"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"At times like these, with drum-beating for war by hyperbole and dogmatic statements, it is helpful to cultivate neutrality and weigh the evidence."
As I write this blog, on Wednesday 16 February 2022, something isn't happening. Russian T-72 tanks aren't rolling into Ukraine. Neither are Mig-35's banking over Kyiv as Russian special forces ride in to seize critical infrastructure. All this, plus a massive cyber attack to cripple Ukraine's internet access, was to happen. How do I know that?
Because President Biden told us last week that this is coming, citing 'intelligence'; - he was insistent that Russia would attack. On the back of that, the hapless British foreign secretary, keen not to miss a photo opportunity, jetted off to Moscow to confront the nasty Russians. Unfortunately, Liz Truss's encounter with the Russian foreign minister Lavrov went something like this;
Truss: "Russia must move its troops away from the Ukrainian border, or else…."
Lavrov: "Why should we? It's up to Russia where it deploys its troops inside Russia" (which, of course, it is).
Lavrov then asks, for good measure: "Do you recognise Russia's sovereignty over the Rostov and Voronezh regions?"
At which point Truss responded with all the authority of the UK's chief diplomat: "The UK will never recognise Russia's sovereignty over these regions."
That's when the UK's ambassador to Moscow, Deborah Bronnert, leant across to Truss to discreetly inform her that these regions were actually in Russia.
How embarrassing when the British foreign secretary doesn't understand the basics. Add to that an American president who looks like he's making stuff up or gilding the lily. It would be funny, except this is a deadly serious business. But then, of course, Biden will assert that his interventions have stopped Putin. Maybe.
It is also remarkable that few Western media outlets have bothered to critically assess the line fed to them by the Western governments.
So who is playing who here? As I've before asked - did Putin ever intend to invade? Is he following the doctrine of 'Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception' as expounded by Niccolò Machiavelli?
For sure, Putin has put the West on notice that he won't tolerate NATOs expansion to his borders. To achieve that, he's put a lot of troops in the field, stood back and let the West do the rest.
As a Spectator columnist pointed out, "The Kremlin has made no threats or issued any demands on Ukraine itself. It doesn't have to because the West is doing such an eloquent job of broadcasting the reality of Russian military might for them."
With even the Ukraine president asking the West to 'cool it', it is difficult to comprehend the machinations. A senior officer in Ukraine's intelligence service posted a meme showing Mr Biden standing on a roadside, checking his watch and then taking a nap. The caption was: 'Waiting for the Russian invasion.'
Is the posturing of the US and the West less a reflection of the belief of an imminent invasion but rather a means to further serve their agendas?
Getting a handle on the truth is problematic as several issues are converging into a messy confluence of confusion and distrust. After WMDs in Iraq and the recent hasty retreat from Afghanistan, we all understand that politicians use 'intelligence' to justify their reasoning. In the process, so-called 'intelligence' gets distorted to fit agendas.
This twisting delegitimises assessments to the point that trust falters in the public's eye.
Tie that into propaganda efforts, allied to a complaisant or agenda-driven media, and soon the narrative is so out of kilter your head spins. Throw a few conspiracy theories into the mix, and away we go down the rabbit hole into crazy territory.
At my age, I've learnt never to trust the ardent assertions of the pundits or politicians until I've verified and re-verified. Plus, the so-called experts frequently get it wrong. For example, as a teenager, I recall being told the planet would be overrun with people by 2000, and we'd face famine. Didn't happen. Instead, we've eliminated famine and are now heading for a population decrease.
Thirteen years ago, Prince Charles told us we had eight years to save the planet. Gordon Brown, in 2009, gave us 50 days. I've checked out the window, and the earth is still there.
Last year, we had a torrent of stories that China planned to invade Australia. Someone propagated this nonsense with intent and purpose. Likewise, the constant noise that Taiwan is moments away from an invasion.
The gullible and those predisposed to such stories lap this stuff up undeterred by the facts. We shouldn't be surprised by this phenomenon because it is hardly new. Witch burnings and fear of the possessed tell us that humans have engaged in spasms of collective irrationality down the ages.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Scots executed more than 2,500, mostly women, for witchcraft. The authorities viewed these events as a cosmic battle between god and the devil. In communities fed a lie by strident religious types, injected with fear, people had no hesitation strangling and burning women. This nonsense finally stopped around 1760.
Jump forward to 2022. Today, we get a diet of information skewed by the media outlets seeking our attention by eye-catching headlines. Meanwhile, politicians harness that process to their ends.
Accelerating the distortions are Internet algorithms that can lock us into a narrative. Such is the power of this conditioning that people dismiss as fake news dissonance-causing evidence that challenges their view or understanding.
At times like these, with drum-beating for war by hyperbole and dogmatic statements, it is helpful to cultivate neutrality and weigh the evidence. Always make sure you are not operating in a hall of mirrors, and ask are you prepared to burst the bubble of self-justification to see reality?
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.