Wednesday, March 18, 2015

War Propaganda

War propaganda and the lack of rational nonviolent solutions that work in the long run.

“Of course the people do not want war…But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.” German Field Marshall Hermann Goering, Nuremberg April 18 1946.

This quote from Hermann Goering is very close but not quite right especially after Viet Nam. In order to be successful it will be necessary to repeat it over and over again appealing to emotion. It will also be necessary to prevent the public from being educated enough to recognize these tactics.

War propaganda isn’t just about the hype you do hear it is also about the solutions that are being withheld or drowned out. For thousands of years many of the most powerful governments have been controlled by people that believe that it is glorious to conquer other countries. They have used a lot of hype on their own people to convince them that it is in their best interest to fight for their leaders. A lot of this involves glorious stories about past conquests.

Adolph Hitler understood war propaganda better than most if not all other leaders; although one thing he seems to have overlooked is that it isn’t in the best interest of the propagandist to explain it to the public. He provided one of the most effective descriptions of war propaganda in his book Mien Kampf. This enabled him to initiate the one most unified efforts to fight a war in history. Hitler not only explained how to use propaganda so that it could be used to manipulate people but he also provided an explanation so that it can be used as a warning. If this is taught to the public in a rational manner it can help to avoid falling for the same propaganda again. In order to succeed it must done with care and the results must be open to scrutiny. If this is done then it could drastically reduce future wars or perhaps even eliminate them, assuming other contributing causes to war are also addressed.

War propaganda must always be addressed to the masses and it must appeal to emotion not to reason if it is going to be effective in encouraging the masses to support the war. If you’re trying to avoid war on the other hand it is necessary to appeal to reason and avoid getting to angry and allowing hatred to influence decisions. War propaganda works much better if the public is receptive to it. More educated people are much less likely to be receptive to war propaganda assuming the education process they went through allows the student to sort through the details and figure things out for him or herself. If the education process the student goes through is based more on the trust of authority and believing what your told then the student will be much more receptive to war propaganda. These circumstances would be more like indoctrination than education. If the education process is enforced by using coercion then it will be more likely to encourage the student to accept the truth as it is dictated from the teacher without actually understanding it. Under these circumstances the student will have fewer critical thinking skills and they will be less inclined to challenge authority when the authority makes a mistake. Successful war propaganda should be used in a large volume and it shouldn’t allow any dissent if possible. Successful war propaganda is not democratic it is used to accomplish the goal of the ones promoting it. The enemy should be demonized if it is going to have its greatest effect and the masses should be discouraged from looking at it from the other side. If the Masses come to the conclusion that the enemy is guilty based on their emotions it will be very hard to convince them otherwise. This is especially true if the masses are angry and paranoid.

The public are much more likely to be receptive to propaganda if they are raised in a certain way. This usually involves raising them in a strict disciplinarian manner. Hitler also wrote about the criteria for citizenship in his book. He recommends that people be eligible for citizenship only after they are educated in what he considers the correct manner. This involves teaching them to adopt a certain set of patriotic beliefs without question or scrutiny. Men are required to do military service and go through boot camp or military indoctrination. Only after they have proven their worth and indicated that they won’t challenge the status quo should they qualify for citizenship according to Hitler. The method history is taught is also very important. Many countries have controlled the way schools teach history by dictating facts that make their country seem much better than any other. They rarely allow much if any dissent and often demonize anyone who dares to challenge the dominant version of history.

Many countries including the USA have criticized this type of activity but they often do the same thing themselves. They often indicate that part of the problem with the other people is that they don’t present history accurately. In the USA their have been many examples where there has been criticism of the government and this has led to improvements but these rarely make it into the history books. When they do they are often presented in a manner that gives most of the credit to the leaders without telling the students about the degree of public pressure that preceded the actions by the government. The government of the USA has rarely if ever represented the best interests of the majority unless they received pressure from the public.

The ballot has rarely been enough.

Some people including James Loewen author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and Howard Zinn author of “The Peoples History of the United States” have done a much better job educating the public about many of the most important historical facts but they aren’t addressed to the majority of the public. Their books have been for the most part addressed to those that look for the information. Sources like these are much more likely to provide the public with the information they need to make decisions and avoid war but they aren’t presented to the masses. They do a much better job explaining about many of the lies that have been told to the public in the past that led to war. The image presented to the public by the text books given to children the government and the Mass Media all indicate that more often than not the USA has always been fighting for freedom and democracy. A closer look clearly indicates this isn’t always true. In many cases the USA has fought against the popular movements with the support of the people. The CIA and other covert organization have often led the way in these activities but the truth about many of these activities has come out especially the older ones. The version of the truth presented to the other side has usually been very different. In order to prevent war propaganda controlled by a few on each side it is important to develop new sources of information controlled by a variety of sources including historians and activists that are sincerely interested in peace and fairness. Howard Zinn has done a much better job explaining history from the point of view of the poor people and the disenfranchised since Columbus first arrived in America. James Loewen hasn’t covered as much ground in his book but he spends more time explaining the process to record history and encouraging the public to look for the causes of many historical events. Neither of these books could possibly cover everything but they do take major steps in the right directions and indicate a good example for those that follow so they can continue the process.

The omissions by text books leave the students without the critical thinking skills they need to hold their government accountable. Ironically when war critics attempt to provide accurate information about many of the government activities they have at times been accused of attempting to insert propaganda into text books and this excuse has been used to keep controversial information out. What winds up happening is only one side gets presented that glorifies the USA government in a version that is dictated as a series of facts without much if any explanation of the causes. Most text books provide little or no information about many military actions by the USA that haven’t been based on moral grounds. These include many attempts, successful or not, to overthrow governments that had more popular support from the people than the ones the USA attempted to install including activities to reinstall the Shah of Iran, the overthrow of Allende in Chile, the support for Saddam Hussein before the nineties and many more. The most controversial government they attempted to overthrow was in Viet-Nam.

The USA helped put Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother into power without much if any support from the people and when it became clear that there was little or no chance of gaining support from the public they helped support a coup that replaced him with a Junta controlled by generals sympathetic to US goals, but this Junta didn’t have much if any more support form the public. Ho Chi Minh may not have been perfect but he had much more support from the public and even if he was flawed the way to address that surely shouldn’t involve massive bombing of the entire country. The reason the military had a hard time telling who were their enemies and who were their allies is because few people supported them unless they were coerced. The USA has convinced many people that they were fighting to defend democracy when they were actually doing the opposite. Viet Nam had no intention or desire to attack the USA they only wanted to rule their own country. Part of the problem was an ideological one about communism versus capitalism. An enormous amount of propaganda has been used to equate capitalism with democracy and communism with tyranny. This hasn’t been accurate. There are benefits of both systems and examples where both were implemented in a manner that was clearly not democratic. If the USA stood back and allowed many of these countries to attempt their version of communism, socialism or capitalism they may have done a better job sorting out the difference. Under these circumstances they could still have provided advice in an honest manner instead they used coercion and covert activities to support tyrants not just in Viet Nam but many other countries. The omission of these details combined with the glorification of USA leaders has made schools one of the most effective propaganda machines the USA has.

The creation of these text books has been influenced by many sources some of which may not have been clear. This includes the patriotic desire that many people have although they may not realize it. Most people don’t want to think of their own government as being cruel and tyrannical they would much rather believe they are part of the greatest country in the world. It is much easier to declare we are the greatest country in the world than it is to become great. In 1925 according to Loewen (“Lies My Teacher Told Me” p.302) the American Legion declaimed that the ideal text book must inspire people with patriotism. Views about patriotism for many people may have changed a lot since then; however there are almost certainly a lot of people that adopt the “our country write or wrong” attitude. This would effectively mean that we shouldn’t admit our mistakes or base decisions on accurate facts if they don’t glorify our country. This is what many text books seem to be doing and it is making many students more susceptible to propaganda by leaving them ignorant. If we are going to do what is best for our country we need to acknowledge the most accurate facts whether we like them or not than correct the flaws then their would be an honest and sincere to be patriotic. This version of patriotism would involve doing what is best for our country by providing the best education possible to everyone and looking out for everyone’s best interest without constant war.

Another major influence on text books has apparently been corporations. In most cases they have probably acted in subtle ways but the results are the same even if we don’t know how the became this way the fact that they rarely if ever address the flaws with the corporate system is circumstantial evidence that the corporations may have influenced them one way or another. In some cases they have done it in a way that has been recorded by history. During the early nineteenth century there were laws outlawing education to blacks in the most extreme cases they may have even been punishable by death. They understood that education could empower people back then. In the early 1920’s according to Frances Fitzgerald (source “Lies My Teacher Told Me” p. 215) the National Association of Manufacturers attacked a text book for being critical of the class system and this brought an end to social and economic analysis in American text books. Since then in most cases any additional activities have almost certainly been more subtle perhaps working through other organizations. One exception according to Loewen (“Lies My Teacher Told Me” p. 305) may be when Exxon Mobil pressured the National Teachers Association to refuse to accept free copies of Al Gore’s video about global warming. The NTSA does distribute a video by the American Petroleum Institute that supports use of fossil fuels. The NTSA has accepted 6 million dollars over the last decade from Exxon Mobil. If school become dependent on corporations for money they can’t be relied on to teach the children impartially about economic issues. This may not initially seem to influence wars but when you consider the fact that most wars have corporate interests influencing them this becomes very important. Even if corporations weren’t directly influencing wars they would do so indirectly in this case since the deterioration of the environment is clearly a potential cause for many future wars if it isn’t addressed soon.

The current war on terror is also being influenced by the lack of education from text books. Many of the contributing causes to the war on terror go back fifty years or more including influence on governments like Iran and Iraq. Without accurate information about this many people can’t understand why the “terrorists” hate us. It is because the USA has influenced their governments and supported tyrants. Of course there are other reasons including religious reasons and the fact that they have demagogues using propaganda on their side as well but by supporting tyrants the USA has legitimized some of their propaganda. Another problem with the war on Terror is the use of the term “terrorist”. This term is clear propaganda. A reasonable definition for a terrorist might be someone who uses terror to accomplish their goals. This could clearly apply to our enemies in many cases but it could also apply to our allies as well.

The way it is used in practice is that if people use terror to accomplish their goals and they don’t have political power or control of the media they are labeled a terrorist.

If they do have political power it may be referred to as collateral damage when the innocent are terrorized or killed if it is mentioned at all.

Terrorism used to be applied only when it was used against civilians now if they attack US soldiers in any manner it is cause to label them a terrorist.

The same thing was done during the revolutionary war with King George III only the term he used at that time was rabble. Either way it is a propaganda term to manipulate people emotions and convince the public that the enemy is guilty on emotional ground therefore they don’t deserve a fair trial or protection from torture. This propaganda is used to justify a certain activity when “our side” does it and demonize the same activity when “their side” does it.

Clearly if the propaganda in text books is going to be put to an end there has to be more input from people with different points of views. If only one point of view is allowed and it doesn’t involve sorting through the details to figure out what is true and finding out how to confirm information whenever possible the propaganda will continue. The internet could be a very effective way of addressing this as well as other computer technology. This could include using computer programming to improve organizational issues. For example a computer can be used to provide a much more complete index. By alphabetizing all words within any given book even if it is a traditional print book a computer could help create a complete index, there will still be some work to weed out common word that you wouldn’t want in an index like “the” or “people” etc. but this could also be worked into the program. Even Loewen’s book doesn’t have an index that is complete, if you look up two out of the three page numbers cited above to confirm my information in the index you wont find the page number, and a surprising number of books don’t have any index at all. Two hundred years ago when Edward Gibbon wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” an inferior index was understandable in some cases perhaps even a lack of index but in the computer age it should be inexcusable. In the computer age if publishers created and provided a program to their writers this could be addressed very easily and it would make it much easier to look up a lot of information.

The way children are raised also has a major impact on how receptive they will be to war propaganda. Many psychologists, sociologists and other academics have studied early childhood and they have found that patterns of behavior developed in the earliest stages of childhood often stay with them through their whole life. If children are abused during childhood or disciplined with violent methods they are much more likely to grow up paranoid and angry, and they are much more likely to make many of the most important decisions based on their emotions instead of reason. If the truth is dictated to them without much if any discussion and punishment is used to enforce these beliefs they are much more likely to respect authority only as long as it is enforced by strong-arm tactics or force. If on the other hand they are taught through discussion and they are allowed to sort through their mistakes on their own when possible they are much more likely learn how to think for themselves, develop sincere empathy and respect the rights of others.

War propaganda often presents war as the one and only solution for everything. Throughout history whenever there have been serious problems the public has often been given the impression that the only way they can deal with them are all out war. Whenever there is a problem the public has been told they have to “fight” the enemy. They have rarely been told that they should figure out the cause of the problem and address it the most effectively way possible. Many of the slogans “freedom isn’t free” or “fighting for democracy” have always indicated that the best way to protect freedom and democracy involves fighting. There is much less emphasis on obtaining a good education so they know how to make their decisions based on accurate facts. Some of the most effective war propaganda portrays the military as the greatest and most glorious heroes ever. This is rarely based on a close look at the activities of the military. The most effective military forces act together in a unified manner. In order to prepare the recruits for this they are taught to obey orders without question. This involves as much indoctrination if not more than it does education. The plus side is if their leaders are competent and sincere they will give good orders and they will be carried out efficiently. However, Soldiers are taught to obey whether the orders are good or not. Without fact checking there is no guarantee that the military will do a good job. Furthermore, the military is taught that the way to accomplish their job involves using force. This makes it much less likely that they will always accomplish the job in the most effective way possible since the most effective way to defend democracy and freedom isn’t war but avoiding war. War should be the last resort at best much more effort should be made to figure out how to avoid war using educational means.

War propaganda has a long history of portraying the soldiers as heroes in dramatic stories that provide great entertainment. They are often portrayed as knights in shining armor coming to save the day but this is rarely the way it works in real life. The most effective way to win a war involves having the best fighting skills. This is often learned early at life by rough play and fist fights as a child and escalates to more violence. By the time they reach their late teens they often learn how to behave better in most circumstances but they are still violent under the right circumstances. This is what makes them good soldiers. It is very difficult to teach people to kill when they are told and not to when they are told not to. The most effective killers are often the most angry and they are the most likely to become violent when they return to civilian life. War propaganda doesn’t take a close look at this. They present soldiers as heroes all the time without making much if any attempt to figure out whether it is true or not. This doesn’t mean that all soldiers are violent and out of control that isn’t true but nor is it true that all soldiers are always well behaved and above reproach.

If people are trained to kill they just might do it and some of them may do it even when they’re not supposed to.

Many of the biggest serial killers or mass murderers have been in the military including John Allen Muhammad, Jeffrey McDonald and Timothy McVeigh. Many of the other biggest mass serial killers were also rejected for the military. Of course the vast majority of people involved with the military just like most other fields don’t turn into murderers but this is one of the few fields of work that train people to kill. It is also true that there are many cases where there really are legitimate activities for the armed forces so it would be wrong to go to the other extreme and assume that the armed forces are always wrong. When there are legitimate battles to fight it has to be done by those that are capable of doing the job and when they are brought under control if educational organizations want to do their work they may need protection in many parts of the world that still have a large faction of violent people out of control. When this happens the soldiers may be most effective if they learn to act as defenders part of the time and work with the natives and educators the other part. In circumstances like this there should be no fear of scrutiny since they are doing their job any way.

Effective war propaganda is often mixed in with entertainment and presented in a manner where people are often not encouraged to think things through and sort out the details. In many cases it is designed to keep people busy and distract them from any activity that might go against the war efforts. It often involves music that is often very well done and appeals to the public. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as there is also an effort to sort through the details and make the most rational decisions based on the best facts available. The problem come when there is an overwhelming amount of propaganda of this type and other points of view are censored or demonized. If the war advocates have to use intimidation or censorship to obtain their goals there is something wrong.

First posted on tripod on 03/02/10

Complete online copy of Mien Kampf

Examples of war propaganda songs and the war propaganda chapter from Mien Kampf

For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

nice work/analysis. it sounds like its from 50yrs ago but you could be talking about stuff ripped from the headlines. I have a bunch of links on the Warmachine incl many on propaganda.

vzn October 02, 2010 04:08 PM

Excellent analysis, Zachery. Propaganda would not be nearly as effective if people would educate themselves about the issues. Case in point...when I look at the discontent about the war in Afghanistan, I'm reminded of how President Obama campaigned calling it "the right war" (as if there could be such a thing) and everyone cheered. Now everyone is concerned about the blood and treasure lost...they thought war was a party?

Fay Paxton October 04, 2010 07:55 AM

Some of it is from fifty years ago or longer but I also tried to include some material from more recent events and the songs on the related pages are more recent including my favorite Dear Mr. President, the best thing Pink ever did; I wish all her stuff was like that. I could have included some up dated stuff and perhaps will in a follow up about recent activities but once the public understand the principles you can recognize it themselves; which is the point. If they are going to stop future wars they need to know how to recognize it when it happens before someone explains it to them. One example is the incident about the hikers in Iran which seems suspicious to me. I can’t understand why anyone would go hiking in a war zone near the Iranian border. They should have that right in a perfect world but this isn’t a perfect world and they should have known it. The biggest problem with this isn’t necessarily that there is something wrong with it but that they have hardly addressed it at all. Something just seems to pat about this.

I’ll look at your links when I get the chance although it may not be right away.

As for Afghanistan being the “right war” this goes back decades to find the real problem and where it went wrong. GHW Bush did more to screw it up than Obama but I’m not convinced he did a good job picking up the pieces or changing direction. Part of the problem is he is an establishment politician covering the ass of the establishment. We need a new establishment controlled by an educated public.

Thanks all!

zacherydtaylor October 05, 2010 11:53 AM

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