Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lessons on Propaganda

Understanding Propaganda for Empire: Exercises by the American Exceptionalism Media Project

With these exercises, you can analyze the propaganda the government uses to gain support for its domination of other countries, and its use or threat of use of U.S. military and covert forces. 

The exercises include questions about the content of the propaganda, as well as comments about U.S. foreign policy. 

Exercise Number 1: “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good”…or a Global Force for Greed?

The United States Navy has an advertising campaign called “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good.”  It features the deep, authoritative, powerful voice of Keith David, chosen for sounding a lot like James Earl Jones -- known to generations as the voice of Darth Vader! 

First, watch one of the campaign’s videos, here:   

(As of 2018, you can't see the official videos anymore.  Why?  The Navy did some polling and found out that most Americans don't like the idea of our sailors dying for other countries' benefit, rather than ours.  The new slogan is "To get to you, they'd have to get past us.  America's Navy."  But one example still lives on Youtube, with children praising their altruistic parents and coaches who are in the Navy.)

In the now-deleted video, the narrator says that American sailors serve “until my country is safe, and the anguish of those less fortunate is soothed.” Let’s analyze that statement.

* What evidence is presented in the video that America would not be safe without“the largest, most versatile, most capable naval force on the planet today?” 

You will find that this statement is not supported by evidence, but rather is offered as anassumption.  Let’s look at that assumption.

In what way do you think America is not safe? 

We were attacked in the “9/11” airplane plot in 2001 by Al-Qaeda, “the base,” a militant group from the Middle East.  This group has continued to plan attacks on the United States.

How have we tried to stop these attacks?  Has the Navy been involved in these actions? 

We tried to stop these attacks by invading Afghanistan after its government, known as theTaliban (“the students”), refused to arrest the 9/11 planners Osama bin (“the son of”) Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  We drove the Taliban from power and have fought for 12 years now to keep them out.  We also attack groups throughout the Middle East and Africa, in such countries as Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, and Yemen, who are allied with or are friendly to Al-Qaeda.  Certainly the U.S. Navy plays an important role in this war by controlling the seas for the transport of troops and supplies, controlling the air with aircraft based on aircraft carriers, and aiding in the battles with observation and bombing by those aircraft.

But why do Al-Qaeda and similar groups want to attack us?

Here is where the claim that the war, and the Navy, are making us safe, starts running into trouble.  There is a civil war going on for control of the Muslim world.  It is a complex war, rooted in disputes between Muslims over the role of various religious factions in political affairs and the proper approach to relations with Western countries. 

It some ways this war started with the European Crusades in 1098 A.D., and continued with the fight against European colonialism well into the 20th century.  In its modern version the war is a struggle between Muslims who want to cooperate with U.S. armed forces, spies, and corporations, and those who oppose cooperation.  The Pentagon calls this the “long war” for control of the Middle East. 

Neither side is particularly partial to democracy or respect for human rights.  U.S. allies include royal families (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates), military dictators (Egypt under Mubarak, Chad, and Mali), and quasi-elected governments (Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan).  U.S. enemies include Iran, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. The list used to include Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, until U.S. military action removed those militant governments from office.

The two founders of Al-Qaeda came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and they were trying to overthrow the unelected rulers of those countries.  They only turned to attacking the United States as the “far enemy” because we helped those dictators stay in power with weapons and covert operations.  As long as the United States takes sides in the “long war” and tries to maintain certain governments and overthrow others, we will be a target for attacks by people who want the United States to mind its own business, whatever the U.S. Navy does. 

* Why do you think the Navy is presented as taking care of “less fortunate” civilians around the world?

The Navy is not a humanitarian program, of course.  It exists to project American power around the globe.  But by making an argument that the Navy is doing “good” for the weak and unprotected, the propagandists are trying to tap into Americans’ altruistic side.  We all want to help people, so the Navy says it needs all these ships, planes and personnel to carry out humanitarian relief.  Of course, once it has the ships, planes, and personnel, it can carry out its core mission of projecting American power.

Empires have done this for centuries.  The British and French ruled the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for over 200 years until the 1960’s by convincing their citizens of precisely the two things in this web video: the imperial wars and occupations were keeping them safe, and helping bring “civilization” to the poor foreign masses.

Today, as in the colonial period, the corporations being protected and imposed by military force are private.  As a result the benefits of all the military spending don’t go to everybody in the powerful country, but just to the corporations and their officers and owners.   

Think about it: developing countries can’t eat their raw materials, be they oil, gas, copper, or platinum.   American consumers will be able to buy the energy or the products that eventually get made, whether the resources are controlled by American corporations or not.  So, the real benefits of the U.S. Navy’s power projection are not Americans as a whole, but American corporations. That is why you could see America’s Navy as a global force for greed – the corporations’ desire for increased profits.  

The Navy's text version: 

In the text the Navy places on its website to explain the campaign, you can note how the same assumptions as we found in the video are included with such phrases as:

·        * essential force of stability,
·        * vanguard for positive change,
·        * keeping waterways safe and open for global commerce,
·        * answers the need for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,
         *  making the world a better place.

As a result, a naval force that exists to force cooperation with U.S. military, covert, and corporate goals comes off like a social worker imposing needed order. 

Here is the text:

In America’s Navy, doing “good” takes on many forms

A Global Force For Good

The strength and status of any nation can be measured in part by the will and might of its navy. That’s not an outdated thought; it’s a modern reality. As the largest, most versatile, most capable naval force on the planet today, America’s Navy epitomizes this idea. And yet, far more impressive is what it does with the distinction.

A symbol of power, a force for stability

America’s Navy serves as an essential force of stability in an increasingly unstable and interconnected world – as well as a vanguard for positive change. Why is this important? Because what America’s Navy does each and every day makes the world as we know it possible.

First to fight, first to help

The role of America’s Navy is both vast and dependent upon circumstance. It involves everything from engaging in combat and warfare support, to keeping waterways safe and open for global commerce, to deterring sea piracy and drug trafficking. And when called upon, it’s a force that readily answers the need for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief anywhere, anytime – to help American citizens and citizens of the world.

A job of immense importance

The specific responsibilities of America’s Navy are carried out by the hundreds of thousands of Sailors who work tirelessly to achieve the highest standards of excellence in hundreds of diverse career fields. Putting professional skills to work to advance the Navy’s cause as well as their own interests. To win wars as well as win over hearts and minds.

A nation at its absolute best

Exceptional people. Leading technology. Incredible capabilities. All focused on making the world a better place. When it all comes together, this is what makes America’s Navy what it truly is. Something more than an admirable calling. More than a promising career choice. More than an elite military power.

It’s what makes us – America’s Navy. A Global Force For Good™.

Here were more videos in the series, also since withdrawn: 

"On Watch"
(A Global Force for Good Guards the World's Waterways)


"You too can provide relief"
(Shows Navy as humanitarian group)

(The Navy serves until there are no humanitarian crises, or threats to freedom, left...)


Exercise Number 2: “Marines Move Toward Chaos,” or do they Create Chaos?

The Marines have an advertising campaign called "towards the sounds of chaos."  Like the Navy, the Marines choose a deep, authoritative, powerful voice for narration -- again someone who tries to sound like James Earl Jones.  Take a look at the campaign's lead video: 

Before we ask questions about the video, let's look at the text that goes with it on the Marines website: 

The Desperate Cries of Women and Children

The Rapid Bursts of Machine Gun Fire
The Deafening Roar of a Tsunami
Most People Hear the Sounds of Chaos
And Run in the Opposite Direction
But There Are A Few
Who Listen Intently For These Sounds
Not in the Hopes of Hearing Them
But to Help Rid the World of Them.
They are the Few
Forged in the Crucible of Training
To Respond Quickly and Decisively
In the Midst of Chaos and Uncertainty.
And When the Time Comes
They are the First to Move
Toward the Sounds of
And Despair.
They are the First to Move
Toward the Sounds of Chaos
Because the Only Things Louder Than the Sounds of Chaos
Are the Sounds of the Few Moving Toward Them.

In the video, the narrator says that Marines “move toward the sounds of tyranny," implying that their role in the world is to confront tyranny.  This theme is constantly used in justifying the Marines.  For example, at a congressional staff "Marine Day" the commanding general will announce the arrival of helicopters as "the sound of freedom."  

The claim that U.S. forces fight for freedom and against tyranny is so central to the propaganda for America's dominant role in the world that it should be analyzed carefully.

* What evidence is presented in the video that America backs freedom for other people and not tyranny? 

As with the Navy ads, you will find that this statement is not supported by evidence, but rather is offered as an assumption. Let's look at that assumption.

Does American back freedom, or tyranny, in developing countries?

U.S. relations with Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa all started with the assumption that the white, wealthy countries of Europe and the United States had the right to rule the colored, poorer regions of the world.

America invaded Mexico in 1846 to force it to turn over huge areas, which today comprise Texas, new Mexico, Arizona, and California.

America's Navy, that Global Force for Good, forced its way into Japan's harbors in 1848 and China's in 1890, shelling civilian areas until the countries agreed to trade with the United States.  It also seized Hawaii from its queen in 1892.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 ended with direct American control of the Philippines, where a brutal counter-insurgency was fought for five years, and indirect control of much of Central America, where we backed friendly dictators who were slaughtering their people but providing favorable treatment to American corporations, right up to the 1990's.

America supported French, British, Belgian, Portugese, and Dutch colonialism from the 1800's all the way through the national uprisings that ended colonialism.  After World War II the U.S. Navy  brought French, British, and Dutch forces back to East Asia to reclaim Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  Portugal was aided by U.S. weapons in fighting to keep its African colonies of Angola and Mozambique, up into the 1970's.

Record levels of arms to dictators followed.

Why? This is called the "Nixon Doctrine," after President Richard Nixon's attempt to win the Vietnam War with South Vietnamese troops using U.S. weapons, rather than using U.S. troops in combat.  

All presidents since have used this method of arming friendly dictators to achieve U.S. goals of access to bases, covert cooperation, strategic minerals, and trade and investment opportunities.

The United States under the past five presidents, including President Obama, is Number One in the world in the amount of arms provided to the developing world, and to dictators in particular.

Just look at the list of repressive regimes backed by U.S. arms and training and covert support today: Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Uganda, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates...

There are a number of supporting videos in this set.  Here's one that  portrays the Marines as bringing order to the "chaos" of the city of Marjah, in Helmand province of Afghanistan.  The lengthy operation was meant to root out the Taliban so that the U.S.-backed Afghan government could take control.  

However, according to a recent article by Kathy Gannon of the AP, the Taliban is still popular in Marjah, largely because the Afghan administration that the Marines imposed before they left is corrupt and alien to the citizens.  See the article at Marjah. 

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