the post-pandemic era, but Trudeau’s whole trip could have been a Zoom call.
The whole ordeal brings to mind Kait Bolongaro’s reporting from the G-7 summit in Belgium last year, at which Canadian officials tried to position Trudeau as the “dean” of the G-7.
Trudeau evidently thought he could help solve the U.K.-European Union dispute over Northern Ireland trade, but no one was taking him up on the offer.
I still can’t figure out what Canada’s value-add is supposed to be in Ukraine, and I’m not sure Trudeau can either. But at least we got a snazzy video out of it. If he towed a tank it would be far more authentic.
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