|Number 184||December 20, 2002|
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It’s a special “Double Issue” this week (Yay!), because I had to talk about some history, and there’s more than the usual urgency attached to today’s events. So, it’s a bonus for Nygaardians everywhere. Last week I gave a brief summary of the activities of the Committee on Public Information, the U.S. “propaganda ministry” during that long-ago war. This week I give a little history of the U.S. government’s use of propaganda in the ensuing 80 years of what I call the Age of Advertising. A little theory, a few techniques, current manifestations, et cetera. Then a special anti-war section.
This week’s “Quote” of the Week is from Harold Lasswell, the same source as last week’s “Quote” of the Week. I’ve never had the same source twice in a row before—in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had the same source twice, ever—but Lasswell’s writing is so florid and so fun to read that I couldn’t resist calling on him again. Plus, his refreshing candor about the role of propaganda is crucial for would-be critical thinkers to understand.
I really, really, really enjoy the letters and emails I get from y’all! Please don’t assume that I get so much mail that I don’t want to hear from you. The ideas and criticism I get from readers is crucially important to the success of this modest newsletter. I read every one and respond personally. So, please give me the benefit of your comments.
Until next week,
For those wishing an easy-to-read, not-too-lengthy introduction to the basic idea of propaganda and how it works should find a computer and go to a website run by a guy named Aaron Delwiche in Washington—the state, I think, not DC. Find the site at http://www.propagandacritic.com/. It’s a not-for-profit, public service type of site (kind of like Nygaard Notes, I guess) If you are reading this issue of the Notes in paper version, you can find a computer at your nearest library. The site is called simply “Propaganda,” and it has all sorts of interesting stuff, including a little bit of history, a little theory, a little this, a little that. It has a very short and useful piece explaining the difference between bad logic and propaganda. It explains numerous specific techniques of propaganda, and at the end of each section it gives specific ideas for how to defend ourselves against that technique.
This site focuses almost entirely on overt and conscious propaganda of the type with which everyone is familiar. It does not deal so much with the ways in which our highly-concentrated, for-profit media industry is structurally arranged to “automatically” produce a steady stream of what amounts to propaganda, which is perhaps more important than the conscious lies that we can see and refute. Still, for some basic information on what is called “propaganda,” this small and easy-to-navigate site is well worth a few minutes of time for anyone interested in how this stuff works.
Here is a list of three books that I think are particularly useful for those trying to understand not only how we are being propagandized about the situation in Iraq specifically, but also how wartime propaganda works in general. In order of publication...
1. A good journalist can use the mainstream press and official government documents to come to radically different conclusions than the ones reached by the sources themselves, or most readers. For a phenomenal case study illustrating this point, read I.F. Stone’s book “The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951.” (Monthly Review Press, 1952, reprinted by Little, Brown, 1988)
2. Philip Agee gives a fascinating inside look at the CIA’s role in propagating disinformation in his book “Inside the Company: A CIA Diary” (Stonehill, 1975)
3. An excellent book on the subject of propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War is “Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War,” by Harper’s Magazine publisher John MacArthur (Hill and Wang, 1992)
Of course, there are many more books that I could mention; if you want more or different ideas, feel free to contact me. I’ll tell you what I know.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the formal war-time propaganda apparatus that we’ve had in the United States over the past few decades. I use the “Great Wars” (I, II, and Cold) as reference points, but it’s good to consider that, in a sense, all of our propaganda is “war-time” propaganda, since we have been more or less at war throughout the so-called “post-war” period, from Korea to Vietnam to Central America to Eastern Europe to who-knows-where. Anyhow, take a look at this timeline.
World War I: One week after the United States entered World War I, President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, the history of which I summarized in last week’s Notes. The CPI was directed by the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, and was chaired by a civilian named George Creel, so dynamic that the Committee was also known as the “Creel Committee.” Scholars of the time refer to it as “America’s first propaganda ministry.” Yes, those were the days before Huxley and Orwell, when what we now know as the Department of “Defense” was called the Department Of War, and propaganda could be called by its name.
Several now-legendary names in the world of Public Relations got their start in the industry by working in one way or another with the CPI during the war. PR pioneers Edward Bernays (“The Father of Public Relations”), Ivy Lee, and Carl Byoir dove into lengthy and influential careers after the war, further developing the ideas and methods that continue to plague us to this day.
World War II: This war saw a proliferation of propaganda agencies and the institutionalization of what had been an ad hoc propaganda function of the U.S. government. Official propaganda agencies came and went, including the Office of Facts and Figures, the Office of War Information (which worked closely with Hollywood, sometimes going so far as to write movie scenes and dialogue), the Office of Censorship, and a civilian office attached to the White House known as the Office of the Coordinator of Information, which constituted the nation’s first peacetime (it wouldn’t be peacetime for long), nondepartmental intelligence organization. The COI was a forerunner of today's Central Intelligence Agency.
The “Cold War”Years, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s: In the absence of an all-out, declared war, overt propaganda (admitted propaganda from an acknowledged source, known in the trade as “white propaganda”) was generally handled by the State Department and various publishing activities of the military. So-called “black propaganda,” associated with covert operations of all sorts, was and is carried out by myriad arms of the government, including the CIA, the FBI, and every branch of the “intelligence” and military bureaucracies (where it is known as Psychological Operations, or “PsyOps”).
The 1980s: In 1983, World War II “spymaster” William J. Casey, in his role as CIA director, sat down with five public relations experts who were brainstorming how to sell Ronald Reagan's Central American policies to the American people. Thus was born the infamous Office of Public Diplomacy, the propaganda activities of which included planting false stories of anti-Semitism and drug-running by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. The OPD came to be headed by Cuban exile Otto Reich, who later became U.S. ambassador to Venezuela (1986-89) and is now the Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. The OPD added to, but did not by any means replace, the ongoing Cold War propaganda efforts mentioned above.
Iraq 1990-91: During Bush I’s Gulf War, the Pentagon placed increasing limits on war correspondents, and simultaneously refined its use of “private” public relations firms to carry out its propaganda functions. (More on this in a future issue of the Notes.)
Post 9/11: The Bush administration has set up something called the “Office of Global Communications,” which will supplement the efforts of the State Department, with which the Bush administration is said to be less than pleased. Madison Avenue public relations star Charlotte Beers is in charge of “supervising America’s image abroad” as the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, the mission of which is to “help ensure that public diplomacy (engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences) is practiced in harmony with public affairs (outreach to Americans) and traditional diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world.”
We won’t know for some time (if ever) all of the covert propaganda activities that have been put in place to fight terrorism but, as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reminded us this week, “President Bush would not approve of anything that involved lying.”
The Christian Science Monitor, in a story on the buildup to war in Iraq, said that “The roots of modern war propaganda reach back to British World War II stories about German troops bayoneting babies...” Despite the Monitor’s claim, “the roots of modern war propaganda” reach back before that, at least to the First World War. In fact, a young man named Harold Lasswell did a little study of the use of propaganda during the First World War, and published his findings in a 1927 book entitled “Propaganda Technique in the World War.” The book was considered a classic on the subject, and so timeless that it was re-published in 1971. It could be published again today, as the techniques are still widely used. I’ve quoted from Lasswell’s book a few times lately; now let’s take a closer look at the theory of wartime propaganda.
Wartime Strategy and Tactics
Lasswell articulated a four-point strategy for wartime propaganda:
The Bush administration is scrupulously adhering to the strategy, as any regular reader of the newspapers can see. What follows is a series of quotations from Lasswell’s influential book (in italics), in each case followed by an example of how it is being played out in the context of our build-up to war against Iraq in 2002.
Enemy as Hated Aggressor: “So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor,” said Lasswell. He added that it is not enough simply to paint the enemy government as aggressive. The very population must be seen as inherently evil, as Lasswell pointed out in Chapter Four of his book, entitled simply “Satanism:” “When the public believes that the enemy began the War and blocks a permanent, profitable and godly peace, the propagandist has achieved his purpose. But to make assurance double sure, it is safe to fortify the mind of the nation with examples of the insolence and depravity of the enemy. Any nation who began the War and blocks the peace is incorrigible, wicked and perverse. To insist directly upon these qualitites is merely a precaution, and its chief effect is to make it more certain that the enemy could be capable of so monstrous a thing as an aggressive war. Thus, by a circularity of psychological reaction the guilty is the satanic and the satanic is the guilty.”
There’s no doubt that the Bush administration wants us to see Saddam as satanic (today’s term is “evil.”) The Bush message that the decision to unleash the dogs of war is completely “up to Saddam” has been quite successful, as I found out when I went on-line to document this statement and got more than 2,000 citations when I searched for the words “up to Saddam” and “Bush.”
Use of Atrocities: “A handy rule for arousing hate is, if at first they do not enrage, use an atrocity. It has been employed with unvarying success in every conflict known to man. Originality, while often advantageous, is far from indispensable.” Certainly the Iraqi regime is a brutal one, but for the war drive to work Bush needs people to believe, as he said in October, that “by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique” among nations. In that context, there is a long history of reports of atrocities charged to Iraqis, many of them untrue.
Just last week the Washington Post ran a story “US Suspects Al-Qaida Got Nerve Agent from Iraqis.” There isn’t any evidence for the charge, but no matter, it serves to connect Saddam in the public mind with the evil/satanic Al Qaida. And who can forget that Iraqi soldiers during the Gulf War removed hundreds of Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and left them to die? What kind of people would do such a thing?! Never mind that the incubator testimony was scripted by a large public relations firm, and later totally discredited. It had already accomplished its purpose of reinforcing the U.S. image of Iraqis as subhuman beasts, an idea which, as Lasswell put it, “permits the scrupulous to kill with a clean conscience.”
A War for Just Causes: “A point to be remembered by the working propagandist is that Liberal and middle-class people are likely to give their approval to war aims of a political or juristic character.” Following this principle, today’s Iraqi violations of international law are regular front-page news, while innumerable crimes committed by friendly regimes are downplayed or ignored. For example, few United Statesians are aware that Israel flagrantly violated a September 24th Security Council resolution demanding that it withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities it had been occupying. Other examples of recent and current resolution violators include Indonesia, Morocco, and our current favorite ally, Turkey.
A Clash of Civilizations: Beyond the middle classes, there is another reality that allows propaganda to “reach a wider constituency,” according to Lasswell. “The collective egotism, or ethnocentrism, of a nation, makes it possible to interpret the war as a struggle for the protection and propagation of its own high type of civilization.” This “clash of civilizations” idea, which surfaced in the U.S. shortly after 9/11, now lurks as the subtext of all of our proposed and actual military and police actions, Iraq included.
The Need for War Censorship: “The justification of war can proceed more smoothly if the hideous aspects of the war business are screened from public gaze.” I had always thought of this as the real “lesson of Vietnam,” where images of napalmed children and body bags helped to awaken the U.S. public to the realities of that imperial tragedy. But, apparently, the lesson is older than that. Bearing in mind the old lesson, this Bush administration can be expected to enforce the unprecedented restrictions begun in the Gulf War of keeping journalists away from combat zones, while the public will be fed computerized images of “smart bombs” doing their job with no blood or gore to disturb the dinner hour. Avoid
Direct Censorship: Lasswell believed that it was unrealistic, and ultimately counterproductive, to attempt to impose complete censorship on the nation’s media. The desired propaganda results, he understood, would have to be achieved through “the control of emphasis” in the daily news flow: “Underemphasis may be procured in the Press by relegating an item to an obscure column with an inconspicuous headline, by incorporating it into another story, by omitting detail, by contradiction on the part of the writer or ‘witness,’ by quotations which cast doubt upon the assertion, and related devices. Conversely, favourable ideas may be given prominent columns, striking headlines, independent treatment, circumstantial detail, impressive corroboration, and ceaseless repetition.”
Examples from today’s press of how emphasis is controlled are too numerous to list, but here is a small example: Bush’s announcement of his ordering of a “missile shield” was big news just this week, and a Page 1 article in the New York Times (“All The News That’s Fit To Print”) featured the administration’s claim that “Under the plan” the Pentagon “would be able to defend the United States against strikes from a few long-range missiles.” Digging back to page 16 of the same edition of the paper, we learn that the program is based on Pentagon claims of missile test success rates of 88 percent, which they claim show “the feasibility of missile defense.” It’s not until the last paragraph of this short article that we learn that the actual success rate has been about 41 percent. As Lasswell predicted, the “favourable” ideas are in the “prominent columns,” and the inconvenient ones are “relegated to an obscure column.”
My point in belaboring this “ancient history” is simple: We need to know the rhyme and a reason to the madness we see so that we can devise strategies to overcome it. In fact, if we know our history, we may come to see that it is not “madness” at all—or, rather, that there is a method to the madness we see.
Perhaps the group with the most exciting potential on the national level is a new group called United for Peace. It’s a national coalition founded on October 26th by more than 70 very diverse peace and justice organizations, including groups made up of or accountable to a wide variety of communities. LGBT people, Latinos, African-Americans, women, organized labor, Arab-Americans, military families, veterans, and more are represented in the founding organizations. Anti-war voices from the environmental, pacifist, anti-nuclear, socialist, and feminist traditions and perspectives—among others—are included in this coalition, as are Christian, pagan, and Jewish voices.
UFP has endorsed the Black Voices for Peace call for peace and justice events to be held during the MLK Jr. Memorial weekend on January 18-20, as well as the Women's Peace Vigil's call for women's peace actions on International Women's Day on March 8. In addition, UFP is calling for a mass anti-war mobilization in New York City on February 15 or 16, and a national mobilization in Atlanta, GA on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4. The latter action is aimed at strengthening the link between justice and peace issues, something MLK really focused on in his last couple of years with us.
While it’s too early to tell how successful UFP will ultimately be, it looks like it’s starting out as one of the most diverse, multicultural coalitions in a long while, which gives me hope that it won’t be just another unconscious “white” do-gooder group. If the leadership is as diverse as the membership appears to be, UFP could really help focus the creative but diffuse anti-war activities around the country into something that might start to look like a movement. We’ll see.
The UFP website is tremendously informative, comprehensive, and action-oriented, and is very up-to-date and easy to use. Spend a little time there, finding out where you fit in to the growing—dare I say?—movement. Find the site at http://www.unitedforpeace.org/.
There are so many ways to get involved in anti-war activities that I worry about overwhelming people with a sea of resources. I respond to that worry in two ways: 1. This particular article will only highlight a subjectively-chosen few organizations or initiatives that I think are particularly creative, successful, or easy-to-support. 2. I publish elsewhere in this issue an article called “The Beginnings of a Movement?”, which tells of a great organization with a website that you can go to for many, many more ideas on how to get involved.
Eliminating U.S. Weapons
A creative group in Toronto, Canada, calling itself “Rooting Out Evil,” will be sending a weapons inspection team to the United States sometime after the new year “to inspect the chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons produced and concealed by the Bush regime.” They are inviting people to join them “in person or in spirit” by joining the delegation, having your group endorse the project, doing promotional work in your community, or donating time, creativity, or funds toward the success of “Mission USA.” Check out the project at http://www.rootingoutevil.org/. Or write to them at the Centre for Social Justice, 489 College St, Suite 303, Toronto, ON, M6G 1A5.
Anti-war buttons, bumper stickers, and huge lawn signs can be seen all over the Twin Cities. It’s a real morale boost to those who think they’re all alone. The bumper stickers ($1) and lawn signs ($10) are available from the office of Women Against Military Madness in Minneapolis. Call them at 612-827-5364. Signs, buttons, and bumper stickers are also available from Northern Sun Merchandising at 2916 E. Lake Street in Minneapolis. If you have access to a computer with the Adobe Acrobat software, you can download and print a simple “Don’t Invade Iraq” window sign. Go to www.peace-action.org/home/iraq/images/iraqposter.pdf.
After the New York Times (“All The News That’s Fit To Print”), National Public Radio, and many other media seriously mis-reported massive anti-war demonstrations at the end of October, activists from all over the country joined in a campaign put together by the media activist group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting to demand better coverage. NPR subsequently aired a correction; while the Times never acknowledged the problem, subsequent coverage has been better, likely as a result of the flak they got. Read about this success, and other media activist projects, on the web at: http://www.fair.org/activism/npr-nyt-update.html.
Petitions Coming Out Our Ears
I don’t really know how effective any individual petition is, but it’s hard to imagine that the cumulative effect of hundreds of them with millions of signatures doesn’t do some good. Rather than list some absurd number, just go to your web browser and type in “Iraq” and “petition” and “sign here.” I got 124 hits when I did that. My personal favorite individual statement of opposition to the entire Bush approach to “national security” is found at http://www.nion.us/. Read about the larger initiative of which it is a part at http://www.notinourname.net/.
Protest in the Nation’s Capital
The next big national event is a protest in Washington, DC on January 18th, MLK holiday weekend. The Twin Cities’ own Anti-War Committee has chartered a bus to take Minnesotans out and back. If you’ve never gone to one of these events, you should—it’s intense, exhausting, and exhilarating. It only costs a little over $100, and scholarships hopefully will be available for low-income folks (consider donating to the fund if you can’t go!). For info, call the Anti-War Committee at 612-879-7543, or e-mail email@example.com.
The Most Comprehensive Website of All
I don’t really know if this is the most comprehensive anti-war site, but it is mind-boggling, nonetheless. Maintained by the American Library Association's “Social Responsibilities Round Table,” the site is called “Alternative Resources on the U.S.- Iraq Conflict,” and can be found at http://www.pitt.edu/~ttwiss/irtf/iraq.html#anchor1027606. Thanks to reader Dawn for sending this along. And, finally...
So Many Reasons Why the US Should Not Invade Iraq
Groups all over the world are coming up with concise, easy-to-use lists of reasons why the United States should not invade Iraq. Rather than repeat the reasons here, I’ll give a short list of where you can find a few “Top Reasons” lists. Then you can go find and print out your favorite to carry with you.
That’s all for now.