537. Preponderance of the small (X)
By now you have probably seen the various smartphone videos that depict prisoners, both Russian and Ukrainian—some have even been republished by the big media outlets. So far as sadism goes, the worst of it comes about from the desire to demonstrate a narrative. So I have seen Ukrainian prisoners paraded with exposed torsos to show off their swastika tattoos; and that confirms the Russian message: “We are here to deNazify the Ukraine.” On the other side, I have seen Chechen soldiers—or Russian soldiers with big beards, anyway—paraded with bloody eyes; and this supports the Ukrainian narrative: “The Russians have brought the Islamic horde to Europe to rape and pillage.” If these videos are to be believed, white nationalists have good reason to worry about those blonde girls with flowers in their hair who like nothing better than to stand in Ukrainian wheat fields—soon they will be carried off by Putin’s bashi-bazouks to be defiled in some babushka’s barn.
Without the need to support the various narratives, the incentives to mistreat prisoners diminishes. The most minimal narrative the videos apply is “we are going to win”—so the respective prisoners are made to say “Slava Ukraini” or “Slava Russiya!” The minimal narrative: “We’re winners! Glory to us!” Without the need for narrative imposition, it makes little sense to make these videos—and not from some vague humanitarian sentiment.
Men have pride; and there are men who will die rather than be humiliated—at the very least they will fight harder if they think they will be humiliated. When they see these videos—perhaps even of their comrades—they will detest the enemy; nobody wants to end up with their eyes bound with masking tape and a bloody temple, harangued by a mob to make statements against their country (or else). To avoid that fate, you will fight harder; and so all these videos increase the fighting spirit on both sides.
The videos you want the other side to see are videos that show prisoners being firmly but fairly treated. The reason is rational, not narrational: always leave your enemy an easy path to retreat—put his back to the wall and he will fight like a cornered rat. If he knows it will basically be “okay” if he surrenders, his resolve to resist will diminish. I have seen one video where Ukrainian civilians were kind to a Russian soldier, but mostly it has been degradation. Now war is war, and partly it is that we now see what never used to be seen—men with men they have just that moment captured, and that can be ugly. Yet the videos seem largely to be taken away from the front—boredom and cowardice beget sadism.
The Ukrainians tend to post more prisoner videos, since they are the weaker side. Being weaker, they need more narrative support: reality is too hard for them; and they find catharsis in revenge against the situationally weaker Russian prisoner when they are weaker against the Russians in total. Their policy is still irrational, yet the Western media has decided the Ukrainians are “good”; so their videos are not “war crimes”—although it is against the laws of war to degrade prisoners in this way.
But the laws of war are neither here nor there. Technically, photography of prisoners is meant to be prohibited—precisely because it ends in their degradation and inflames the other side. Yet the days when a camp commandant could shut out the press and confiscate cameras are long gone. Every man and his dog from Dublin to beyond the Urals has a decent camera-video in his pocket; just as every impulsive teenager can “send n00ds” and end up the laughing stock of the school, so everyone can commit their own war crime for the lols—you need more than moral persuasion to stop such acts. As ever, the human desire for comfort through narrative obscures the optimum action and adds to the world’s degradation.