Killing Fields: The tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 is amplified by the Western news medias' refusal to either contextualise the airliner's destruction, or provide its global audience with any explanation other than Russian guilt and perfidy. As if historical events have no historical causes.
WHO SHOT DOWN MH17? While there is currently insufficient evidence to declare “Pro-Russian Separatists” guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the balance of probability strongly suggests that Russian-speaking militiamen were indeed responsible for blowing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 out of the sky.
Unfortunately, this is the point at which our shock and outrage at the destruction of nearly 300 innocent civilian lives causes our thought processes to stop.
For those who grew up during the Cold War, that single word, “Russian”, is enough. Of course “the Russians” are responsible. The Russians are always responsible.
For younger New Zealanders, “Russia” means “Putin”. He’s the dead-eyed, bare-chested, gay-bashing gargoyle who threw Pussy Riot and Greenpeace into prison. The President whose gun-toting, balaclava-wearing Spetsnaz stole Crimea from Ukraine. Of course Putin did it!
It is vitally important, however, to keep on thinking about the fate of MH17.
Is it really credible to suppose that either the armed supporters of the self-proclaimed Peoples Republic of Donetsk (PRD) or their military advisers from just across the border in the Russian Federation, deliberately targeted a civilian airliner? What motive could the PRD and its principal ally possibly have for bringing down upon their own heads the righteous wrath of the entire international community?
Isn’t it much more likely that the poorly-trained, fearful (and hence trigger-happy) operators of a surface-to-air missile battery mistook MH17 for a military transport plane belonging to the Ukrainian Air Force and treated it as a legitimate military target? It is certainly true that in the days immediately preceding the MH17 tragedy a PRD missile had brought down just such an aircraft flying above Donetsk at 21,000 feet.
And why were the armed forces of the PRD launching surface-to-air missiles at the Ukrainian Air Force in the first place? Could it be because the Ukrainian armed forces have, for several weeks, been bombing and shelling the rebel towns and cities of eastern Ukraine? Hundreds of civilians have been killed in these attacks. Something which the rest of the world, its eyes on the World Cup, failed to register.
Nor was the Western news media – whose blanket coverage of the MH17 tragedy is currently drawing the eyes of the world to the body-strewn fields of Donetsk – at all disposed to alert its global audience to the pain and suffering inflicted upon people the Ukrainian Government still insists upon calling its own citizens. Then again, considering the role the Western media played in bringing that government into being, its unwillingness to report the Ukrainian army’s butchery in cities like Slavyansk is understandable.
Cast your mind back to January of this year; to the deadly riots in the heart of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Supported by both the United States and the European Union, the rioters (many of them outright fascists) were targeting the democratically-elected government of Victor Yanukovich. The ultimate success of their “revolution” was hailed by Western media as yet another victory for “freedom”. It was not perceived so in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern provinces. The presence of fascists in the new government brought back bitter memories of the Second World War, when Ukrainian nationalists had fought alongside the Nazi invaders.
Context is everything in tragedies like the downing of Flight MH17.
Would it have happened if the cease-fire negotiated by President Vladimir Putin and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had been renewed by the Ukrainian Government?
Had the Ukrainian Air Force not been engaged in bombing “Russian Separatist Terrorists” and their civilian compatriots, would the operators of that rogue surface-to-air missile battery have been so quick to mistakenly identify a civilian airliner as a military transport plane?
If the Americans and the Europeans were not so eager to extend NATO’s reach to the very borders of the Russian Federation, would the latter’s intelligence officers and special forces now be moving back and forth across Ukraine’s borders with such deadly purpose?
And had the Ukrainian constitution not been shredded in Kiev’s Independence Square, and had President Yanukovich been allowed to serve out his term and stand for re-election in May, would there now even be a self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk – with airspace to defend?
Context is everything.
The victims of the USS Vincennes' surface-to-air missile strike which brought down an Iranian civilian airliner in July 1988. All 290 passengers were killed.
In July 1988, when Captain Will Rogers III of the USS Vincennes, fearing that his vessel was under attack from an Iranian fighter-aircraft, ordered the launch of the surface-to-air missile which sent Iran Air Flight 655 plummeting out of the sky, killing all of its 290 passengers, we in the West were remarkably restrained in our response.
In the fog of war, our editorialists opined, terrible things happen. Captain Rogers was responding to a perceived threat. He was, after all, operating in a war zone.
We grieve for the passengers of MH17 and their loved ones. Those responsible must be held accountable for their deaths.
All of those responsible.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 July 2014.