Memo To: Students of Supply-Side University
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: How to Cook Up a War
How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print. – Karl Kraus
This lesson originally ran on October 11, 2002, as I watched the Pentagon warhawks and their allies in and around the White House lay the groundwork for the war against Iraq they had been planning long before Mr. Bush became President the year earlier. Today, on the first anniversary of the invasion, I note the NYTimes lead editorial tells us:
It's...important to remember that none of this might have happened if we had known then what we know now. No matter what the president believed about the long-term threat posed by Saddam Hussein, he would have had a much harder time selling this war of choice to the American people if they had known that the Iraqi dictator had been reduced to a toothless tiger by the first Persian Gulf war and by United Nations weapons inspectors. Iraq's weapons programs had been shut down, Mr. Hussein had no threatening weapons stockpiled, the administration was exaggerating evidence about them, and there was, and is, no evidence that Mr. Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Never mind that it was clear at the time that Saddam was a toothless tiger, but was presented as a monster ready to use weapons of mass destruction at a moment's notice. The Times itself fell for most of the propaganda dispensed by the warhawks and to this day repeats much of material fed to its reporters over the years, having gotten into the habit of doing so. Today's lesson includes a discussion about propaganda by a specialist in the topic who could see how information was being manipulated by the administration's warriors to serve their ends. Were the American people lied to? Senator Kerry thinks so, but there was so much disinformation spread over so many years by so many people that you now cannot find anyone in the upper reaches of the U.S. government who lied from start to finish. Every time I hear President Bush or his national security team speak about Iraq I still hear bits and pieces of propaganda they heard or read about and which they still believe as if it were true. It takes lots of hard work to get to the truth and it is probably not even possible. Debates still rage on what really happened during Passover week almost 2000 years ago.
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When I was a boy in the 1940's, the word "propaganda" showed up in practically every movie involving the Nazis or the Japs. Italy was one of the Axis powers, but I don't remember anything about Italian propaganda. Mostly it was the Nazis, so the word has a kind of ugliness about it that we don't associate with "disinformation." The term "disinformation" does not sound so bad, but the dictionary says it is "false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth." That sounds worse than "propaganda," which prior to Hitler and his evil flack, Joseph Goebbels, simply applied to the missionary work of the Catholic Church in "propagating the faith."
One of the biggest problems for a journalist trying to do an honest job of covering the "news" is in spotting "disinformation." Propaganda is easy to spot because it is obviously self-serving and can be discounted accordingly. "Disinformation" is what the intellectuals at the Pentagon proposed as a vehicle for influencing global opinion, in an "Office of Strategic Influence". When the New York Times reported on OSI, it quickly became an embarrassment Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not need, so he announced it would be dissolved. The private contractors who were to have staffed the OSI, though, were kept on at some unspecified Pentagon office, obviously doing "disinformation," which is their specialty.
In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, President Bush had a hard time at first persuading the American people that this required a full-scale military buildup and war. It helped to learn that Saddam Hussein had "gassed his own people" in the latter stages of the Iran-Iraq war, which meant he must be a monster akin to Hitler and Stalin. When news reached us that the Iraqi soldiers were looting and raping everything in sight in Kuwait City, this also helped our government "influence public opinion." We later learned that these stories were "disinformation," deliberately spread by the same experts who are now busy doing who-knows-what in some obscure Pentagon office. There is now not the slightest evidence that the Iraqi army deliberately killed a single Iraqi citizen with poison gas, yet there are reporters who still include those allegations as "facts" in their stories. You do not hear stories about the Iraqi army committing atrocities in Kuwait City because that "disinformation" was revealed to be false in congressional hearings after the war. You must still wonder why the ordinary people of Kuwait in public opinion polls are opposed to any further U.S. military action in Iraq.
For our lesson on propaganda today, I’m turning to Dr. Nancy Snow, an Assistant Professor of Global Communications at California State University, Fullerton to share her thoughts with us. A former cultural officer with the United States Information Agency, she is the author of Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America's Culture to the World, to explain how the U.S. “propaganda machine” works. She has recently completed a second book, Information War: American Propaganda, Opinion Control and Free Speech Since 9/11 (Seven Stories Press, 2003) she suggested I use excerpts from a long interview she recently gave to an “alternative website,” Guerrilla News Network. The interview was so good, though, I’ve decided to link to it directly so you can get it all: