The press and the obsession with a Third World War

Last week, November 15, two Polish citizens died in their country when a missile landed in the town of Przewodów. At first, it was not known exactly where the projectile came from and what it could mean. The search for information and the so-called scoop, when information is published for the first time, was incessant and, along with it, a rain of sensationalist “analyses”. A new development in recent days contributes to the understanding of what happened last week.

Readers may have noticed that the incident in Polish territory had not even been addressed here in our space. A brief recap is in order. Around 15h40 on 15 ) local time, two Polish farmers died after an explosion near the country’s border with Ukraine. That day, nearly 100 Russian missiles were fired at Ukrainian territory in the biggest bombing raid since the start of the war, targeting essential infrastructure in Ukraine, such as power plants.

At the time of the attacks, two Polish citizens, unfortunately, died. Many people, including journalists, academics and so-called analysts, quickly concluded: “it was a Russian missile”. From there, they jumped to the fact that Poland is a member of NATO, so it would supposedly be an “attack against NATO”. Consequently, it would be the beginning of the Third World War, in a superficial sensationalism that would make the “stars” of the sensationalism of the evening police programs envious.

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Third World War

This behavior also occurred in Brazil and many people repeated this mentioned process. On a social network, the term “World War III” was the most shared that day. A calmer and, precisely, analytical look, however, would recall that there was very little concrete. Even at night that day, with the four-hour time difference between Brazil and Poland, it was prudent to remain calm and skeptical in the face of what was concrete.

At that moment, it was basically just the press claiming it was a Russian missile. The Morawiecki government convened its national security council and claimed it could activate Article 4 of the NATO Charter. Few people, even in specialized circles, took the trouble to explain that this is not the article of collective defense of the threat, which would be article 5. Article 4 only provides for consultations within the members when one of the parties feels threatened. In other words, consult the US.

At the time, Russia denied responsibility and claimed that this was a Ukrainian provocation. Was it possible to speculate that it was a Russian missile hitting a Polish target deliberately? Was. Would it be possible to say that? Not. Could it have been a Russian missile, but accidentally? Also. Finally, another possibility would be that Poland suffered collateral damage from the interception of Russian missiles by the Ukrainians.

Weeks before, a Russian missile hit Moldova, fortunately without fatalities. It had been fired at Ukraine, it was hit by Ukrainian defenses, to the point of altering its course, but without destroying it. As we mentioned, Ukraine was the target of heavy bombing that day, which made this hypothesis even more plausible. In response to the attacks, the Ukrainians have several anti-aircraft systems for their defense.

According to the government of Ukraine, of the 96 missiles fired by the Russians, 77 would have been intercepted. That is, missiles fired by the Ukrainians also abounded in the skies of the country. A few hours later, Andrzej Duda, president of Poland, gave a speech stating that an investigation was necessary, that civil defense was on standby, asked for calm for the population and stated that it would probably be an “isolated incident”. The madness of the “Third World War” was starting to lose strength.

Directly from Bali, where the G20 took place, Joe Biden, president of the USA, told the press that the trajectory of the projectile that hit Poland did not indicate that it would have come from Russian territory. A few hours later came confirmation that the projectile that killed the two Polish citizens was Ukrainian, precisely an anti-aircraft missile that crashed in the neighboring country, in a tragic incident.

Francis Ferdinand Syndrome

Perhaps the main lesson of this episode is the reinforcement of something already mentioned in the column: avoid listening to those who suffer from Francis Ferdinand Syndrome. Unfortunately, in times of “click-hunting”, they end up gaining a lot of reach. The term, created here in the column, refers to those who see the beginning of a world conflict around and any international incident, it seems that they even want to, ignoring the lessons of History.

One of these lessons is precisely that the The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was not the immediate trigger, nor the only cause, perhaps not even the main cause, of the outbreak of the Great War. Rather, it was the trigger for a crisis that lasted a month, between the assassination and the first declaration of war. One of several crises that are part of the complex web of factors that, accumulated over decades, contributed to the outbreak of the Great War, far from being just the assassination of the archduke.

An excellent recent work addresses how this vision of the “Francis Ferdinand syndrome” is only symbolic, The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark, in which he analyzes how Europe moved towards war in the month that separates the attack from the conflict. Nor can we forget the great difference between that world and today, the risk of a nuclear conflict. With all due respect to the victims and their families, the world will not run the risk of a hecatomb because of of two farmers killed in an incident.

The study of the Cold War allows us to remember that it is unlikely that a stray missile will trigger World War III. However, another question remains: where did the suspicion come from? what would have been a Russian missile? It started at a US news agency, Asso ciated Press. On the last day 21, the agency fired the reporter in charge, James LaPorta, a former Marine and based in the US.

He would have received the information from an “anonymous source” of intelligence and messages from the communication between the reporter and editors show that they deliberated for ten minutes before deciding to publish the sensationalized version of events by a credible and authoritative agency. Did the reporter receive misinformation and not check it out? Eagerness for the scoop? Would the reporter have even made it up? Ultimately, it was the official lowest on the food chain who paid for the mistake.

Countries wouldn’t go to war over what a news outlet published, but the mistake certainly contributed to the scaremongering. Interestingly, the alarmism triggered by a highly reputed agency benefited vehicles and writers of dubious quality with an audience, in a vicious circle that is quite pertinent to current debates on the role of the press and its relationship with social networks. Some things, however, do not change. Prudence and chicken soup don’t hurt anyone, in the hope that we will get rid of Francis Ferdinand Syndrome.


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