Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Face of Propaganda

War and propaganda go together like peanut butter and jelly, freedom fries and ketchup, and it would seem you cannot have one without the other. One of the odd things about wars is that the average work-a-day citizen normally would have no interest in such things being more concerned with the tasks of everyday life. It hardly seems reasonable to believe that anyone in their right mind would give up the comforts of home to travel to distant lands, endure hardships, risk life and limb because during the viewing of their favorite ballgame said citizen would have the sudden desire to bring democracy and enlightenment to a nation they probably never heard of. Yeah, sure. What is needed is a little propaganda especially when there is no draft. What is needed is a bit of that old time propaganda and a stooge to write it. Unfortunately there is no shortage of morally bankrupt people willing to lure young men and women to their deaths. Such a deal, the writer of propaganda gets some of that nice green stuff and the unsuspecting kid gets a bullet through the brain.

Here is a bit of propaganda from the second Boer or South African War:

The first British defeats in South Africa were a shock to a British public brought up on the success of imperial arms. ‘England, in these dark days, comported itself with a dignity that extorted admiration even from its foes,’ wrote the authors of Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, a patriotic volume published annually:

There were no hysterics, no panic. Success might have unhinged the nation – later on did momentarily unhinge it – but reverse made it rigid. The bulldog British nature came out in its best expression – grim, silent, obstinate, determined. And John Bull put his hands into his pockets, deep, deep, deep – a sure sign that his soul was stirred. One of the best features of the war was the spontaneous burst of charity it gave rise to. Throughout the United Kingdom relief funds were opened, and subscriptions flowed in a strong, generous stream for widow, and orphan, and fighting man broke in the wars.

--A History of the twentieth Century by Martin Gilbert

One technique that serves as a fountainhead for propaganda is the imbedding of reporters with the troops. From the Boxer Rebellion we have a record of this practice so we know that the practice of imbedding goes back over one hundred years.

Dr. George Morrison, the correspondent of The Times, accompanied the soldiers on this expedition. In his diary, he recorded his impressions. ‘We made a raid,’ he noted, on a temple thirty yards from the Austrian outpost; the Austrians coming up afterwards. Forty-five Boxers killed – Butchered. Christian captives with hands tied being immolated while actually massacring, five already dead. Rescued three. One accidentally killed. All Boxers killed; only one dared to face us. I killed myself at least six. Back tired having paraded the city and witnessed devastation in many places.’

--A History of the twentieth Century by Martin Gilbert

Well I suppose we are making some social progress as unlike the intrepid Morrison who killed himself six which gave him a tired back, poor boy, our modern reporters don’t actually partake of the killing at least as far as I know. Other than that there is little difference. Mathew Taibbi from his embedded sojourn in Iraq wrote this piece of propaganda in an article for Rolling Stone which has a striking resemblance to the John Bull piece that appeared in The Illustrated History of England:

Via Dennis Perrin

"Whether or not this is a fair fight is another question. But you can see why the Army is still convinced we can win this thing. The Army thinks it can do anything. The Army looks at Iraq like a drooling six-foot-six-inch bully would, staring in at home plate with an arm full of ninety-nine-mph heaters. To that kid, the game is never over. They almost all think like that over here. God forbid they should ever stop thinking like that."

So it is keep a stiff upper lip, rigid (Freudian slip?), grim, silent, manly, and the game is never over. Well certainly that is true that the game is never over. The propagandists do their best to ensure that. Sadly there is more than one reason young people decide to join the military though propaganda is always there to lend a kindly hand.

Speaking with an acquaintance about the Iraq War I heard the sad tale of his young 18 year old nephew. His nephew’s mother had died of cancer leaving him in mental torment and vulnerable. All screwed up emotionally and not knowing what to do he listened to the amazingly bad advice of his father and joined the Marines. He probably is over there now, slated to be a gunner in of those armored Hummers, you know the ones that always seem to fall victim to mines so it is not very likely he will be returning alive.

It is hard to imagine why a father would advise a son to seek oblivion. We live in a truly weird world.