How to Describe Russia's Ukraine Terror
Call it 'ISIS-on-Steroids,' says Intel Insider and Psychiatrist David Charney.
Terrorism, I fear, is losing its sting. Not the act, of course, but the word. It’s being flung around to encompass all manner of horrible acts.
I was prompted to dwell on this subject by a recent article in The Atlantic by the respected foreign affairs columnist and Russia expert Anne Applebaum. “In truth,” she wrote, “the war in Ukraine now has a different nature than most of the wars we have seen this century…something else is happening, something that looks less like war and more like multiple acts of terrorism… important is calling things by their real names.”
True enough. My only complaint is that while use of the word terrorism is precisely correct, the word itself has begun to lose its impact. These days, “terrorism” shows up everywhere, with the unfortunate result that we are getting inured and numb to it. What is amiss is a sense of scale. Are there any metrics for sizing the scale of terrorism? I don’t know of any.
Scale is important. Size matters. For example, for earthquakes, we have the Richter Scale. It’s a logarithmic scale. Increasing from 1 to 2 on the Richter Scale is not like going up from 72 degrees to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Fahrenheit degrees are arithmetic. Logarithmic means an exponential difference. Like the decibel scale for sound volume, it’s not an increase of one degree added to another. Each step of a logarithmic scale can be twice or even ten times more.
While Applebaum is right to use terrorism to describe Russian missile strikes on civilian centers, the word alone has lost its ability to convey a sense of weight. Do we need another word for the deliberate aerial bombardment of civilians by a nation’s military forces? Whatever, we must develop a better grasp of estimating the scale of Russia’s horrific assaults directed at non-combatants, older men, women and children, not to mention the basic civilian infrastructure of all kinds, including hospitals, kindergartens, etc. Of course, Moscow was well practiced at such techniques, from Grozny to Aleppo.
One way to correct the ambiguity of the term terrorism is to attach an emotional weight to it—a weight based not on scientific numbers as described above but rather on an emotional weight based on what we have collectively shared in the news over the last decade.
We all have read disgusting accounts of the incredibly brutal and depraved acts of ISIS. Headlines about the latest savage act by ISIS or its imitators have made us all cringe, even flinch from reading the details, much less look at photographs of the human carnage. We have felt fortunate that we were not intelligence agency analysts who had to watch ISIS videos that were the equivalent of real-life snuff films.
On a 10-point scale for terrorism where Russia is one of the players, ISIS rates a 10—bottom of the heap.
Equating Russia in Ukraine with ISIS, however, creates an emotional impact that is far more vivid, one that anyone can understand. (And no doubt it’s been very deliberately employed by Volodymyr Zelensky.) We can’t forget what we’ve read and seen of ISIS and how we all felt about its horrific behavior. However, Russia is not a sub-state actor like ISIS. It’s a world class superpower. Thus, Russia is ISIS writ large.
Russia is ISIS on steroids. We should not hesitate to speak emphatically about the moral equivalency of Russia and ISIS. Let’s use every attack to heap more shame onto Moscow’s genocidal practices in Ukraine. Maybe it will help stiffen the world’s resistance to it.
Sure, we can concede that the Soviet Red Army brought historic honor and glory to its name from its leading role in defeating Nazi Germany. Likewise, we should resist any attempts to condemn all Russians—many of whom have paid a heavy price for protesting the autocracy Vladimir Putin has imposed on them—for the barbarism of their troops in Ukraine. But there today the Russian military has squandered whatever was left of its ancestors’ justly earned, but long, long ago fame. It has, in fact, turned into an industrial-scale ISIS.
It deserves its ignominy. It deserves to be called out.
David Charney is an Alexandria, Va. psychiatrist specializing in the minds of insider spies. He has conducted multiple interviews with three convicted traitors, including Robert Hanssen. Find him at NOIR4USA.com.
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