Why Do People Choose to Turn a Blind Eye?
di A. Altieri D’Angelo
Many people in the free world are severely affected emotionally by the war in Ukraine. It is a horrible thing to watch. The Ukrainians are suffering terribly but are united and fighting off Russian aggression. The free world has responded quickly and as effectively as it can. Putin and Russia are almost totally isolated: economically, culturally, and politically. Yet, despite worldwide condemnation, the bulk of the Russian people are not opposing the war; most refuse to believe the stories of Russian shelling of non-military sites and the killing of citizens.
The majority of Russian people get their news from state-controlled media. It is their only news source. The usually skeptical Russian people inexplicably believe Putin’s claim that the U.S. and its NATO allies are the real cause of the war. They accept Putin’s claim that the purpose of the war is to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainian residents from genocide. Russian media has told stories that Ukraine seeks to build nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons against Russia. But reports of atrocities are circulating in Russia, but most people refuse to believe such stories and turn a blind eye to Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine. Why?
It is for the same reason people in Germany and Italy supported Hitler and Mussolini. These authoritarian leaders (and history has seen more than a few) managed to make people believe they were victims of some plot to deprive them of their rights and that they (the leaders) would protect them. For example, Mussolini and Hitler eliminated chaos and restored order preceding World War ll; they made Germans and Italians proud of their heritage. But Germans and Italians paid a heavy price for order and pride; civil liberties were eliminated and racial injustice, particularly against Jews, led to horrible atrocities. The government and its people became subservient to its leaders; democracy was destroyed. But Germans and Italians turned a blind eye to what was going on. It was a bad trade-off. It took a devastating world war that destroyed much of Italy and Germany to end Mussolini and Hitler’s regimes.
Putin has done the same. He came to power at a time when Russia was in meltdown. The Russian President restored order at a high cost: Putin created a klepto-state and made a cadre of supporters billionaires. He championed the restoration of the Soviet Union and, in the process, limited civil rights. But to average Russians, he became a hero because he restored pride in Russia. The Russian people see him as a hero.
Unofficial Russian communication channels are describing stories of aggression and war crimes. And although many Russian people do not have access to non-state media reporting, they must nevertheless sense that something is radically wrong. It is doubtful that these people do not have evidence that Putin started the Ukraine war and that Russia is committing war crimes. There are too many Ukrainians with families in Russia. Russians hear firsthand accounts from their Ukrainian relatives of the fighting, the bombings, and the killings. Families of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are aware that many have died. All Russians see that many western companies have either abandoned their local Russian assets or just shut down operations.
How is it possible that stories from Ukrainian families could be rejected? Why are Russians not trying to understand the reason for western companies incurring massive losses and destroying 30 years of work developing the Russian market? No one knows the answer, but at this point but it is evident that most Russians cannot accept that Putin and their armed forces are the aggressors. It is likely that to do so will call into question their belief in the man who restored pride in themselves and Russia. However, by turning a blind eye, most Russian people have become complicit with Putin and his war crimes.
(Of course, internet-connected Russians are appalled by the invasion and the brutal follow-on suppression of protests. Some are protesting, and others are leaving the country because they fear Putin will declare martial law and turn Russia into North Korea. The protesters, unfortunately, are a small minority of the population.)
This tendency to look the other way is not unique to Russia or Europe; the U.S. has a similar problem. Many Americans support former President Trump even though he embodies an anti-democratic American; he is a dictator in waiting. If given the opportunity, he would turn America into an authoritarian-ruled state. Yet his followers will ignore any action Trump may take. These Americans are, and will, also turn a blind eye and, in doing so, damage democracy.
Turning a blind eye is not a viable solution because it allows dictators to take and retain power. To prevent crimes against humanity, we, the people, must keep our eyes open and demand accountability.