Propaganda and the People
Ellul is one of the greatest thinkers of our time; therefore he was very well able to analyze propaganda—unlike most people, who are so easily taken in by propaganda.
To most people, the word propaganda has negative connotations, because we think of how lies have been perpetrated via propaganda, but the word propaganda simply describes a certain type of speech: propagandistic speech; the word itself has neither negative nor positive connotations. Propaganda is certainly persuasive speech, but then all speech is persuasive to some degree; if it weren’t, we wouldn’t bother speaking (or writing) at all.
What I find most interesting about propaganda is how blatantly—shamelessly—persuasive it is. During World War II, the United States shamelessly portrayed our enemy, the Japanese people, as sub-human, rodent-like creatures. Why? So that our soldiers could find it easier to kill (i.e., exterminate) them and so that the citizens of the U. S. could support such killing.
Does anyone in the U. S. today still believe that the Japanese people are sub-human, rodent-like creatures? Yet the overwhelming majority of Americans during World War II did think of the Japanese people this way.
What’s changed? The war eventually ended; the war-fever eventually subsided; and the American people eventually came back to their senses.
Now apply this same scenario—the use of wartime propaganda—to ourselves and our situation today. Today we are at war with the terrorists, and ever since September 11, 2001, the American people (and the entire world) have been given, by their government in Washington, a very simple choice: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
Ever since September 11, 2001 we have been subjected to propagandistic imagery, which no American thinks of as being “bad”, even though it’s obviously propagandistic, which represents our “standing with America” against our enemies: “the terrorists”. We’ve also been deluged by pro-war rhetoric from our politicians (of both political parties) as well as from our media—especially our television news media.
I’m saying all of this in order to make one, simple point and to ask you one, simple question: “Have you been so taken in by this propaganda that you have suspended your critical thinking?”
In order to help you to figure this out, I’ll ask you a few, simple questions:
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that supporting the (unending) “War on Terror” is the right thing for American citizens to be doing?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that the “War on Terror” makes America a safer place?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that detaining (indefinitely) and torturing people who are suspected of being or supporting terrorists—including people who are U. S. citizens—is the right thing for our government to be doing?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that the U. S. military is in Afghanistan in order to hunt-down Osama bin Laden and take-out al Qaeda?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that our government was telling the American people the truth about Iraq’s having weapons of mass destruction?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that the USA PATRIOT ACT was (and still is) a good thing for the American people?
Do you still believe—nine years after 9/11—that the U. S. has a right to invade any nation it deems to be a threat, even if the people of that nation have never harmed us in any way?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have been taken-in (i.e., duped) by the Washington government’s propaganda.
Being take-in or duped by someone is okay, we’ve all been fooled by someone at one time or another in our lives, it’s part and parcel of being human; but once our eyes have been opened, and once we realize that we’ve been deceived, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so easily fooled again.
The most important lesson I came away with from Jacques Ellul’s fascinating book on propaganda was this: When a government wishes to accomplish something that’s on its agenda, but the government doesn’t have the popular, public support it needs in order to implement this “something”, the government creates “a crisis” for which this “something” is then set then forth as being “the solution” to “the crisis”.
Did you get that? The government’s “solution”—meaning some part of the government’s unpopular agenda—comes first; then the government’s assertion that a “crisis” exists comes afterwards. This is the means to the ends that the government wishes—with popular, public support—to attain.
Governments—including our government in Washington—will often use the media, especially the television news media, to communicate to us the existence of a manufactured “crisis” in order to gain popular, public support for a particular aspect of the government’s agenda.
One, recent example of this is the “crisis” in health care. I’m fifty years old and I can assure you that—throughout my lifetime—health care has always been expensive, because health care is a very highly skilled kind of care that is very labor intensive. Has the cost of health care gone up? Of course it has. But so has the cost of everything else, yet you never hear about a “crisis” in, let’s say, the cost of postage stamps, do you? When I was a child, a postage stamp cost five cents, but today a postage stamp costs forty-four cents. The price of a Hershey’s chocolate bar was also five cents when I was a child, yet today you’ll pay upwards of one dollar for a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
If there’s a crisis in anything in America today it’s the crisis of the Washington government’s fiscal irresponsibility: inflationary deficit spending, which (inevitably) causes the prices of everything we buy (e.g., health care, postage stamps, candy bars) to rise—slowly, but ever so surely. But we never hear about that, do we? The Washington government wants us to believe that inflation is always under control; that it’s never in crisis. The real crises are hidden from the public, whereas the manufactured crises are foisted—via the government/media propaganda machine—upon the public.
Has our attitude been formed—shaped—by the Washington government’s propaganda? Is it being shaped by it, even now?
If we are unaware of the insidious influence that propaganda has on our—or any—society, Jacques Ellul tells us that we will certainly be influenced by it; most often without our even realizing that we are being influenced by it.
It’s time for the American people to wake up to this fact.
When it comes to the threat—or the perceived threat—of terrorism, the United States has perceived a growing threat of terrorism for many years now. In short, for those of us who are old enough to remember, and for those of us who have been paying attention, the threat of Islamic—or Middle East—terrorism is really nothing new.
Through the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, I can remember many incidences of Middle Eastern (i.e., Arab/Palestinian) terrorism making the news, repeatedly. But it wasn’t until 1979—when the Islamic Revolution occurred in Iran—that the U. S. government became extremely concerned with a new threat: Islamic terrorism. By 1980, the U. S. had allied itself with Iran’s enemy, the secular Saddam Hussein’s (Sunni) Iraq, in hope that war between these two countries would result in the defeat of the Islamic Revolutionaries in Iran. War did occur, and the war was brutal, including the use of poison gases by Iraq, which were supplied by the U. S., lasting from 1980-1988 and resulting in a stalemate, with Iran having suffered the worst of the casualties.
Throughout the 1980’s, Washington grew ever more concerned with the new—Islamic—terror threat. Iran had supported the (Shia) Islamic terrorist group Hezbollah, which was formed in Lebanon in 1982, in its attacks against its enemy: Israel. In 1983, the U. S. had sent troops into Lebanon (siding with Israel) in an attempt at peacekeeping (Israel had invaded Lebanon in 1982) and Hezbollah responded to this U. S. involvement in Lebanon by launching suicide truck bomb attacks against the U. S. embassy and the U. S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, which resulted in the loss of 241 American lives. There were also multiple Islamic terror related kidnappings of many Americans living and working in the Middle East during the 1980’s, as well as the infamous 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which took the lives of 270 people.
During this same time period (the 1980’s) the Soviet Union had, in 1979, invaded Afghanistan and continued to occupy it until finally leaving that country in 1989. The U. S. supported the Afghan rebels--or freedom fighters, as they were called in those days—against our enemy the Soviet Union. The war in Afghanistan was, in reality, a proxy war between the U. S. and the U. S. S. R., much like Vietnam War had had been years earlier, with the Soviets backing the North Vietnamese against the U. S. When the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989, the U. S., having achieved the results it wanted—a Soviet defeat—immediately cut its ties with Afghanistan leaving the people of that country to pick up the pieces of their broken lives without the help of their former ally: the U. S.
If we want to truly understand the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and the War on Terror which followed, we need to understand Afghanistan after 1989. In the later years of the Afghan war, the Mujahideen, or Afghan freedom fighters, were being fully funded and supported by the U. S. through its intelligence agencies, and by the time that the U. S. finally pulled its funding and support out of Afghanistan in 1989 the U. S. had helped to fund, support and create an insurgent Islamic army of jihadists that no longer had a Soviet enemy to fight; thereby creating a phenomenon that scholar Chalmers Johnson has referred to as blowback.
The Soviet Union had come to an end by 1991 and the United States government was soon declaring itself to be the new, lone superpower. But although the Soviet Union had collapsed, the threat of Islamic terrorism, thanks to the war in Afghanistan, had now become a much greater threat.
In relation to thinking about how propaganda functions, and about how the War on Terror has been sold to us as a response to the terror attacks of 9/11, let’s look at what the Washington government knew about the newest Islamist terrorist group to arise during the early 1990’s, which came out of the Afghan Mujahieen and was led by an man named Osama bin Laden, which was called: al Qaeda; meaning: The Base.
The official excuse which the Washington government has given us for its inability to prevent the deaths of nearly 3,ooo American citizens on September 11, 2001 is: “We never saw this coming.” But from 1981 until 2006, according to five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Peter Lance, who has written three books on the subject of 9/11, what follows is only a partial list of what the Washington government did in fact know about the al Qaeda Islamic terrorist threat and the danger that it posed to U. S. citizens—long before 9/11:
· They knew Ali Mohamed, a member of al Qaeda and a Foreign Counter Intelligence agent, who was working with the U. S. government, was training al Qaeda terrorists in New York in 1992.
· They knew about, infiltrated, and assisted the al Qaeda cell that planned and executed the first attack on the World Trade Center (i.e., the bombing of the WTC in 1993) before it happened.
· They knew that Ali Mohamed traveled to Nairobi, Kenya in order to do surveillance on the U. S. embassy located there in preparation for a future al Qaeda terrorist attack (the bombing of which actually occurred in 1998, killing 213 people).
· They knew Ali Mohamed traveled to Khartoum, Sudan, in 1993, in order to arrange a terror summit between (Sunni) al Qaeda and (Shiite) Hezbollah leaders, including Osama bin Laden, which led to the Khobar Towers bombing (Saudi Arabia) in 1996, and facilitated the future Sunni-Shiite insurgency alliance in Iraq (2003).
· They knew, in 1993, that Ali Mohamed was training al-Qaeda terrorists how to hijack commercial airliners.
· They knew, in 1995, that terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef, and his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, were planning to use airliners as missiles; plotting to hijack and then crash commercial airliners into buildings (e.g., the Transamerica building, the Sears Tower, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center towers) in the U. S.
· They knew, in 1995, that terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef, and his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, were planning to blow up a dozen airliners over the Pacific by using small, easily concealed, liquid-based, time-activated bombs, which were to be placed near the center fuel tanks of Boeing 747’s, causing the airliners’ fuel (and the airliner itself) to explode.
· They knew, in 1995, that Ali Mohamed had gotten Ayman al-Zawahiri (al Qaeda’s number-two man) into the U. S. for an al Qaeda fundraising tour; the purpose of which was to raise funds for the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan.
· They knew al Qaeda was planning to blow up a U. S. airliner, via a small, liquid-based, time-activated bomb, which was to be placed near the center fuel tank of a Boeing 747 (in order to cause a mistrial) during terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef’s federal trial in New York City, during July 1996. (This event actually did occur, when TWA flight 800 blew up in mid-air just after taking off (bound for Paris, France) from JFK International airport (Long Island, New York) on July 17, 1996, killing all 230 people on-board; including an entire high school French Club, from Pennsylvania, who were on their way to Paris; killing sixteen students and five adults).
· They knew of, and were monitoring, the al Qaeda cell (in Africa) that was plotting to bomb, simultaneously, the U. S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998 (killing 224 people and injuring thousands) before it happened.
· They knew, during late 1999-early 2000, that al Qaeda held a meeting (in the Philippines) to plan the execution of terror mastermind Ramzi Yousef’s (9/11 style) airliners-as-missiles plot.
· They knew, in 2000, that two of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the U. S. and that they were living in a room they had rented from an FBI informant in San Diego, California.
· They knew of, and were monitoring, in 2000, at least four of the 9/11 hijackers who were then living in the U. S., including lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, whose picture was also included in a link chart, which was produced by Defense Intelligence Agency analysts (the results of a vast data-mining project which they had developed).
Do you still believe—even after reading this partial list—that the Washington government “never saw this coming”?
As for the War on Terror, which followed the 9/11 attacks, let’s look beyond the propaganda and ask: What are the lies and what are the truths concerning it, and what do you now—nine years since 9/11—still believe about it? Have you bought-into the propaganda? Do you want to know the truth beyond the propaganda?
Lie: “The War on Terror is keeping Americans safe by protecting us from al Qaeda terrorist attacks.”
Truth: “The odds that we might be killed in a terrorist attack in America are truly astronomical; something like winning the power ball twice in a row. Even ‘if terrorists were to destroy entirely one of America's 40,000 shopping malls per week, your chances of being there at the wrong time would be about one in one million or more . . . [even] if terrorists hijacked and crashed one of America's 18,000 commercial flights per week . . . your chance of being on the crashed plane would be one in 135,000.’” Reason Magazine August 11, 2006 (See the full article here).
The fact is that we are in virtually no danger of being killed in an al Qaeda terrorist attack. And this is not because the War on Terror is keeping us safe, it’s simply because the odds of our being killed in a terrorist attack (of any kind) are just so astronomically high. And the price that we pay—sacrificing our individual freedoms and liberties—for this supposed ‘safety’ is far too high.
Because of the current “Hot War” that America has begun in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is in fact far more likely that the American homeland is now at greater risk of nuclear attack by our enemies: China and Russia, who are allied with Iran, than it ever was during the “Cold War”.
Lie: “We can succeed in Afghanistan.”
Truth: “History tells us that Afghanistan has always repelled outside invaders; and we are simply fools to believe that we can succeed were all other have failed. A fundamental rule of warfare is: don’t stretch your supply lines too thin, yet this is exactly what we are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“‘I would like to push closer to the border, but I can only go as far as I can support,’ said Lt. Col. Michael Martin, commanding officer of 4th Marine Division, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion . . . Like Napoleon, you don't want to overextend your capabilities, or you will get your butt handed to you,’ said Martin, whose troops are spread out among a handful of patrol bases along the Helmand River, marking the coalition's most southern presence in the province.”
A fiscally bankrupt nation/empire (like America), which has its military spread out across the globe in a futile attempt to control the resources of foreign nations (like Iraq and Afghanistan), is a nation/empire that is destined to collapse.
Propaganda is a very powerful tool in the hands of a very powerful government and we should not be so dubious as to believe everything that our government in Washington tells us to believe. It has an agenda, and we are fools if we think that it doesn’t. And we are fools if we think our government will not use whatever means it thinks are necessary in order to move that agenda forward by influencing, through propaganda, U. S. public opinion.
In 2000, an out-of-power group of pseudo-intellectual chickenhawks devised a strategy in which they envisioned a new, hegemonic American empire that would sit astride the world; something like a new Roman Empire. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of Islamic terrorism, the rise of China, and the chance to (finally) make a grab for the Middle East oil fields, which the Soviet Union had long feared the U. S. would make, this neo-conservative, think-tank cabal, the Project for a New American Century—most of the members of which having held positions of power in previous administrations (e.g., Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz)—outlined their plan for a new, American hegemonic dominance of the world and its resources through brute (brutal) military strength: Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.
The document outlined their plan to take advantage of superior U. S. military strength in order to dominate and intimidate the world and to control it resources. To the members of this power-hungry cabal, there was only one, small problem with this agenda: the American people would never support it, nor would any of our allies. But they knew exactly what they needed to do in order to get public opinion to endorse their new plan for America: create “a crisis” for which their plan was to be “the solution”.
In their own words, from the document outlining their plan, which was mentioned above:
“A transformation strategy that solely pursued capabilities for projecting force from the United States, for example, and sacrificed forward basing and presence, would be at odds with larger American policy goals and would trouble American allies. Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, 2000, p.51.
The “terrorist” attacks of September 11, 2001 were the realization of this “catastrophic and catalyzing event”, “a new Pearl Harbor”, and it was an event that was carefully overseen and orchestrated every step of the way by those who sought to assert U. S. military dominance around the globe, especially in the Middle East: those corrupt political, intelligence, and military officials—drunk with power—who have burrowed their way into what has become the ungodly, criminal corporate/military/government symbiotic entity that now poses as our legitimate government in Washington D. C.
Wake up America, see through the propaganda, and begin taking back your government from these criminals—for the People—now!