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Handing over our minds

19/09/2011

2. If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would be angry.
3. Why then do you feel no shame in handing over your mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who tries to persuade you for his own advantage?
– A.C. Grayling (2011) The good book: a humanist bible (p.23)

We must remember that in time of war what is said on the enemy’s side of the front is always propaganda, and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for peace.
– Walter Lippmann

Probably every conflict is fought on at least two grounds: the battlefield and the minds of the people via propaganda. The “good guys” and the “bad guys” can often both be guilty of misleading their people with distortions, exaggerations, subjectivity, inaccuracy and even fabrications, in order to receive support and a sense of legitimacy.
– Anup Shah

Edward Louis Bernays (22 November 1891 – 9 March 1995), was an American pioneer of public relations and propaganda, and referred to as ‘the father of public relations.’ He was an elitist liberal who believed that ‘engineering public consent’ was for the greater good, and was achieved by the creation of  ‘false realities’ which became ‘news events.’

Bernays was a member of a group of influential liberals who mounted a campaign to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath in Europe. He wrote that the

… intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society.

The manipulators

… constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.

Two further examples of his manipulations:

1. The American tobacco industry hired Bernays to convince women they should smoke in public. By associating smoking with women’s liberation, he made cigarettes ‘torches of freedom.’

2. In 1954, Bernays conjured a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the democratically-elected government, whose social reforms were threatening the United Fruit company’s monopoly of the banana trade. He called it a  ‘liberation.’

Propaganda thus connotes the dissemination of information for the purposes of persuasion and advocating an agenda by spin and disinformation. While the issue of propaganda often is discussed in the context of militarism, war and war-mongering, it is, in fact, around us in all aspects of life.

1. Control of the media
For any propaganda to survive and flourish, the media needs to be controlled. This maxim applies specifically in the case of war. For example, during the Iraq War of 2003 the key tactic was to embed some 775 reporters and photographers travelling as embedded journalists.

When asked why the military decided to embed journalists with the troops, Lt. Col. Rick Long of the U.S. Marine Corps replied, “Frankly, our job is to win the war. Part of that is information warfare. So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment.”

Those journalists depended on the army for their food, shelter and protection, and that enabled the propagandist country to get its message across. Thus, by controlling the flow of information, the desired objectives can be achieved.

2. Emotional appeal
Propaganda generally has a human face, and an emotional appeal in order to gain public support. Every big media event needs what journalists refer to as ‘the hook.’ An ideal hook becomes the central element of a story that makes it newsworthy, evokes a strong emotional response, and sticks in the memory. In the case of the Gulf War, the ‘hook’ was invented by Hill & Knowlton (“We create value by shaping conversations: we start them, we amplify them, we change them. We can connect seamlessly with all of your audiences.”) In style, substance and mode of delivery, it bore an uncanny resemblance to England’s hearings that accused German soldiers of killing babies.

The fabricated story of babies torn from their incubators was repeated over and over again. President Bush told the story. It was recited as fact in Congressional testimony, on TV and radio talk shows, and at the UN Security Council. Of all the accusations made against Saddam Hussein none had more impact on American public opinion than that of Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City.

Similarly, the Australian immigration minister Philip Ruddock in 2001 claimed that Iraqi asylum seekers on a boat bound for Australia had thrown their children overboard to force naval ships patrolling the area to rescue and take them to Australian territory. This lie was told by the prime minister and repeated as fact in the media to crystallise public hostility toward asylum seekers in a racially charged election campaign.

In 2011 asylum seekers are poorly treated in Australia. Inhumanely in fact. It is clear that a significant chapter of the Australian constituency are not of the decent society but racist extremists. And it is these people’s votes that politicians have in their sights. It is their quest for power – the drive to retain, regain or acquire power – that is the only possible answer. Everything else is bullshit: We must control our borders from this menace, We will decide who enters Australia – they are queue jumpers, People smugglers are despicable. All of this, of course, is a gross hoax. Propaganda! How can so few desperate and miserable people (worthy and deserving of our help) cause so much irrational fear other than by a pack of lies. These nasty despicable lies are designed to scare and reinforce the base xenophobic, unsophisticated, ill-informed attitudes of people residing in a few ‘marginal’ constituencies that ultimately decide election outcomes.

3. Keep off certain issues and Imagery
The aim is to divert attention from troublesome issues and reveal only partial facts. In 1918, US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson is purported to have said: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Imagery is an important element of propaganda especially when language can be a barrier. Images provide a realistic angle to propaganda and the impact of such messages is usually strong. For example, some 100 cameras were embedded in vehicles of the soldiers during the Iraq War and videos were distributed to the media to propagate the message. Apart from this propaganda, posters were used to convey a strong and bold message. These are classic examples of such posters.

4. Simplicity and Repetition
Professor David Welch points to Nazi propaganda as a classic example of how to achieve political ends.

Propaganda for the masses had to be simple, and appeal to the emotions. To maintain its simplicity, it had to put over just a few main points, which then had to be repeated many times.

5. Legitimacy
Anup Shah explains that those who promote the negative image of the “enemy” may often reinforce it with rhetoric about the righteousness of themselves; the attempt is to muster up support and nurture the belief that what is to be done is in the positive and beneficial interest of everyone. President Woodrow Wilson said the Great War was “The war to end all wars.” Thus, the aim behind the creation of this slogan was to generate hope and justify the inevitability of a war.

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