Delusions of Power

Random Lengths News | June 15, 2004
Delusions of Power-Censorship and Propaganda

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

As we were reminded last year with the invasion of Iraq (or should we just call it the “Gulf War II”?) the first casualty of war is the truth. We have belatedly come to learn these many months later the truth was assassinated and thrown overboard of the USS Ship-of-State long before the first bombs began to fall on Baghdad. The list of lies, deceptions, fabrications, (“misstatements of facts,” if you must) and circumvention of the democratic process are now so well documented that as many four out of the top eleven best selling books nationwide are dedicated to exhuming this distasteful truth. Yet, even after the disclosures of the rapes, abuses and tortures inside of the infamous Abu Ghraiv prison by our soldiers-in-arms under the direction of US “intelligence” officers, the President’s standing in the polls has only dropped to 42 percent. How can this be?

In the preface to yet another book on the subject The Second Front Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War, by John R. Macarthur; the esteemed dean of American journalism, Ben Bagdikian, writes the following:

A lesson we should have learned in the 1960s and 1970s is that when governments, including our own, become desperate over a failing policy, they are tempted into that historic folly of nations, self-delusion. The more frustrated the leader becomes, the more the leader is likely to see subordinates who report bad news as disloyal or not sufficiently zealous about the official enterprise. Bad news is filtered out before it reaches the top. Official channels of information become corrupted. In the end, as always, the propagandist government becomes the victim of its own propaganda.

Although these words were written in 1993 they appear to be an accurate portrayal of the Bush II régime’s predicament. What goes unsaid is that the propaganda used for this war is still effective to the 40 percentile of the population who hasn’t yet figured out that they are being duped. The main problem is that the media themselves, out of patriotic zeal, have bought into this delusion—compliantly adhering to censorship guidelines, with unquestioning reportage of propagandistic press releases and video clips supplied by the Pentagon and the use of embedded reporters. One of the lesser points in admiral Bush’s damn-the-truth, full-speed-ahead–with-the-war speech the other day was his off-hand remark about how he was changing the mission of the Iraqi Ministry of Education from “propaganda to education”. In light of recent events we should try the same curricula change here at home.

Although there are still some who will endlessly argue that it was the media who lost us the war in Vietnam, nothing could be further from the truth. The first critical reporting from Vietnam resulted from Colonel John Paul Vann’s inability to get Pentagon brass to grapple with South Vietnam’s lack of purpose, discipline and integrity. (See Neil Sheehan’s classic, A Bright Shining Lie.) Over the years, this early critical reporting vastly expanded in scope, while South Vietnam, the Pentagon and the President remained mired in self-delusion.

Since that time, and because of this experience in Vietnam the Pentagon has gotten a lot better at controlling the news. They have learned how to ramp up the propaganda war long before the actual shooting starts, they have used disinformation to feed a compliant news system issuing press releases from innocuous-sounding departments like the Office of Public Diplomacy and then they control the images of the war by controlling which reporters get embedded and which photos get edited out before being sent out via satellite link.

Ah but those of you with a military mind will say this is so the reporters don’t unwittingly compromise the troops in the field, unconsciously revealing some grain of intelligence to the enemy. It is important to note, as Bagdikian does, that in all of the wars over the last 50 years not one “American correspondent has significantly endangered plans or troops by accurate reporting.” This cannot be said of the military itself who has repeatedly found spies within its own ranks and at surprisingly high levels who have compromised some of the most closely held intelligence.

So what is the real cost of killing the truth? Is it the one and half million Asians and 58,000 American soldiers who were killed in Vietnam and the devastating effects of a ballooning war debt in the aftermath? Have we not yet learned the great lesson of this tragic episode so much so that we are destined to repeat again this time? This war will, in the end, lose us more than the lives of soldiers and loved ones, more than the billions wasted on the failures of corrupt contracts to Bush’s cronies, more than our prestige as the leader of the free world. The delusions of Bush and his zealous neo-cons may well corrupt the very essence for which this country stands–liberty. And this all the while they pretend we are setting the Iraqi people free!

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