The War On Terror And The Victory Of Spin: Believing Your Own Propaganda Is The True Weapon Of Mass Destruction
It is hard to calculate how many times you might have encountered the phrases "war on terror", "Islamo-Fascist", "IED", "9/11", ''ground zero" and "weapons of mass destruction" in the space of your life. Repetition of buzz-words and key phrases are key to any successful propaganda campaign, and as these ideas bounce around the mass-media echo chamber, it is impossible to avoid them becoming a part of our shared language and pool of ideas.
But what happens when the propaganda and spin gain such power and traction that the actions of our political leaders spiral out of control?
Photo credit: PRWatch.org
The answer is what the military calls ''incestuous amplification'', defined by David Mulholland as:
''a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation''.
It is easy to see how the build-up to the Iraq war fiasco, and the aftermath still being played out, can be attributed to the victory of spin and propagandist practices on the part of the mass media , bouncing the same ideas around time and time again until their veracity almost becomes an irrelevant aside.
The authors of a critical book on the subject - The Best War Ever - have attempted to unpick exactly how this came about, analyzing the PR machine that led America into its unwinnable war. The heavy reliance of the Bush administration on propaganda and spin, argue John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton led them into situations that could easily have been avoided.
When the liars start to believe their own lies, the results can be catastrophic. This exploration of the ideas presented in The Best War Ever features video footage exploring its key claims.
If ever you doubted what you heard and saw on your television, read on.
In the Wikipedia definition of propaganda, we are given a long list of techniques that seem to serve almost as a check-list for the interaction between the Bush Administration and the uncritical US media that did its bidding:
''Propaganda techniques include: patriotic flag-waving, glittering generalities, intentional vagueness, oversimplification of complex issues, rationalization, introducing unrelated red herring issues, using appealing, simple slogans, stereotyping, testimonials from authority figures or celebrities, unstated assumptions, and encouraging readers or viewers to "jump on the bandwagon" of a particular point of view.''
The War on Terror is itself a 'glittering generality' so vague in its outlines as to justify a continuous state of war, ad infinitum. George W Bush goes on record as saying:
''Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.''
The beauty of the idea is that once one enemy has been defeated, they can quickly be swapped out with the next. And while going to war with nations is a rather more concrete affair, going to war with 'insurgents' is significantly harder to pin down, or track by means of statistics for that matter. Nevertheless, the War on Terror is a very effective means to justify more concrete acts of aggression, such as the ongoing Iraq war, whose current cost to the US tax payer is well over $416 Billion, and counting.
'Unrelated red herring issues' would certainly seem to be the stock in trade of the Bush administration, on its quest to rid wrongdoers of fictional weapons of mass destruction that never saw the light of day, and the list of 'appealing, simple slogans' generated by the Bush PR-machine is all but endless. 'Rationalization' of course plays its role, as in the much trumpeted but as yet unproven connection between Saddham Hussein and al Qaeda, providing, along with the WMD fantasy all the excuse the Bush administration required to invade Iraq.
''But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention.
It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.''
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
In short, we have been witness to an administration so fond of spin and propaganda that it has willfully ignored harsh realities in favor of simple, oft-repeated fictions and buzz-words. In this video introduction to the The Best War Ever, the authors argue that this dependence on PR is the very source of America's failures in Iraq and the Middle East. Here are the details:
Propaganda and Incestuous Amplification
As propagandist myths go uncontested by the mass-media, and buzz-words and phrases are brought out day after day, it is easy to see how the public can find themselves hoodwinked into supporting their government, in spite of what rationality might dictate. But what happens when the propagandists believe their own spin?
In a radio interview on the subject of the book, co-author John Stauber attempts to illustrate the problem of an administration believing its own lies. He notes that:
''One interesting thing about propaganda is that often it most affects the propagandists themselves. They stick to their speaking points, they repeat the same things over and over, and they begin to believe it.
And then, when the question is asked, well, when Condoleeza Rice said, just recently, in fact on September 10th, on Fox, that despite all the CIA reports that are out there publicly saying there's no connection between al Qaeda and Saddham, we know there's a connection. And then has nothing to show for it.
Does she know she's lying? Does she not care she's lying? Or is she just sticking to her talking points on the Fox network, throwing red meat to the people who believe that weapons o f mass destruction were found and probably believe overwhelmingly that Saddham had something to do with 9 /11, as did most people who voted for Bush in 2004.''
You can view the full interview (27' 19") in the following video clip:
Whether Rice and her fellows truly believe their own spin or not is beyond the point. The consequences of their sticking so steadfastly to their guns are the same. Rather than conceding to warnings from experts, or bowing down to hard evidence contrary to its claims, the Bush administration has consistently maintained its PR spin, even when it has led to disaster in terms of both lost lives, political upheaval and wasted tax dollars.
All of this is made possible due to a complicit mass media, supporting and reiterating these ideas, buzz-words and phrases on a daily basis.
''In their propaganda today's dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationalization - the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State.''
Aldous Huxley, Propaganda in a Democratic Society
The true weapon of mass destruction is propaganda, and its devastating effects are compounded when its perpetrators start to believe their own fabrications, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The Best War Ever attempts to unravel the facts surrounding the US invasion of Iraq, the massive PR campaigns behind it, and the uncritical support lent to the cause by a complicit mainstream media.
There are few that would argue that the Iraq war, which still stubbornly refuses to end, was a success in any way. Yet even as public opinion turns against the war, statistically 50% of Americans are said to believe that Weapons of Mass Destruction were indeed found in Iraq, despite well circulated evidence to the contrary. The power of propaganda done right, repeated time and time again, is that it defies logic, defies reason, and defies cold hard evidence.
Perhaps this is why much of the Bush administration continues to hold onto power, protected from being held accountable by a blanket of propaganda and a stubborn refusal to admit fault or to deviate from its core dogma. Assisted by a mass media quite bereft of critical faculty, the spin artists dig deeper and deeper into their own spin, regardless of the reality that they have brought about.
With thousands of casualties on the American side alone, and over $416 Billion tax dollars currently having been lost to the war, the need for critical inquiry, enforced accountability and alternative media sources of information has never been greater.
If you would like to read more about The Best War Ever and keep an eye on the propaganda machine, you might want to take a look at the following links:
- The Best War Ever web page
- PRWatch, home of non-profit Center for Media Democracy organization
- Author John Stauber's YouTube channel
- Information about the authors of The Best War Ever
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "The War On Terror And The Victory Of Spin: Believing Your Own Propaganda Is The True Weapon Of Mass Destruction"
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