The propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human."The Olive Tree" (1936)
All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.
What happens in the leadup to war is that government officials make claims about the enemy, and then those claims appear in newspapers (“U.S. officials say Saddam poses an imminent threat”) and then in the public consciousness, the “U.S. officials say” part disappears, so that the claim is taken for reality without ever really being scrutinized. This happens because newspapers are incredibly irresponsible and believe that so long as you attach “Experts say” or “President says” to a claim, you are off the hook when people end up believing it, because all you did was relay the fact that a person said a thing, you didn’t say it was true. This is the approach the New York Times took to Bush administration allegations in the leadup to the Iraq War, and it meant that false claims could become headline news just because a high-ranking U.S. official said them.
The environment is so full of television, party political broadcasts and advertising campaigns that you hardly need to do anything.
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
[Q: what did the United States have to gain by intervening in Somalia?]
In Somalia, we know exactly what they had to gain because they told us. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, described this as the best public relations operation of the Pentagon that he could imagine. His picture, which I think is plausible, is that there was a problem about raising the Pentagon budget, and they needed something that would be, look like a kind of a cakewalk, which would give a lot of prestige to the Pentagon. Somalia looked easy.
Let's look back at the background. For years, the United State had supported a really brutal dictator, who had just devastated the country, and was finally kicked out. After he's kicked out, it was 1990, the country sank into total chaos and disaster, with starvation and warfare and all kind of horrible misery. The United States refused to, certainly to pay reparations, but even to look. By the middle of 1992, it was beginning to ease. The fighting was dying down, food supplies were beginning to get in, the Red Cross was getting in, roughly 80% of their supplies they said. There was a harvest on the way. It looked like it was finally sort of settling down.
At that point, all of a sudden, George Bush announced that he had been watching these heartbreaking pictures on television, on Thanksgiving, and we had to do something, we had to send in humanitarian aid. The Marines landed, in a landing which was so comical, that even the media couldn't keep a straight face. Take a look at the reports of the landing of the Marines, it must've been the first week of December 1992. They had planned a night, there was nothing that was going on, but they planned a night landing, so you could show off all the fancy new night vision equipment and so on. Of course they had called the television stations, because what's the point of a PR operation for the Pentagon if there's no one to look for it. So the television stations were all there, with their bright lights and that sort of thing, and as the Marines were coming ashore they were blinded by the television light. So they had to send people out to get the cameramen to turn off the lights, so they could land with their fancy new equipment. As I say, even the media could not keep a straight face on this one, and they reported it pretty accurately. Also reported the PR aspect.
Well the idea was, you could get some nice shots of Marine colonels handing out peanut butter sandwiches to starving refugees, and that'd all look great. And so it looked for a couple of weeks, until things started to get unpleasant. As things started to get unpleasant, the United States responded with what's called the Powell Doctrine. The United States has an unusual military doctrine, it's one of the reasons why the U.S. is generally disqualified from peace keeping operations that involve civilians, again, this has to do with sovereignty. U.S. military doctrine is that U.S. soldiers are not permitted to come under any threat. That's not true for other countries. So countries like, say, Canada, the Fiji Islands, Pakistan, Norway, their soldiers are coming under threat all the time. The peace keepers in southern Lebanon for example, are being attacked by Israeli soldiers all the time, and have suffered plenty of casualties, and they don't like it.
But U.S. soldiers are not permitted to come under any threat, so when Somali teenagers started shaking fists at them, and more, they came back with massive fire power, and that led to a massacre. According to the U.S., I don't know the actual numbers, but according to U.S. government, about 7 to 10 thousand Somali civilians were killed before this was over. There's a close analysis of all of this by Alex de Waal, who's one of the world's leading specialists on African famine and relief, altogether academic specialist. His estimate is that the number of people saved by the intervention and the number killed by the intervention was approximately in the same ballpark.
That's Somalia. That's what's given as a stellar example of the humanitarian intervention.Talk titled "Sovereignty and World Order" at Kansas State University (September 20, 1999)
A totalitarian state simply enunciates official doctrine -- clearly, explicitly. Internally, one can think what one likes, but one can only express opposition at one's peril. In a democratic system of propaganda no one is punished (in theory) for objecting to official dogma. In fact, dissidence is encouraged. What this system attempts to do is to fix the limits of possible thought: supporters of official doctrine at one end, and the critics -- vigorous, courageous, and much admired for their independence of judgment -- at the other. The hawks and the doves. But we discover that all share certain tacit assumptions, and that it is these assumptions that are really crucial. No doubt a propaganda system is more effective when its doctrines are insinuated rather than asserted, when it sets the bounds for possible thought rather than simply imposing a clear and easily identifiable doctrine that one must parrot -- or suffer the consequences. The more vigorous the debate, the more effectively the basic doctrines of the propaganda system, tacitly assumed on all sides, are instilled. Hence the elaborate pretense that the press is a critical dissenting force -- maybe even too critical for the health of democracy -- when in fact it is almost entirely subservient to the basic principles of the ideological system: in this case, the principle of the right of intervention, the unique right of the United States to serve as global judge and executioner. It is quite a marvelous system of indoctrination.
Here is still another example along the same lines. Look at this quotation from the Washington Post, a paper that is often regarded as the most consistent critic of the war among the national media. This is from an editorial of April 30, 1975, entitled "Deliverance":
For if much of the actual conduct of Vietnam policy over the years was wrong and misguided - even tragic - it cannot be denied that some part of the purpose of that policy was right and defensible. Specifically, it was right to hope that the people of South Vietnam would be able to decide on their own form of government and social order. The American public is entitled, indeed obligated, to explore how good impulses came to be transmuted into bad policy, but we cannot afford to cast out all remembrance of that earlier impulse.
What were the "good impulses"? When precisely did the United States try to help the South Vietnamese choose their own form of government and social order? As soon as such questions are posed, the absurdity becomes evident. From the moment that the American-backed French effort to destroy the major nationalist movement in Vietnam collapsed, the United States was consciously and knowingly opposed to the organized political forces within South Vietnam, and resorted to increasing violence when these political forces could not be crushed. But these facts, easily documented, must be suppressed. The liberal press cannot question the basic doctrine of the state religion, that the United States is benevolent, even though often misguided in its innocence, that it labors to permit free choice, even though at times some mistakes are committed in the exuberance of its programs of international goodwill. We must believe that we "Americans" are always good, though, to be sure, fallible:
For the fundamental "lesson" of Vietnam surely is not that we as a people are intrinsically bad, but rather that we are capable of error - and on a gigantic scale....
Note the rhetoric: "we as a people" are not intrinsically bad, even if we are capable of error. Was it "we as a people" who decided to conduct the war in Vietnam? Or was it something that had rather more to do with our political leaders and the social institutions they serve? To pose such a question is of course illegitimate, according to the dogmas of the state religion, because that raises the question of the institutional sources of power, and such questions are only considered by irrational extremists who must be excluded from debate (we can raise such questions with regard to other societies, of course, but not the United States).
This is the danger of the "dark age of journalism", as it has been called. The training of the old Reuters reporter is replaced by one of political and corporate collusion. The separation between newsrooms and public relations agencies growing ever thinner as reporters rush to fill space at all costs, regardless of truth. [..] The collapse of journalism combined with complex, fast-changing technology offers a wealth of opportunity for propagandists. In the soil of ignorance, fear can easily be sown.
Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain, which is accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy, on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits, in the classic formulation. Now, it has long been understood, very well, that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist, with whatever suffering and injustice that it entails, as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.
At this stage of history either one of two things is possible. Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests, guided by values of solidarity, sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny for anyone to control. As long as some specialized class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice, require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole, and by now that means the global community. The question is whether privileged elite should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must - namely to impose necessary illusions, to manipulate and deceive the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena.
The question in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured; they may well be essential to survival.
Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.
Mainstream media sources about most topics are propaganda, plain and simple. You can call it marketing, you can call it public relations, or you can call it propaganda. Same god damn'd thing. The news is simply a good way to know what the opinion leaders want us to think about various things.
Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.Address to the Annual Stockholders Sperry Rand Corporation (30 July 1957)
...the point of public relations slogans like "Support Our Troops" is that they don't mean anything [...] that's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that's the one you're not allowed to talk about.
Strikingly, no concern was voiced over the glaringly obvious fact that no official reason was ever offered for going to war -- no reason, that is, that could not be instantly refuted by a literate teenager.
Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself. The masses have to be won by propaganda.
The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.
The dominant propaganda systems have appropriated the term "globalization" to refer to the specific version of international economic integration that they favor, which privileges the rights of investors and lenders, those of people being incidental. In accord with this usage, those who favor a different form of international integration, which privileges the rights of human beings, become "anti-globalist." This is simply vulgar propaganda, like the term "anti-Soviet" used by the most disgusting commissars to refer to dissidents.
It is not only vulgar, but idiotic. Take the World Social Forum, called "anti-globalization" in the propaganda system -- which happens to include the media, the educated classes, etc., with rare exceptions. The WSF is a paradigm example of globalization. It is a gathering of huge numbers of people from all over the world, from just about every corner of life one can think of, apart from the extremely narrow highly privileged elites who meet at the competing World Economic Forum, and are called "pro-globalization" by the propaganda system.
An observer watching this farce from Mars would collapse in hysterical laughter at the antics of the educated classes.
Naturally, one does not want to confront enemies that can fight back, but even much weaker enemies must be destroyed quickly, given the weakness of the domestic base and the lessons that are to be taught.
These lessons are directed to several audiences. For the Third World, the message is simple: Don't raise your heads. A "much weaker" opponent will not merely be defeated, but pulverized. The central lesson of World Order is: "What we say goes"; we are the masters, you shine our shoes, and don't ever forget it. Others too are to understand that the world is to be ruled by force, the arena in which the US reigns supreme, though with its domestic decline, others will have to pay the bills.
There is also a lesson for the domestic audience. They must be terrorized by images of a menacing force about to overwhelm us -- though in fact "much weaker" and defenseless. The monster can then be miraculously slain, "decisively and rapidly," while the frightened population celebrates its deliverance from imminent disaster, praising the heroism of the Great Leader who has come to the rescue just in the nick of time.
These techniques, which have familiar precedents, were employed through the 1980s, for sound reasons. The population was opposed to the major Reagan policies, largely an extension of Carter plans. It was therefore necessary to divert attention to ensure that democratic processes would remain as "hypothetical" as the peace process. Propaganda campaigns created awesome chimeras: international terrorists, Sandinistas marching on Texas, narcotraffickers, crazed Arabs.Z Magazine (May 1991)
[The method of infallible prediction] is foolproof only after the movements have seized power. Then all debate about the truth or falsity of a totalitarian dictator’s prediction is as weird as arguing with a potential murderer about whether his future victim is dead or alive – since by killing the person in question the murderer can promptly provide proof of the correctness of his statement. The only valid argument under such conditions is promptly to rescue the person whose death is predicted. Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it. The assertion that the Moscow subway is the only one in the world is a lie only so long as the Bolsheviks have not the power to destroy all the others. In other words, the method of infallible prediction, more than any other totalitarian propaganda device, betrays its ultimate goal of world conquest, since only in a world completely under his control could the totalitarian ruler possibly realize all his lies and make true all his prophecies."The Origins of Totalitarianism"
No individual gets up and says, I'm going to take this because I want it. He'd say, I'm going to take it because it really belongs to me and it would be better for everyone if I had it. It's true of children fighting over toys. And it's true of governments going to war. Nobody is ever involved in an aggressive war; it's always a defensive war - on both sides.