Casualty of War


Jim Addington looks at some interesting views of war propaganda and its effects


The recent government campaign to convince the British people of the need to go to war against Iraq was one of the most obscene in recent years. Iraq, a weakened state, was in no condition to withstand the power of either of the world's two most powerful countries. Bush and Blair used fear to persuade their people that war was inevitable.

Starting from the position that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator they produced evidence (much of it made up) that he threatened to attack, not only his neighbours in the Middle East but America and Britain too.

From the opinion polls you would have thought that a majority of the British people supported the war, but you will have some difficulty in finding many to say so in public. In any case polls in the UK rarely exceed 1500 people. From this number, telephoned to say how they would vote, the pollsters deduce the views of the whole population. While opinion polls and surveys may give some indication of trends of opinion, the way in which questions are asked can also affect the answers.

Manipulation of the general public by government is not new. The people can be persuaded to support a war using a simple formula. Hitler's testimony in Mein Kampf (My Struggle) is probably the most decisive. The American author Mark Twain and Martha Gelhorn, the famous war correspondent, provide support for Hitler's description of war propaganda. There can be no doubt that until we stop governments using the media to manipulate public opinion wars will continue to recur with regularity.

Hitler, in his chapter on propaganda during the first world war (1914-1918) confirmed conclusively that it was the British government during the first world war and not Goebbels who invented modern war propaganda. He said "The receptive ability of the masses is very limited, their understanding small; on the other hand, they have a great power of forgetting. This being so, all effective propaganda must be confined to very few points, which must be brought out in the form of slogans..."

He continued "...the British and American war propaganda was psychologically correct. By displaying the German to their own people as a barbarian and a Hun, they were preparing the individual soldier for the horrors of war...". The message had to be simple and continually repeated. Gradually the people would begin to react to the propaganda and would be won over to the need for war.

Mark Twain, writing the History of War, an imaginary conversation with Satan, explains how a small group of well-placed people can generate public support for any war. Satan tells him that "The loud handful will shout for war". The churches, warily and cautiously, will object.

"At first; the great big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say it is unjust and dishonourable...Then the handful will shout louder...".

His story, spoken through the mouth of a very open and revealing Satan, goes on to say that although some will object, their objections will gradually be worn down, until the people are ready to "stone" people on the platform and shout them down.

Mark Twain ends his essay with the following "...Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame on the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities ...and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception".

Just such a reaction has been seen in the USA during the last year. The media has manipulated the news, withholding crucial information, the government has been able to claim the support of the people an opponents of the war have been vilified and in some cases silenced.

In Britain the jury is still out. Blair's emphasis on Iraq's hidden weapons has not yet been borne out. These were the only way that Saddam Hussein could have used to put Britain in peril. The public have not been convinced about the legality of a war for regime change or a pre-emptive attack.

Martha Gelhorn's testimony was if possible even more dramatic. During a lifetime as a war correspondent who hated war she discovered who really started them. In the preface to the third edition of The Face of War she wrote that she saw war as "an endemic human disease, with governments as the carriers". "Only governments prepare, declare and prosecute wars". "Citizens... must be infected with hate and fear before they catch war fever. They have to be taught that they are endangered by an enemy, and that the vital interests of their state are threatened".

Hermann Goering, Hitler's right hand man, has the last word. In 1946, tried for aggression at the Nuremburg Tribunal after the second world war, he stated " is the leaders of the country that determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders". "...All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked...".