Famously, Joseph Stalin asked this question when confronted with the religious influence of the Vatican and its adherents all across the World:
“How many Military divisions does the Pope have?”
Now, I am tempted to ask this but I might leave the question for someone else who is more of a military strategist:
“How many Military divisions does Twitter have?”
And I am not speaking in jest…
Indeed, I am surely speaking in truth, because these days we can see “Twitter’s Military Divisions” in action as we all follow the news about the War in Ukraine erupting from micro-blogging Twitter and the rest of Social Media and throughout the blogosphere and then shared with people all over the World.
That is the case today, but let us first see how the past informs the present and shapes the Future throughout History’s long reach and length of time, in order to determine the possible outcomes of this conflict.
Back in the days of 1860s during the first battle of the US Civil War — eager spectators streamed out of Washington D.C., by foot, horse and carriage to watch the conflict from a nearby hillside.
Naturally, as they all expected an easy Union army’s victory — they had packed picnic baskets and brought along their children to watch the battle and play…
Yet, things didn’t go as expected and when the Confederate military divisions broke through the Union lines — the assembled and duly shocked onlookers, fled pell-mell, back to the city running away in a disorderly panic leaving their picnic baskets and in some cases their children behind lost in the fog of war that enveloped all of them in this hazy cloud of smoke and stench that offends and draws together the noxious and toxic elements of the battle all at the same time.
Obviously this was an early indication that the war would be far more bloody, longer lasting and more gruesome than both people and strategists, as well as outside observers, had anticipated early on.
The unexpected length and cost of the conflict necessitated financial innovation, and thus for the first time ever, the US government printed “greenbacks” that are paper money not backed by gold.
Financier Jay Gould immediately created a bond market to absorb the sales of new government debt, that rose to $2.2 billion in bonds which were issued during the US Civil War. That compares to a federal deficit of just $77 million at its start…
The war also popularized a new medium of information sharing: Photography.
Photos of battlefields strewn with dead soldiers brought the horrors of war into the homes of non-combatants far removed from the fighting.
People learned that war is — literally — no picnic.
Subsequent wars were similarly influenced by new forms and uses of both media and finance.
Early indications suggest the current war in Ukraine will be no different.
World War II had its propaganda films (starring a young Ronald Reagan and John Wayne) and we saw the ascendance of Keynesianism as in Keynesian Economics after the Bretton Woods agreements shaped the post World War economic rebuilding that generated middle class prosperity and national growth…
Vietnam had burning villages on the nightly news and put an end to the gold standard.
The Gulf War had General Schwarzkopf holding court on CNN like a talk show host and ushered in an era of activist economic sanctions.
The Afghan wars brought about a new concept that of Islamic finance backed by the economics of Opium production and harvest, as well as the subsequent manufacture of heroin and other opioid drugs in order o finance the Mujaheddin resistance to the invading coalition forces and the occupiers — thus entering the new finance era of Opium-dollars that run through the global and local economy like the Petro-Dollars and the Euro-Dollars of days gone by.
Naturally, the new forms of media, advances in warfare and newfangled finance, shaped the perception, the course of each of those wars, and the Macro-Economic way of how nations paid for the business costs of these treasury busting wars.
With the current war in Ukraine, it is going to be the same way, and it has already become clear that in the current era, Mass Media and the micro-blogging Twitter are somehow blueing the lines because they are shaping the perception of the War but also influencing the Cost of the War as the global digerati and literati demand of their governments harsh economic sanctions to be placed upon Russia because it is seen as the Aggressor, and that changes the cost of the war by increasing exponentially the financial burden of this adventure as it empties the coffers of the Russian Treasury, and that in turn really shapes the reality of the conflict on the ground.
Of course if we take into account the increases in the prices of Oil and the rest of Energy production — we have an advanced state of War-Dollars that are created like the old Petro-Dollars and this defrays the cost of the conflict for the one country that produces most of it.
The micro-blogging site of Twitter, also happens to be where much of the crypto community lives. So, the new medium of information in this war has gotten immediately entangled with the new medium of finance.
Crypto finance is, of course on a far smaller scale than the SWIFT payments system and way smaller than the Central bank sanctions that have rightly dominated the headlines over the last few days, because far fewer dollars are at stake in the Crypto war.
But because it’s intertwined with media perceptions and massive sharing of tweets — I expect crypto Twitter is already having an outsized impact on these events globally.
Yesterday, about $4 million had been sent in 41,000 transactions to the BTC and ETH addresses posted by the @UkraineTwitter account.
That number shot higher this morning after the account went full crypto-native by announcing an upcoming airdrop.
Sending money to a crypto address posted on Twitter is usually a little informal for my taste. However @Ukraine was given a seal of approval by Vitalik and yours truly.
A more structured effort is the @Ukraine_DAO, backed by PussyRiot and PleasrDAO, which raised $6.7 million in four days by selling fractions of an NFT of the Ukrainian flag.
And perhaps the most reassuring formal effort is the Aide for Ukraine DAO, which was spun up with amazing speed by Solana developers: It has so far raised $1.4 million to “go directly to aiding Ukrainians on the ground.”
Those crypto donations will be converted to fiat currency by FTX and deposited with NGO and government accounts.
In a podcast, Anatoly Yakovenko, the founder of Solana, said FTX was the only financial institution that immediately agreed to help — which demonstrates that the crypto industry has already changed the humanitarian response to war for the better.
In total, over $31 million of crypto has been donated to Ukraine so far.
Of course, it’s not just Web3 that has mobilized.
Airbnb is offering temporary housing to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Elon Musk, in response to a request from Ukraine’s prime minister, sent satellites to orbit over the country to ensure its internet connection remains stable.
And most dramatically, Musk promised to keep the International Space Station in orbit after a Russian threat to let it crash into a country opposed to the war.
Given Russia’s recent history of retribution, those strike me as admirably brave things to do — especially for a high profile guy that has a lot to lose.
Both actions were prompted by events on Twitter and in that respect Twitter has also, in a way, been weaponized.
Putin, who so successfully leveraged social media to scramble a US presidential election, seems to have neglected its potential impact this time around.
It may be that he expected the invasion to be less than popular at home and therefore hoped to downplay it with minimal exposure on social media. Or maybe it was just an oversight.
Whatever the reason, he has left the field of popular opinion to be taken unopposed by his opponent, President Zelenskyy.
As a result, Ukraine has already won the media war, via Twitter.
That is little consolation to those directly affected by the fighting, of course.
But it has had a real effect on the course of the war by rallying global support, both formal and informal.
Thanks to crypto, some of that support is reaching those impacted in record speed.
Putin has launched a 19th century war and been met with a 21st century response.
He may win the former, but he’s already lost the latter.
Public opinion, mobilized by social media, may turn out to be the hallmark of this avoidable and unnecessary war.
In an earlier, unavoidable war, Joseph Stalin was able to dismiss the influence of the Pope by rhetorically asking how many divisions he has.
Putin, however, may now be ruefully asking himself and those around him the contemplative question: “How many military divisions does Twitter have?”