Let’s Keep a Perspective

Published March 3, 2022 by Nan Mykel

Jay Caspian Kang nytdirect@nytimes.com

See the entire post in an excerpted opinion piece in the New York Times: Jay Caspian Kang <nytdirect@nytimes.com>

Scraps of footage of blown-up television towers, Russian helicopters coming under what looks like antiaircraft fire, apartment buildings being hit with missiles and the stirring footage of the citizens of Kyiv arming themselves have been seen around the world. Many of these are real, but many more have not been confirmed or verified. We might see what it looks like when an airstrike hits an apartment building, but we do not really know anything else. Where is this building? Who fired upon it? How many people are dead? Is it even in Ukraine?

Predictably enough, some of the more stirring footage out of Ukraine has been debunked or had its veracity brought into serious question. This includes video of the so-called Ghost of Kyiv, the purported fighter pilot who took down six Russian planes, and the reported deaths of the soldiers stationed at Snake Island who Zelensky said had died heroically but in fact are all still alive. Widely circulated video that purportedly showed a young Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier actually showed Ahed Tamimi, a young Palestinian activist who was filmed near her home in the West Bank. The footage was shot in 2012.
We choose which videos we care about and which ones we do not. This seems simple enough. Our relative acceptance and the timbre of our emotional responses, of course, rely on a mélange of previously held beliefs. In this case, our understanding seems right: One should abhor Vladimir Putin and feel outraged by the invasion of a sovereign nation. As Americans, we should also applaud and feel inspired by the bravery of the Ukrainian people as they defend their homeland from a tyrannic invasion.
But we should be able to hold two thoughts in our heads at once. One: The invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian catastrophe and a uniquely destabilizing event that will destroy lives both in Ukraine and in Russia. Two: So much of what we’ve seen about Ukraine — the images and videos that have inspired the public — are not real. Last week, Sophie Pinkham, an expert on Ukraine and Russia, came on the podcast I host with two of my friends. She estimated that roughly 75 percent of what’s being said about what’s happening in Ukraine is either unverified or just flat out false.

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