Silence, News, and Propaganda

by Azreel | March 27th, 2003

You may have noticed that Free Spirit Mind has remained strangely quiet on the subject of war since the invasion began. Our reasons for this are manifold. News on the war is accessible through any number of foreign and domestic media centers on TV, radio, and internet. All of these sources will have their own paradigms on the war, and will present the news in different manners. None are entirely accurate. How can we say this? Read on for more.

War, and it’s accompanying fog, brings censorship, lies, and propaganda, no matter how “free” the country.

Many religious institutions now find themselves swaying under pressure from the hawks to switch from refusing to condone war, to actively supporting the US in it’s actions. At the Vanderbilt Divinity School, dean James Hudnut-Beumler comments on this, saying, ‘Clergy didn’t ask for this war — in fact, to a remarkable degree they’ve worked against it — but now that war has come, they will do their best, simultaneously caring about what happens to our men and women and to the so-called enemy.’ In Massachusetts, the Episcopal Diocese is switching from expressing the belief that ‘this war is not just,’ to some churches planning to hold a daily evening service featuring prayers for our military personnel. The United Church of Christ, has discontinued any speaking services.
‘There will be no words, so people don’t have to be led into a certain way of thinking…. We need to make a safe place for everybody, no matter what their political point of view.’

What has happened to churches providing secular support to their faithful? Is the US government so powerful that it now dictates what teachings and reccommendations are allowed by churches? Or have churches dwindled in power to the point that a few noisy hawks in the flock can change doctrine?

Churches are not the only centers where emotional concessions have been sacrificed. Almost all rational discussion of the actions of the US have disappeared from media, having been replaced by emotional outbursts regarding support of US troops or the atrocities of civilian deaths. Both arguments are emotionally based, and are furthered by lobbyists, governments, spin doctors and others who seek to use this easy acccess to the feelings of the american public to achieve their own goals.

Consider this quote from Douglas Rushkoff’s book Coercion regarding US propaganda and lies during he first Gulf War.
“”I volunteered a the al-Addan hospital… I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go ino the room where fifteen babies were in incubators. they took the babies out of the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”
Does that story sound familiar? It was offered as testimony to the House Human Rights Caucus by a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, first known only as Nayirah. Presented in late 1990, the story helped the United States muster domestic support for its entrance into the Gilf War. The incubator tale made the headlines and evening-news shows across the nation. The never photographed image of Kuwaiti babies being hauled from their incubators has stayed with us to this day.
Less known, of course, is that the anonymous fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl presenting the American people with this arresting image was the daughter of Sheikh Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States. The girl’s story, which has subsequently proven impossible to corroborate, was prepared by a public-relations firm called Hill & Knowlon as a par of an $11 million campaign financed by the Kuwaiti government.
Covert Action Quarterly, 1993(Though the firm has since apologized for and distanced itself from the campaign, it still demonstrates their mastery of the coercive story)
What better image to select for the American public than babies being ripped from their incunbators? In the early 1990’s, abortion was even more of a hot-button issue than it is today. Furher, television news sureys have shown that the abuse or death of first-world babies is the most compelling story one can broadcast. If the fifteen-year-old had told us that babies had been taken from their homes, they still might have seemed foreign to the American public. Kuwait is an Arab country whose customs are unknown to us. We might have imagined the babies living in primitive stone huts or tents. By depicting them in incubators, Hill & Knowlon made the babies seem not only more helpless but more like members of the technologically advanced West. The image also resonated with an American public who feared tha its own technological superiority – largely a product of a free-flowing supply of oil from the Middle East – was threatened by Arab barbarians.
Once we fully engaged in the Gulf War, the Bush Administration adopted slogans and symbols designed to stifle reasoned debate. As if folloeing the CIA manual’s suggestion for smoothing over dissonance with easy slogans, Bush’s public-relations people created meaningless mottoes specifically crafted to replace thought with emotion. The response to any question about the appropriateness of our military action was reduced to “Support our troops.” Do we support our troops? Well, of course we do. They are our sons and daughters – but that’s not the point. As Noam Chomsky explained:

“Support our troops. Who can be against them? Or yellow ribbons. Who can be against that? The issue was, Do you support our policy? But you don’t want people to think about that issue. That’s the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against, and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means because it doesn’t mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about. So you have people arguing about support for the troops? “Of course I don’t not support them.” Then you’ve won.

Public-relations efforts of this kind amount to a sustematic assault on our ability to make rational decisions. The idea is to blur any real policies into emotional platitudes or in evocative storytelling, based on research into the target group’s mostly unconcious triggers. This is a delicate science, and it can easily backfire.
“PR is bullshit,” Deutsch told me when I pressed him for information about how his own work might be applied by governments. “It’s a very short term deal, and it’s superficial. I don’t know how to do public-relations. I’m not that smart.” Perhaps no one is.
Hill & Knowlton’s efforts at promoting the Gulf War worked in the short run but ultimately served only to confuse Americans when George Bush refused to “finish” the war and kill Saddam Hussein. When the press revealed Nariyah to be an ambassador’s daughter and the majority of domestic coverage as having been spun by Hill & Knowlton, America’s relationship to the Gulf War and its propaganda abruptly changed. The public-relations firm’s reputation was irreparably compromised.
Stung by the bitter lessons of tinkering with a public’s mythologies, public-relations experts have found a new cloak for their emotional arguments: facts and figures. By appearing to remove themselves from the influence equation, they create the illusion that they are simply telling us how it is. In this way, they can make the irrational seem rational.

Can we excuse these actions from the last Gulf War? Are the same tactics being used to influence opinions on the current war? One needs only to flip on CNN to see videos of jubilant Iraqi women and children flocking to trucks carrying water and food, singing praises of the US and British troops. Or, one can turn to Al-Jazeera or the BBC to see extremelt graphic images of women and children civilians with the most horrendous wounds; many blown apart, or missing limbs and remaining alive.

Yes, I think it is safe to say that propaganda is at work here. Free Spirit Mind will continue to strive as always to bring you objective, un biased, and rational discussions of political, philosophical, and religious topics relevant to you the reader.

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