Thinking Twice Before Praising War on Social Media

With the ongoing wars in Ukraine, Palestine, Tigray, Myanmar, Central African Republic, and eastern DRC, to name a few, social media has become a space for propaganda. Nation-states are launching complex psychological operations seeking to gain support and legitimacy through publicity campaigns, and our networks are awash with praise for attacks and condemnations from the other side. Some even go so far as to celebrate assassinations and the deaths of people in combat. And we really are not sure if that is entirely appropriate…

A group of former soldiers recently discussed this phenomenon, and there was broad agreement that it was odd to associate happiness with the death of a combatant or civilian, after all, ‘it could be one of us next, and there should be some honor left.’ Now maybe we were too far removed and disengaged to give a fair representation for all soldiers, so let’s give it some more thought. The mercenary leader Eeben Barlow, by now part myth and part legend, made a telling comment in a 2020 interview with Al Jazeera – speaking about the casualties of the Wagner Group in Mozambique, Barlow said that he does not ‘rejoice when any people are killed, be it of a private military company or a national armed force…’ Eeben Barlow: Inside the world of private military contractors – Part 2 | Talk to Al Jazeera (

The story of respecting our opponents in war, both military and civilian, is certainly not black and white, and there are many complexities. For one, the line between soldiers and civilians is blurred, and in both conventional and irregular war, attacks on people are used to influence political decisions. With the death of close friends, family members, and colleagues, some place the opposing force into a different box, making them inhuman, ‘they are other than us.’ Ukraine was in the firing line for putting videos of captured Russian soldiers online showing less than ideal treatment. Ukraine: Respect the Rights of Prisoners of War | Human Rights Watch ( Soldiers may respect their adversaries; however, the military context is a particular one, and there may be times that kid gloves are not used. Many in conflict situations have some form of PTSD, and between that and the anger they feel, soldiers speak their truth. Some have put it bluntly, “They’re not people to us anymore,” and sensational headlines such as ‘The stench of death is the ‘smell of victory’ Ukrainian soldiers take on the grim task of collecting Russian corpses from cleared villages (, provide more ammunition for polarization. Although there is nothing illegal in stating one’s thoughts, at least in some parts of the world, we should spare a thought for how we will appear when we come out of this.

That said, strong words are one thing, but torture and intimidation are out of the question and really do nothing for the future victor. Stories of execution and physical and sexual abuse are sadly commonplace in conflict, and the execution of POWs, besides being a crime, just adds fuel to the opposite side, many of whom will seek revenge. Bad treatment of POWs shows barbarism, diminishes our faith in the human condition, and corrodes the legitimacy of governments and their conduct in war. Now we are about to get up on our soapbox and say what the whole world knows: that we need a rules-based system, and for combatants to follow the rules. Perhaps this starts on the political level, and in that case, the invasion of another country is just not right.

In our previous issue, we spoke of the psychological distance from war, and how this provides different viewpoints from which we observe and experience conflict. Here, we link this to how we represent our thoughts in the digital space. We are not trying to censor social media but merely asking people to consider how their posts will look in time to come. The histories of modern conflicts are being written as we click the next link and type our next message. What we would regard as archival sources of the past are increasingly becoming digital, and what would previously have been captured in the diary of a soldier or politician, later to be committed to a state repository; and what would have taken historians decades to get to, is now instantly available. What we send out to the world in a moment can be captured, and in that instant, we may say something we do not mean, or something not intended for posterity. Perhaps something directed by emotion, goodness knows your War Diarists have done the same. Depending on one’s professional and family responsibilities, it is maybe something we should do with due consideration. We are now stepping down from our soapbox, and we leave you with a quote. ‘What an odd thing a diary is: the things you omit are more important than those you put in.’ – Simone de Beauvoir

About the Authors

Antonio Garcia, is a civil servant, who additionally holds non-resident positions as a research fellow at Stellenbosch University, visiting lecturer at Durham University, and tutor at the Open University. As a combat engineer in the SANDF, Antonio has served in missions in the Sudan, the DRC, and South Africa and its borders. He has published widely on military history and strategy.

Max Lauker, served in the Swedish Armed Forces, 2002-2018. Primarily serving in Special Purpose Units belonging to the Norrland Dragoon Regiment, Arvidsjaur. Later serving in Stockholm and Karlsborg with units included under the special operations and intelligence umbrella. Several deployments over the years include Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the former Eastern Block leading numerous covert operations. Now working in the private security sector with Intelligence as his main discipline.

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