Ok, continuing from where we left off last…
3. Actors (Controlling their image)
Another area of information manipulation is the shaping of the image of the various actors involved in a war. These “actors” will fall into two categories that we can then subdivide into two classes.
The first category will be personifications of countries. When we speak of America, or Germany, or Iraq, often times we’re using the reference as a sort of anthropomorphism, as if the country itself were a person with all of the amalgamated qualities of it’s entire people and leadership as it’s personality. This is childish.
The next category would be individual persons of repute. The usual suspects would be Presidents, Secretaries and Ministers of War/Defense, Congressmen, military commanders and generals, etc. At any time during a war these folks will need to be either demonized or deified according to the need of the moment.
Now, both of these classes of actors will fall into one of two simple categories: the allies or the axis. The good guys or the bad guys. Cowboys or Indians. To quote from George W. Bush: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” And, within this framework, the Allies will always be portrayed in a good light while the axis will be protrayed negatively. We are influenced to believe that there are bad countries and good countries, as well as bad guys and good guys. This bad and good is somehow supposed to tell us the whole story. And that story is supposed to have always existed in that form. Enemies have always been enemies. Friends have always been friends. Anyone that begins to parse the details and dig deeper into history is labeled as a conspiracy theorist.
I think the easiest way to demonstrate the way this all works is with an example showing the bad/good paradigm. Let’s look at “good” and “bad” countries first:
No other country demonstrates the bad/good fiction better than Germany. The truth of World War I is that England entered the war in an attempt to halt further growth of the German empire, which was geting large enough to challenge it’s own empire. Germany didn’t do anything during the war that any other country didn’t do. Yet at the Treaty of Versailles, the allies forced Germany to declare itself the sole cause of World War I. As a result, Germany was treated as a “guilty nation” and subjected to absolutely vicious treaty terms. The treaty destroyed their economy and paved the way for Nazism to rise.
The European theater of World War II began with Germany and Russia jointly invading Poland in 1939. This was the beginning of a plan called the Moscow-Ribbentrop pact that had been forged in secret between the two countries. They had basically drawn a map of Western Europe and divided up European states amongst themselves. But, somehow Russia was, and is, given a free pass. They became an ally. Germany became an enemy. Even though Stalin had already killed 10 million of his own people by the time the war started, they were treated as an equal to England and the U.S. They were labeled a “good guy” for the purposes of war.
The fact that England actually started bombing Germany first is not very widely known. England bombed the German city of Emden in March 1940. Germany wouldn’t make it’s first bombing on England until August of that same year. Yet we are repeatedly made to believe that Germany struck England first. The truth is that England had made a pact with Poland to defend it if it was attacked. And they did. They struck Germany a few months after Germany invaded Poland. Hitler stated repeatedly that he did not want war with England. But England forced his hand with repeated bombings.
Now let’s look a couple of examples of “good” and “bad” individual actors.
Joseph Stalin (Good)
F.D.R. called him “Uncle Joe”. You know, like that crazy uncle we all have that is a genocidal dictator. By the time Hitler fired up his first gas chamber, Stalin had already killed 10 million of his own people. But, for reasons of British and American empirical design, he was called “ally” while Hitler was the “axis”. When the war ended, Stalin was handed Eastern Europe on a silver platter while Hitler lay dead outside his bunker. The end result? Communism would reign in Eastern Europe for the next 50 years.
Muammar Gaddafi (Both)
Is there a better poster child of narrative shaping in the modern era than Gaddafi? Here’s a guy that was demonized as a terrorist for decades, then when he publicly says he’s going to drop his weapons program, Bush, Blaire and Cheney switch gears and call him “our important ally in the war against terror.” Then, turning on a dime, the Obama administration labels him a bad guy again, overthrows his country, hunts him down and shoots him. And, if you ask any regular Joe on the street what Gaddafi did to deserve it, they would have no clue. Actually, Gaddafi himself evidently didn’t know either. When the Western powers needed an arab enemy they painted him as such. And, when they needed the appearance of arab allies, they reversed course and painted him as a “good” guy.
The point of all this is that you can never know who is truly bad or truly good from thousands of miles away when all of your information is being funneled through a complex propaganda machine. And labeling entire countries as good or bad is nonsensical.
As the ground war winds down, or comes to a close, the propaganda will inevitably change direction. It will turn toward establishing the “official” history of the war. We’ll explore this next time.