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Sunday, September 04, 2005

The war of images

SHELLEY WALIA

In Information War, Nancy Snow explains how U.S. propaganda efforts and clandestine operations have grown fast in the last few years.

Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control since 9-11, Nancy Snow, Seven Stories Press, p.173, $9.95.

WITH propaganda becoming the chief weapon of control when violent means are unavailable, black lies, white lies and double talk are common features of any democracy. In the last couple of years, the intellectual weaponry of George Bush has been armed by none other than Charlotte Beers, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, who formerly ran ad campaigns for Uncle Ben's Rice. We have also seen the political support given to Bush by Rumsfield and Poindexter, who were convicted of aiding terrorists in the 1980s.

The scenario looms dark. As Howard Zinn writes, "If those in charge of our society — politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television — can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves". This domination is through a supposedly free press, but it is free for those who are its owners. As pointed out in this book, Nancy Snow, former United States Information Agency employee, maintains that the expression "mass media" is nothing but "an insider's joke". The masses have "the `mass' media but have no power to make the tough policy decisions". It is the triumph of the system over expression, turning the nation into "a deeply anti-intellectual society as a whole". If one was to only examine the education given to the young, there seems to be no liberating alternatives to the lessons they are taught; critical thinking is simply not encouraged. Mass manipulation of language and thought control takes care of the political and social security of the elite.

Limiting dissent

In Information War, Nancy Snow explains how U.S. propaganda efforts and clandestine operations have grown fast in the last few years. Efforts are in full swing to augment the U.S. military in films and other public and State institutions. John Poindexter, the infamous superintendent of the Iran-Contra transactions, was appointed the Director of the Department of Defence's new "Information Awareness Office", which blatantly engages in tapping computer networks around the world. National Security Directives authorise the use of misinformation and half-truths to disrupt and disparage all anti-government criticism. This is the information war over the control of images, news, and ideology that form public opinion and conduct. All attempts are geared towards the advancement of U.S. ascendancy by limiting dissent and manufacturing consent.

New methods

Snow emphasises the propaganda techniques that the government uses to control information at home and abroad. President Bush has "mastered the art of saying nothing" with his excessive use of platitudes of emptiness that reinforce mistaken ideas. Such a controlled campaign of misinformation, reinforced through a kind of "sugar pill that allows the bitter truth to go down easily", is salient to Washington. The new propaganda methods in the war on terror have led to the setting up of a 520-million-dollar, 24-hour Arabic language satellite news network called Radio Sawa. There is another Middle East Television Network that is at present hotly competing with Al Jazeera. The intentions are as obvious as what Woodrow Wilson had in mind when he advised his countrymen to "go out and sell goods that will make the world more comfortable and happier and convert them to the principles of America".

Language manipulation and the use of traditional marketing techniques in advertising such as the emphasis on the emotional and the rational that Charlotte Beers is so adept at are methods close to the procedures employed by the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels who was of the opinion that "there is no need for propaganda to be rich in intellectual content". Empty words like freedom and democracy are enough to bypass the need for any debate. Simplicity and vividness, salesmanship and statesmanship are enough to reshape Americanism and its image worldwide. No questions are raised on the defence of freedom or on whose freedom is at stake. As Snow points out, it is mainly the freedom of McDonnell Douglas and Exxon Mobil that is of any concern to the military-industrial complex. To this we can safely add the role of the media and the film industry to complete the picture of State manoeuvring. Almost $50 million were spent on film production after the attack on Pearl Harbour for purposes of state propaganda and the upholding of American military heroism. Media and the Internet are continuously being employed as "manipulative mind-managers" for rumour mongering and planting publicity stories, an overt conspiracy to keep the public ill-informed on sensitive issues.

Such censorship and propaganda ends the free flow of information and has a mind numbing impact on any critical analysis of any issue. The history of information wars can be traced back to the clever ways used by the British and, interestingly, all such methods inspired Joseph Goebbels and were borrowed by the US.

A complicit media

Snow catalogues the names of media executives who constantly cooperate with the CIA: CBS President William Paley, Henry Lace of Time, Arthur Hays Sulzberger of The New York Times. The CIA gave them the best stories, which were responsible for their professional success. It has to be kept in mind that the officials of the CIA and these journalists come from the same academic background which has inculcated in them the ideology that all that they undertake is with a sincere intention motivated by desires to safeguard the national security interests. It is a known fact that Arthur Sulzberger prevented his reporter Sydney Grison from covering the U.S. backed overthrow of the Guatemala government in 1954 when his close friend from the CIA, Allen Dulles, requested him for the favour. Such are the devious ways by which the media remains in alliance with the Pentagon. And such are the ways of representation and misrepresentation that are taken up as a crucial area of inquiry in this book.

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