Crimean troubles show why Wikipedia is better than newspapers

I don’t know enough about Ukraine, Russia, or Crimea to comment intelligently on the current conflict. What I can say is that reading news coverage about Crimea has not been helpful for learning more. The Wikipedia article on Crimea, on the other hand, shows and explains a lot better why this territory of 2.5 million people (fewer than the Boston metro area) has become the subject of a dispute. Unlike news media coverage, Wikipedia explains that this territory was part of Russia until its 1954 transfer to Ukraine (then a Soviet Republic) and then in 1991 was “upgraded” to an “Autonomous Soviety Socialist Republic” shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed. Since the Soviet Union broke up there seems to have been a dispute regarding governance that was never fully resolved and that few in the West were aware of.

My only criticism of the Wikipedia article is that it says that Crimea is about 10,000 square miles in size but does not compare that to a U.S. state or a European country. It turns out that this is roughly the same area as Massachusetts or Vermont and about 15 percent smaller than Belgium.

Can anyone come up with an article from a mainstream newspaper that includes the above facts for context?

[And separately does this conflict show that we are over-investing in our military? Our president has asked Russia to withdraw her troops from Crimea but the Russians are not complying. For about ten years we have tried to get the Afghanis and Iraqis to do what we said and they did not comply. I suppose that it is always possible to argue that it could have been worse without the investment, e.g., "The Mexicans and Canadians would have invaded if we didn't spend so much." (see theseĀ charts from the Washington Post) But that reasoning would also support a military budget of 50 or even 80 percent of GDP ("you can never be too safe" and "would you really risk your freedom just so that you could buy a new Honda Accord or move your family from an apartment into a house?"). Wikipedia (my source for everything now!) says that there are about 2.2 million Americans in the military, either active duty or reserve. Compared to the other countries that actually isn't too crazy huge (sortable table in Wikipedia), but it is crazy expensive and it is tough to think of a situation where we'd want to send 2.2 million Americans somewhere to fight a war.]

10 Comments

  1. Greg

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:25 am

    1

    I don’t know if you consider a New Zealand paper to be mainstream but http://m.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11213325

  2. Martin Barry

    March 6, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    2

    Don’t know if this is MSM enough but…

    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21597974-can-ukraine-find-any-leaders-who-will-live-up-aspirations-its-battered-victorious

    …and in particular the annotated map with the different ethnic percentages across the various regions of the country.

  3. Molly

    March 6, 2014 @ 8:48 am

    3

    The historical info was mentioned in an interview with two Ukranians now in the U.S. on Here and Now, the Boston public radio show, yesterday: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/03/05/ukranian-americans-russia Not a newspaper, obviously, but a news source.

  4. Vince

    March 6, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    4

    The New York Times has an article today that goes over a lot of the history. I didn’t see the “upgrade” while scanning through it quickly. On the other hand, the purpose of a newspaper is not the same as that of an encyclopedia.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/world/europe/crimea-russia.html?_r=0

  5. dino

    March 6, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

  6. chess

    March 7, 2014 @ 12:04 am

    6

    http://baselinescenario.com/2014/03/04/ukrainian-chess/

    this article is best that american side can provide you.

  7. Yossi Kreinin

    March 7, 2014 @ 2:40 am

    7

    On the other hand, comparing the Russian and English Wikipedia articles on the subject reveals pretty much the same biases as comparing newspaper articles in the two languages.

  8. Walter Mitty

    March 7, 2014 @ 7:36 am

    8

    Wikipedia propagates both objective knowledge and conventional wisdom. So did the classic encyclopedias that spawned Wikipedia. The difference might be in how they are refereed.

    Press journalism and broadcast journalism as well, suffers its ups and downs. Witness William Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdoch. Thoreau complained about the lack of depth in newspapers.

    I’ve gotten more of the backstory about the Crimea from BBC news than from American journalism. They aren’t perfect, but they provide more depth than MSM.

    And Crimea has been a flashpoint between Russia and the West for a very long time. You could look up Alfred Lord Tennyson and the Charge of the Light Brigade for some background material.

  9. patrick

    March 7, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

    9

    I think the standard “neocon” argument for a large military and forceful foreign policy rests on the observation that, historically, there has usually been one or two major world powers. Many countries have taken their turn in this role and currently it belongs to the United States. We are now seeing the results of “leading from behind:” an increasingly bold Russia.

    Yes, the fate of Ukraine is not *directly* our concern, and indeed one can make the case that Crimea should, in fact, be part of Russia. But, how big do we let Russia get? Do we intervene at an invasion of Belarus? How about Poland? Do we let China take over Taiwan?

    As the influence of the United States declines, a vacuum is created. Someone will fill it. Whatever problems there might be with the US as the “world’s policeman,” it is preferable to Russia or China as the “world’s policeman,” isn’t it?

    And also, one other thing: “it is tough to think of a situation where we’d want to send 2.2 million Americans somewhere to fight a war.” As the saying goes, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” That is, a large military is a strong deterrence and a good way to avoid actually having to fight a war.

  10. philg

    March 9, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    10

    Patrick: You do make a compelling argument for “Team America: World Police” but, as noted in the original posting, our inability to control events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Crimea make me wonder who we are impressing with our fancy military, aside from ourselves.

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