Truth, the saying goes, is the first victim of any war, but as NATO’s “action” in the Balkans has demonstrated, truth is under even greater attack in the “information age.” Today, history is not written by the victors once the smoke has cleared, but constantly evolves; each day’s truth is revealed by CNN, the ubiquitous and blabber-mouthed oracle of the New World Order.

Russia’s elites, born and bred to the culture of disinformatsiya, have embraced NATO’s concept of “information management,” and their enemies have as well. While Moscow has its “Russian Information Center” (Rusinform) to filter, censor, concoct, and control the “news” from the Caucasus battlegrounds, the Chechens have —through the generous support of Osama Bin Ladin and Boris Berezovsk)—organized countermeasures, particularly through their website, Both sides have taken the “information war” seriously, with Russian hackers attacking the website and Chechen webmasters spawning a proliferation of alternate sites, even as Russian bombers target Chechen cellular communications and TV towers (as NATO did in Yugoslavia), and the Chechens hastily find new means to keep up the war of words.

Thus, in the never-never land of “pure Islam,” Boris Yeltsin has been dead for weeks, Russian soldiers are flocking to the banners of Allah, Chechen mujahedin are slaughtering the hapless infidel invaders by the thousands, and videotapes of Chechen hostage-takers beheading captives and slicing off the fingers of helpless victims in order to persuade their relatives to cough up some cash are provocations by the unbelievers to blacken the image of the holy warriors.

On the other side of the funhouse, Rusinform’s carnival barkers are drawing in as many suckers as possible with tales of Grozny near surrender (the Chechen capital, reduced to a pile of rubble by Russian “pin-point” air strikes, has been “surrounded” for about three weeks as of early December); the Chechen populace, grateful for having their homes vaporized by Russian “smart” weapons, are throwing flowers at their “liberators”; and Chechen gangster Bislan Gantamirov has repented and agreed to return to Chechina to help liberate his people from the heel of the “bandits” and “terrorists.”

In the West, “human rights” activists want to have it both ways: Insisting that Russia’s war on Chechnya must stop, they appear to believe that the Chechens will stop the slave and drug trades and rethink their notions about religious freedom as soon as the bombing ceases. They are trumped in the information spin battle by those hypocritical Westerners who demand that Russia not equate the “action” in Kosovo with the “war” in Chechnya. As far as spin goes, the reports on casualties, civilian and otherwise, are so contradictory that nobody can really determine the truth.

I am often asked, as someone who is supposed to “know,” just who is right in Chechnya, who is wrong, what should be done, and what exactly is happening there? The answers are: everybody and nobody; nobody and everybody; beats me; and damned if I know. For anybody considering getting the West mixed up in this centuries-old conflict, a word to the wise: Be careful out there, don’t believe everything you hear (or see), brighten the corner where you are, mind your own business. And remember, war is hell.