The Propaganda war is as old as the hills, and it’s easily lost. All you need to do is believe everything you hear. Of course, no one wants to think they’re being persuaded what to think or feel, even though that’s the precise objective of modern political spin doctors, advertisers and media barons. However, the Propaganda techniques for hoodwinking the public these days have to be ever more subtle, as more people do seem to waking up to such manipulation. But – then again – maybe we’re not quite as sophisticated as we think. Maybe we’re still digesting Fake News and we don’t know it:
‘Without an awareness of the grave consequences involved with an increasingly concentrated media environment the public (i.e. non-elites) will continue to be systematically brainwashed by the propagandist arm of the government that is the mass media and will unknowingly acquiesce to the interests of the dominant elites.’1
Phew! This sounds like one of those online, rabid conspiracy theorists – in fact it comes from an academic study, a Master’s Degree Thesis published in 2012 on Propaganda in the US mass media. Maybe this systematic brainwashing by TV and newspapers isn’t as bad in the cynical old UK, then? Not so, it would seem. On the TruePublica website Graham Vanbergen writes that:
‘Just 5 billionaires and 5 ISP’s and about as many government officials are controlling what you read and see and manipulate what you believe to be factual and real. Propaganda works! It appears that it isn’t enough that government officials and their agencies do things such as listen in on phone calls, take illicit images of you and your family, read your emails and troll through the web browsing histories of everyone. They want to control not only what you read and see, they want you to believe a manufactured story to keep them where they are and keep you where you are.’2
The American philosopher Professor Noam Chomsky on the RT news programme Sputnik explained that:
‘Media creates artificial wants, atomizes people and separates them from one another, making sure regular folks don’t disturb political elites. Major media corporations turn people “into isolated atoms of consumption, obedient, having the ‘right’ opinions which don’t bother political elites … when media and modern technology get into the hands of wrong people — private tyrannies or totalitarian states — it can become a dangerous tool for suppressing the masses and serving the interests of the few governing elites’.
One might think that those working in the media itself would be up in arms about such ‘tyrannies’ – what about those brave, crusading journalists poised to hold the powerful to account? (Remember Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate?) The answer is that there’s almost none of them left. Apart from noble exceptions like John Pilger and the Independent columnist Robert Fisk, most newspaper content is just an echo chamber for the Narrative’s Propaganda machine. Plus – whether tabloid gutter press, or the ‘respectable’ broadsheets – newspaper content is determined by how editors are in thrall to Big Business, to the people who own the paper. This fact, well known to researchers and journalists themselves, was summarised neatly by Guardian journalist Owen Jones:
‘Behind our democracy lurks a powerful but unaccountable network of people who wield massive power and reap huge profits in the process.’3
PROPAGANDA AND WEASEL WORDS
The Propaganda Narrative is simply whatever your government wants you to believe about so-called democracy and freedom, the improving economy, its ‘help’ of war torn nations abroad. (In reality, it’s more likely that the government is spying on you, the economy is in dire straits and its ‘assistance’ of the foreign country was an illegal invasion.) However, as mentioned, when the media is now everywhere and news gets around faster (due to the digital revolution) governments know they have to be smarter in keeping you ‘on message’. Anything that casts your government in a bad light is played down, or its details distorted and veiled in mist. Hence the amount of spin given to ‘military interventions’ and the ‘use of force’ – basically war, where people will die. Horribly.
Truth, it is said, is the first casualty in wartime. One technique for controlling the Narrative is to make sure that reports coming out of war zones never have a negative impact. All that governments need do is manipulate the language and we enter the realm of the euphemism, which is designed to make harsh truths sound easier on your delicate sensibilities. You will encounter them all the time during ‘military interventions’, in fact, you probably heard all of the following during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan:
Collateral damage: A way of making the accidental killing of innocent civilians sound nicer;
Enhanced interrogation: A new name for torture
Extraordinary rendition: Kidnapping terrorism suspects and transporting them to other countries for torture (sorry ‘enhanced interrogation’)
Friendly Fire – Accidentally killing one of your own side
Extreme prejudice: Instead of ‘kill the bastard’, a soldier’s order might be to ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’. Easier on the ear.
Non-operative Personnel: Basically, dead soldiers killed in action
Transfer Tubes: These are the body bags which the dead soldiers or latterday Non-operative Personnel are put placed
The novelist George Orwell wrote that a government can enhance its’ power by telling the public that they are in a war, even a perpetual war. And it can attain some success by clouding over its real horrors and human suffering. As one commentator wrote: “The frightening thing about the use of euphemisms is their power to efface the memory of actual cruelties. Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost.”4
Another euphemism is Normal Involuntary Attrition, which sounds like it might refer to some war-like condition. In fact, it comes from the sphere of work and employment and means ‘getting the sack’. In turn, this can also be called “dehiring,” or the equally absurd “negative employee retention”. A piece I wrote for the quarterly magazine Verbatim also covers euphemisms in the workplace where we find,
‘job titles like floor technician (cleaner), refuse collector (as in dustbinman), and–believe it or not–glass technician (window cleaner) … [H]aving secured work, you may at some time be involved with industrial action (going on strike) whereupon the company may retaliate by downsizing, which means you will soon be out of work again. After being dehired (made redundant), you may make a successful benefit claim (go on the dole), though if you buck the system and commit benefit fraud (an illegal, though often ingenious, way of increasing one’s income), you may have to serve some prison time at her Majesty’s pleasure. (This latter prompts me to wonder: does her Majesty actually derive pleasure from having her subjects locked up?).’5
In spite of all this, spin doctors know the Propaganda can still work quite effectively. This is because many folk cannot be bothered seeking out the real facts for themselves. Back in 1928, the so called “father of public relations” (i.e. Propaganda) Edward Bernays wrote that: ‘What the newspaper does strive for is that the news which it publishes shall be accurate, and (since it must select from the mass of news material available) that it shall be of interest and importance to large groups of its readers.’ This is either hopelessly naive or plain dishonest – maybe back in smug old 1928 we believed that newspaper editors had no agenda in what they published. Not any more.
If editors really were always prompted by what was interesting and important, we wouldn’t have the shameful example of the Observer newspaper prior to the invasion of Iraq. In the autumn of 2002, journalist Ed Vulliamy had a major story to tell, based on an interview with Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst with access to classified documents. Goodman had stated that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and would even name names. This was clearly a coup for Vulliamy and would have a major impact on the then debate over the expected military attack. And yet – mysteriously – the Observer refused to print it.6 There were seven versions of this interview – none of which saw the light of day. Suffice it to say that the Observer did not run this story as it contradicted the current Propaganda being fed to the public.6
PROPAGANDA AND WAR
Most people nowadays are aware of just how disastrous was the Vietnam War for the United States of America. It is the most apt conflict to cite in any anti-war argument, what with its needless prolongation, senseless waste of life and (to many Americans) utter pointlessness. We are repeatedly shown and told, over and over, through the news media, Hollywood movies and documentaries, history books and indeed by general opinion that ‘Vietnam’ was a ghastly mistake. Most people seem to agree with this sentiment, and only a minority of right-wing zealots nowadays attempt to justify ‘Vietnam’, with all its attendant atrocities (like the infamous My Lai massacre).
The Second World War, on the other hand, was the ‘good war’. A morally sound struggle where we – the Allies and thus the good guys – were fighting the Axis, the bad guys. One widely held view to emerge from WW2 history is that Pearl Harbour was a dirty-trick, an unexpected sneak attack by the Japanese air forces. In fact, was not unexpected, indeed, it has passed into history (for anyone who cares to root out the facts) that the Japanese were provoked (by President Roosevelt) and a retaliation of some kind was definitely expected. The then American secretary of war is on record as having admitted as much. Check out the Independent Institute website and its Pearl Harbour archive where a variety of academics have tackled this subject in no uncertain terms. The title of one article Things You Can’t Say in America: FDR Knew About the Attack on Pearl Harbor, by Alexander Cockburn, pretty much spells it out. You can’t say them, as they don’t agree with received Propaganda. The Narrative.
On a possibly more controversial note is the infamous atom bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945. Many remember these events as a retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbour, or a way to avoid a land invasion of Japan that would cause the deaths of more American soldiers. Though Germany had capitulated in May 1945, Japan hadn’t yet formally surrendered, and the dropping of a deadly explosive would surely hasten this. This was the justification used by US president Harry Truman, and you might think that all the American military and government officials would be right behind him on this one. But just look at who disagreed:
“The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Dwight Eisenhower (Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63)
“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
– Admiral William Leahy (Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman – I Was There, pg. 441.)
“…the Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945…up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped; …if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the [atomic] bombs.” (Herbert Hoover, quoted by Barton Bernstein in Philip Nobile, ed., Judgment at the Smithsonian, pg. 142)
“Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped … “(Paul Nitze, Vice Chairman, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, quoted in Barton Bernstein, The Atomic Bomb, pg. 52-56.)
There are many more similar comments from American politicians and the military’s top brass (too numerous to quote here) but the general consensus is that this barbarous act was simply unnecessary. The real reason, as many historians agree, would appear to be a US demonstration of might towards Russia – who were about invade Japan. But Governments are not about to allow facts to get on the way of good propaganda – that the a-Bombs were necessary to shorten the war. Or it was a retaliation against Pearl Harbour. Or, well … something just had to be done, didn’t it?
This last type of justification is employed when politicians have run out of good excuses, and lamely protest that it was the right thing to do (often in spite of the evidence). Indeed, it was used by Blair over the invasion of Iraq which began in March 2003. However, once all the hot air has been expelled by those making the case for this human disaster (cited as the worst genocide of the 21st century by political philosopher Noam Chomsky), three toothless public inquiries have done nothing to bring the guilty to justice, and the lies and propaganda have finally been exposed, what about the truth? Well, like Hiroshima, invading Iraq wasn’t necessary (unless there were other motives!) and all we really need do is to look at Robin Cook’s prophetic resignation speech in the House of Commons on the eve of the Invasion:
‘So we were assured that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and he had some of them ready for use in the next 45 minutes. If we are told that those assurances are now … “inoperative”, then the need for urgency crumbles and the case for war that was built upon it collapses… I predict that we will soon see determined efforts to shift the justification for war to regime change rather than disarmament. I also expect that some time soon the Whitehall publishing industry will give birth to a big, heavy tome detailing the results of interviews with Iraqi scientists. But Parliament was not told that the case for war was that six months later the Government would be able to write a better dossier. .. Tony Blair owes those who supported him a frank admission that there was no “real and present danger.”
Of course no such admission was ever forthcoming, and the result was the countless deaths of innocent civilians. But that old Propaganda machine keeps a’rolling along! Indeed, little has changed since propagandist Edward Bernays, in 1928, wrote that
‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.’ 8
1. Gonzaga University Master’s Degree Thesis by Frank McCoy, submitted on December, 2012: The Propaganda Model: Corporate And Political Collusion In The Creation Of An Oligopolistic Mainstream U.S. Media.
2. In an article entitled ‘How Britain’s Propaganda Machine Controls What You Think’, 22nd September 2015.
3. The Establishment and How They Get Away With It, 2013.
4. David Bromwich: http://vizettes.com/kt/american_empire/pages/euphemisms-glossary.htm
5. Verbatim (Winter, 2004) entitled ‘Let’s Ban These Words’.
6. See Flat Earth News, Davies, Nick, Vintage, 2009.
7. ‘A Palpably Absurd Argument For War’. (The Independent 11 July 2003).
8. Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)