November 30, 2005

Propaganda in a State of War

Far too many people are unclear on the concept of propaganda. In their minds, propaganda is equated with intentional lies spread by governments. This is wrong. From Merriam-Webster we learn that propaganda is:

2 : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect
Propaganda, then, has nothing to do with the accuracy of information, only with its deliberate use to further goals. Hence, The Jawa Report has always proudly proclaimed our mission to be that of spreading propaganda in the cause of America and targetting those who spread the propaganda of the enemy.

Propaganda is not a problem, it is what that propaganda is used for that is a problem.

So, when the Left villifies the use of propaganda in furthering the goal of winning the war in Iraq, they are a) unaware of how to use the term properly, b) unaware that all armies--by definition--must engage in the spread of propaganda because facts are meaningless without some context, c) are hypocritically comfortable with a Marine killing a terrorist but not with a Marine paying a newspaper to say that the terrorist is bad, or d) are only comfortable when propaganda is prepared by them--in which case they don't believe the propaganda is really propaganda, because we all know that the objective truth is whatever the Left says it is--in which case we return to (a) since this means that they are unclear on the definition of propaganda.

Earlier today a Leftist reader e-mailed me a story from the L.A. Times which claims the U.S. pays Iraqi newspapers to publish stories favorable to the U.S. By definition this is propaganda. What is vexing, though, is why any one would have any objections to this unless they are making any of mistakes a-d listed above?

Jeff Goldstein is always a good man to go to in a pinch when semantics are at issue.

I’m not so sure I see “largely factual” pro-American “propaganda” as too much of a problem if it helps to burnish the image of Americans in the eyes of skeptical Iraqis long under the boot heel of a tyranical dictator—and in doing so, helps save soldiers lives and expedites the victory on the ground and the establishment of a strong and viable Iraqi government.

Also, it bears noting here the the US military is working with willing Iraqi newspapers in an effort to thwart the insurgency by defeating them not just on the battlefield, but in the sphere of public perception.

Questions: have we used these same techniques in other wars? Certainly. Should we? Absolutely—particularly if it could save US soldiers’ lives and help end the insurgency. [READ THE REST]

And Steve Green chimes in:
Except, of course, the news isn't "fake." Biased? Yes, but it's supposed to be - it's part of the propaganda campaign. Propaganda is important in any war, but it's vital in a media war.

That's not fascism; that's fighting a battle where no one gets shot at and no one gets killed.

Which is exactly the point. How can one be in favor of killing in war but not telling stories in war?

What made the Nazi propaganda of Josef Goebells and Tokyo Rose so wrong (and why both were legitimate military targets) was not that it was propaganda but that it was propaganda meant to undermine the victory of the United States millitary.

Propaganda is a weapon in war. When any weapon is in the hands of our military, it is an asset. Weapons are bad only when they are in the hands of the enemy.

Which makes one wonder why Leftists, so-called 'moderates', or even some on the Right, would consider a weapon in the hands of the U.S. military a bad thing? Unless, of course, they considered the real enemy to be.......

Not that I would ever question anyone's patriotism....

(via Glenn, who I'll hat tip even though I would have got to Steve and Jeff's post had not "I" come before "P" and "V" in my RSS reader)

More below if you're really into the philosophy of contextualized and hierarchical rights in a state of war.

Here's a slight refresher course from Jawa 101. Old readers will be familiar with it, newer readers might benefit from it.

From Censorship In a State of War
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From Hobbes' Leviathan:

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace.
I think Hobbes has helped me frame what is going on in this country. Many do not understand that we are at war. Even if the actual battles are far away, the state of war exists. It is here. It is now.

The state of war is the medium in which all of our lives are lived. We are the fish, it is the water. All of our actions must be constructed with this in mind. We cannot escape the state of war by somehow denying we are in it. Can the fish suddenly sprout lungs and breathe simply because it does not recognize that his environment is water, not air?

That larger war, is all around us. The media does not understand this concept. They think there is a war 'over there' but not here. That somehow Iraq is separate from the larger war, which is all around us. This is why they believe it is ok to publish pictures of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, because the 'war' is over there. Here, there is peace. But as Hobbes rightly observes the "nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary."

It may seem like an unimportant and abstract distinction. What does it matter whether or not a 'state of war' exists everywhere or only in Iraq? But distinctions, even when they are only made by assumption, are absolutely critical to the way we think. The distinction between war and peace is very crucial, because moral actions depend on context. If the context is peace, then moral beings are compelled by conscience to behave in one way. If the context is war, then the same moral being must act in another way. The same is true of the press.

A free-press cannot be maintained in a state of war. Even from a Lockean perspective we cannot understand our liberties as anything but ordered. The inconveniences of living without order makes man:

willing to quit this condition which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers; and it is not without reason that he seeks out and is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unite for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name- property. (Second Treatise IX:123)
A close reading of Locke reveals that his love of property is a means to an end--property is necessary for the maintaining of life. Life is the first and foremeost right ordained by Nature.

Although I love the right to speak and cherish the liberty of the press, such liberty is meaningless without life. All of my rights and liberties are secondary to the need to protect my life. Governments are not founded to protect speech, rather, governments are instituted to protect life.

Free speech is an instrumental value--or it is a means to an end. We want freedom of speech and press because these things are necessary to a functioning democracy. However, a functioning democracy is secondary to some amount of order so that neighbors do not settle disputes on their own--a state of War according to Hobbes and an inconvenient state of Nature according to Locke.

When the secondary value of free speech conflicts with the primary value of protecting life, the secondary must be discarded. We ought not discard such things lightly, but sometimes they must be sacrificed. We do not let the body die to save the limb.

In a state of war, people die. In a state of peace, it is tacitly understood that you can say anything so long as your words are not a "clear and present danger" (See Schenck v. United States, 1919). Holmes' maxim seems to me a simple attempt at putting to words what we all kind of know deep down: only sticks and stones may break your bones, but words sometimes do hurt you.

You cannot say something that will incite someone to kill me. In a state of peace, people aren't normally incited to murder. In fact, yelling fire in a crowded theater rarely yields a riot. However, change the context and the result changes. In a state of war since some amount of anarchy is already present and there is an understanding that it is o.k. to kill, then the likelihood for words to lead to death is greatly multiplied.

Loose lips in times of peace are meaningless. In war, loose lips sink ships.

Did CBS's decision to air the photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib cause the brutal murder of Nick Berg? No. Of course not. Al Qaida rarely needs an excuse to commit an atrocity. Did such images contribute to his death? Probably not. He was a dead man walking from the moment he was captured.

However, such images do reinforce the preexisting notion in the Muslim world that the US is just another oppressive power. As such, these images mean that fence-sitters are more likely to join the opposition. Those not actually engaged in fighting will be less inclined to cooperate with us. Having a population less inclined to cooperate with us means terrorists will have an easier climate in which to operate. They will no longer have to fear their neighbor turning them in to Coalition forces. They can operate with near impunity. Chaos continues. People die. This all in one small field of one battle in the larger War on Terror.

For the larger war the images are even worse. They reinforce what the traitors Said and Chomsky have been saying for years: America is bad, mmm-kay. They ensure that hostility towards us will find increasing justification.

As moral beings, people tend to want to do good. I know, we all are sinful and all that, but that tells us little more than that men are selfish. Even the selfish man tries to find some justification for his actions. He is entitled to the money, everybody else does it, it's not as bad as some other worse thing, etc. The point is that we all need to feel that what we are doing is right.

Hence, the murderers and terrorists tell themselves stories that make their actions justifiable. The US is bad. So bad that they need to be stopped. So bad, that killing an American, even a civilian, is justified. So bad, that beheading him is the only way to let the Americans know that we mean business. America is a virus, and viruses need to be killed.

Our media's hyper-self-criticism is fodder for the fire. By making our minor flaws out to be something horrific, we give our enemies the moral justification they need to sleep at night after a day of mass-murder.

The images also remind us that propaganda works. The military had already begun investigating the abuses long before the images were available. But it was seeing the images, not the abuse that made so many furious. In a similar fashion, I had known that Nick Berg was beheaded and it pissed me off. But it was only when I saw the images that I went Mad Max.

Without the images the reality does not exist in the same way. When the media chose to run pictures of our abuse, they gave the enemy something else to throw in our faces. The great Satan is just as bad as Saddam Hussein---see, they are here to humiliate you---see, take up arms against the great Satan!!

More of our men are sure to die. There will be more Nick Bergs because of this.

Some of them would have died, with or without the images, but others' lives would have been spared. Some would have escaped, as did Thomas Hamil, because killing a hostage isn't always the priority. But if the US is a country of unreasonable barbarians, then there is no use in keeping hostages alive. Kill them all!

As long as we are in a state of war, the media must act in ways consistent with winning and bringing back a state of peace. If they cannot do it themselves, they must be forcibly censored.

Many of you may not know this, but during WWII the government had an actual censorship board. All broadcast and print media were censored for content that could hinder speedy victory. All pro-Japanese and pro-German publications were shut down. Leaders of the German-American Bund were rounded up and locked away.

All of the nation's propaganda might were aimed at winning the war. Pearl Harbor woke our population up, but a concerted effort at keeping our citizens ever aware of the war kept us awake. The event gave us the emotional will to begin the war, but it was propaganda that gave us the stomach to see it through to the end. The free-press gave way to the more immediate need of protecting lives.

For those of you who know my true identity, much of this may seem shocking. I am a civil libertarian, and if my state would allow it I would be a registered Libertarian. The main objection to regulating the press is the notion that somehow we will devolve into a state of fascism. In truth, it is the kind of 9/10 rhetoric I would have also used. But it is just rhetoric and nothing else.

Worse, it is a slippery slope argument that has no real basis in historical fact. As much as I love Nozick and Locke, epistemologically I must agree with Burke: societies and people do not spring forth from some imagined state of nature where rights exist, but are molded by culture and tradition.

The civil libertarian argument has much merit, but all arguements must be made in some context and with reference to actual social conditions. The context of the here and now is war; and the social condition of our nation is that of a people generally dedicated to limited government. We are a country and a people molded after Cincinnatus, not Caesar.

To think that content censorship would continue after we have defeated the threat of Islamofascism is to overlook WWI and WWII. In both cases we had direct censorship. In both cases the censorship eventually ended.

In sum, I call on Congress to recognize that the War on Terror must be handled as TOTAL WAR. All of the Nation's resources and will must be turned to that aim. From time to time events shock our conscience and reawaken us to the fact that our enemies want us dead. Between these times there must be a concerted effort by the entire nation to constantly remind us that war is a fact.

We do not fight war for its own sake, but to restore the state of peace. When we have won, then let us quibble about the merits of prancing prisoners around in underwear. Let us not focus on the mote in our own eye when the beam in our enemy's is strapped with TNT and he is eager to kill us.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 02:23 PM | Comments |