Benicia author Stephen Golub: He’s Back: The Terminator Takes a Star Turn in the Ukraine Information Wars

It’s the role of a lifetime

A Promised Land, by Stephen Golub, March 19, 2022

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Your lives, your limbs, your futures…

In the 1984 film, The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a robot sent from the future to the (then) present, to try to condemn the human race to a horrible fate. In its 1991 sequel, he reversed the role, seeking to save the world. His iconic line from both movies was, “I’ll be back.”

In 2022, Arnold’s in fact back again. This time, to try to help save us in real life.

As part of the information war raging in connection with the actual combat in Ukraine, on March 17 Schwarzenegger released a stunning anti-invasion video, aimed at Russians and with Russian subtitles.

His core message: “Your lives, your limbs, your futures are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world.”

He brilliantly prefaces that by starting with praise for a Russian weightlifter whom he idolized as a boy. He highlights Russians’ heroic defense of Leningrad in World War 2 against a Nazi force that included Arnold’s own father, turning what would seem to be a counterproductive fact into a very personal, very persuasive point.

He ridicules Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absurd claim that his country’s so-called “special military operation” seeks to unseat a cabal of neo-Nazis in Kyiv. Arnold emphasizes that the supposed head of that supposed cabal, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a Jew who lost three uncles to the Holocaust.

And he says so much more, so splendidly, with words for Russia’s people, soldiers, leaders and protestors.

But please see for yourself. It’s absolutely worth nine minutes of your time:

Will it matter?

The crucial question, of course, is whether Russians consider it worth their time. Will many see the video?

It seems so. Within a day of the clip’s appearance, it was viewed more than 28 million times globally on Twitter and shared more than 669,000 times on Telegram, an encrypted social media platform that’s one of the only ways for Russians to get uncensored information.

Though Twitter is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the Russian government, which is trying to restrict its citizens’ access to the platform, at least one Russian may have used it to view the video: Putin himself. Schwarzenegger’s Twitter account is one of only 22 followed by the President of Russia’s account.

Even if they see it, though, will many Russians’ believe it? Maybe.

Certainly, here in America we know something about people clinging to the lies they want to believe, a problem compounded in Russia by Putin’s crushing of public and media dissent. But Schwarzenegger’s movies – including 1988’s Red Heat, partly filmed in Moscow – established him as a star in the former Soviet Union. He also visited there in 2010, as California’s governor. The head of a U.S. center that studies political extremism and national security claims that the he has significant credibility and popularity in Russia, particularly with the older generation there.

What a war, what a world

Schwarzenegger’s talk to the Russians comes on the heels of Zelensky’s virtual address to the U.S. Congress the previous day, persuasively seeking sustained and even increased support. Neither the translation of his Ukrainian words nor his own English coda will count as Churchillian. But he got the message across:

The video Zelensky presented toward the end of his talk was even more powerful. The title might as well have been, “War is hell.” It’s that disturbing. But again, it’s well worth viewing to grasp in a gut way what the Ukrainians are enduring: [video above, at minute 11:23]

What a 21st century war, when a leader broadcasts to our Congress from a bombarded, besieged capital, wielding a video as an astoundingly effective weapon. More than ever before, an information war is a key part of a literal war. It’s something defenders of democracy everywhere will hopefully keep in mind in the looming political, and hopefully non-lethal, struggles ahead.

And what a world, where an Austrian former bodybuilder brilliantly backs a Ukrainian former comedian against a Russian former spy praised by an American former TV host, all of them elevated at various points to be presidents or a governor.

I’ll close with something else to keep in mind, another line from the Terminator franchise: “The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.