Bij alles wat we doen beseffen we ten volle hoe vrij en ongebonden we wel niet zijn. We hebben een maatschappij geschapen waarbinnen bijna geen wensen onvervuld blijven, dankzij een geldeconomie die zijn weerga niet kent. Daarin worden nu onze kinderen geboren en groeien erin op. Alle kennis die zij opdoen is afgestemd op het behoud en de groei van dit samenlevingsmodel.
Op elk denkbaar gebied kunnen we keuzes maken, van voedsel en genotmiddelen tot hoe we willen sterven en begraven worden. Het individu staat voorop en toch vormen we samen een collectief. Dat laatste zijn we ons niet altijd bewust maar als de nood aan de man komt, als er gevaar dreigt, sluiten we spontaan de gelederen. Dan weten we precies welke waarden verdedigd moeten worden., die van de geldbuidel voorop, anders raakt de bodem onder ons bestaan zoek. Dan zijn leiders en deskundigen gevraagd die ons de weg wijzen en informeren. Sinds de pandemie is het zover.
Wie gelooft dit (democratische) sprookje en hoe komt dat?
CHOMSKY ON THE PROPAGANDA MODEL AND WHATABOUTISM
A recent interview highlights how democracy depends on elite-manufactured public support for foreign wars.
In a recent Truthout interview with Noam Chomsky, the renowned public intellectual explains why Americans have been subject to an onslaught of propoganda regardng the Russo-Ukraine War, not unlike the citizens of Russia. Also, those who speak out or dissent against the mainstream views are often targets of personal attacks, cancel culture and whataboutism.
The famous Linguistics scholar-turned-social/political commentator Noam Chomsky (1928 — ) is no stranger to defending unconventional views on global issues. The Russo-Ukraine War and propaganda are no different.
Chomsky’s rise out of academic obscurity into the role of a prominent cultural critic began with the publication of “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” There he wrote:
“Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.”
The propaganda model
Chomsky traces the development of the American “propaganda model” to the Spanish-American War, in which the U.S. blamed the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor on the Spanish. It was actually an internal explosion probably caused by a malfunctioning boiler.
War myths are essential to elite-run democracu. Elites use the propaganda model to manipulate the masses. Dating all the way back to ancient Athens, the Greek demos was rallied to support wars that bolstered the power and wealth of elites.
Government-sponsored war myths serve the purpose of ginning up popular consent for conficts that a population wouldn’t otherwise support. For instance, the American public intellectuals Walter Lippmann (1889–1974) and Edward Bernays (1891–1995) were tasked with turning the American public from an isolationist and pacifist group into a German-hating and hawkish crowd.
They achieved this goal and with it U.S. popular support for entry into World War I through their service to the Creel Commission:
Both Lippmann and Bernays credited the Creel Commission for demonstrating the power of propaganda in “manufacturing consent” (Lippmann) and “engineering of consent” (Bernays). This “new art in the practice of democracy,” Lippmann explained, could be used to keep the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” — the general public — passive and obedient while the self-designated “responsible men” will attend to important matters, free from the “trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.” Bernays expressed similar views. They were not alone.
Lippmann and Bernays were Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy liberals. The conception of democracy they elaborated was quite in accord with dominant liberal conceptions, then and since.
The ideas extend broadly to the more free societies, where “unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force,” as George Orwell put the matter in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm on “literary censorship” in England.
So it continues. Particularly in the more free societies, where means of state violence have been constrained by popular activism, it is of great importance to devise methods of manufacturing consent, and to ensure that they are internalized, becoming as invisible as the air we breathe, particularly in articulate educated circles. Imposing war-myths is a regular feature of these enterprises.
So, how did the creation and spread of war myths contribute to current American popular support for the Russo-Ukraine war? It’s not as if the U.S. can falsely blame Russia for 9–11, as it did with Iraq.
How did the U.S. government persuade citizens to give their consent to sending millions of dollars to Ukraine in military aid (including heavy weaponry)? How could the propaganda machine deceive American citizens to gladly suffer stifling domestic inflation, baby formula shortages and sky-high gas prices in sacrifice to Ukraine?
The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine/Iraq
Chomsky notes the indoctrinating effects of language, specifically references to “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”:
We constantly witness instructive effects of this rigid indoctrination. One is that it is de rigueur to refer to Putin’s criminal aggression in Ukraine as his “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” A Google search for this phrase finds “About 2,430,000 results” (in 0.42 seconds).
Out of curiosity, we might search for “unprovoked invasion of Iraq.” The search yields “About 11,700 results” (in 0.35 seconds) — apparently from antiwar sources, a brief search suggests.
Why the different framing of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. invasion of Iraq? The media are fed by the U.S. government’s propaganda model.
The Ukraine-Iraq analogy is enlightening. In a recent gaffe by George W. Bush, he divulged that the Iraq invasion was similarly unjustified and that he is a self-confessed war criminal.
However, the comparison, for Chomsky, highlights how unprovoked the 2003 U.S. invasion fo Iraq was, at least compared to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine:
The example is interesting not only in itself, but because of its sharp reversal of the facts. The Iraq War was totally unprovoked: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had to struggle hard, even to resort to torture, to try to find some particle of evidence to tie Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. The famous disappearing weapons of mass destruction wouldn’t have been a provocation for aggression even if there had been some reason to believe that they existed.
In contrast, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was most definitely provoked — though in today’s climate, it is necessary to add the truism that provocation provides no justification for the invasion.
But shouldn’t we ask: Was the Russo-Ukraine War truly the outcome of an attack by Russia on Ukraine lacking any provocation?
Chomsky believes that the U.S. had been provoking Russia for years by inviting Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.
But when you need to raise popular support for a foreign war — that is, manufacture or engineer consent — sometimes a government must take a lie and wrap it in shreds of truth. It must, in other words, make propaganda.
In Chomsky’s words,
A host of high-level U.S. diplomats and policy analysts have been warning Washington for 30 years that it was reckless and needlessly provocative to ignore Russia’s security concerns, particularly its red lines: No NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, in Russia’s geostrategic heartland.
In full understanding of what it was doing, since 2014, NATO (meaning basically the U.S.), has “provided significant support [to Ukraine] with equipment, with training, 10s of 1000s of Ukrainian soldiers have been trained, and then when we saw the intelligence indicating a highly likely invasion Allies stepped up last autumn and this winter,” before the invasion, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The U.S. commitment to integrate Ukraine within the NATO command was also stepped up in fall 2021 with the official policy statements we have already discussed — kept from the bewildered herd by the “free press,” but surely read carefully by Russian intelligence. Russian intelligence did not have to be informed that “prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States made no effort to address one of Vladimir Putin’s most often stated top security concerns — the possibility of Ukraine’s membership into NATO,” as the State Department conceded, with little notice here.
Without going into any further details, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was clearly provoked while the U.S. invasion of Iraq was clearly unprovoked. That is exactly the opposite of standard commentary and reporting. But it is also exactly the norm of wartime propaganda, not just in the U.S., though it is more instructive to observe the process in free societies.
Free societies are at greatest risk of being propagandized by government and media. Elites must go to greater lengths to control public opinion, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t.
Whataboutism and its targets
In the interview, Chomsky also comments on ‘whataboutism’ — or the practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or raising a different issue.
For instance, when a pacifist accuses a Democrat of inciting a gobal nuclear war by escalating the proxy conflict with Russia, the Democrat responds: Yes, but aren’t all pacifists supporters of Russian imperialism?
Here again there’s a long history. In the early postwar period [World War II], independent thought could be silenced by charges of comsymp: you’re an apologist for Stalin’s crimes. It’s sometimes condemned as McCarthyism, but that was only the vulgar tip of the iceberg. What is now denounced as “cancel culture” was rampant and remained so.
That technique lost some of its power as the country began to awaken from dogmatic slumber in the ’60s. In the early ’80s, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a major Reaganite foreign policy intellectual, devised another technique: moral equivalence. If you reveal and criticize the atrocities that she was supporting in the Reagan administration, you’re guilty of “moral equivalence.” You’re claiming that Reagan is no different than Stalin or Hitler. That served for a time to subdue dissent from the party line.
Whataboutism is a new variant, hardly different from its predecessors.
For the true totalitarian mentality, none of this is enough. GOP leaders are working hard to cleanse the schools of anything that is “divisive” or that causes “discomfort.” That includes virtually all of history apart from patriotic slogans approved by Trump’s 1776 Commission, or whatever will be devised by GOP leaders when they take command and are in a position to impose stricter discipline. We see many signs of it today, and there’s every reason to expect more to come.
It’s important to remember how rigid doctrinal controls have been in the U.S. — perhaps a reflection of the fact that it is a very free society by comparative standards, hence posing problems to the doctrinal managers, who must be ever alert to signs of deviation.
Chomsky is well aware of the mechanisms in place within American society to silence free thought, heterodox political expression and criticism of media/government-established views, including the dominant opinion that the Russo-Ukraine War is a war of unprovoked aggression by Russia against Ukraine.
Chomsky’s been targeted for silencing many times over. He analyzed and criticized U.S. imperialism in South America, Israeli aggression against Palestine, and U.S. President George W. Bush’s vengeful ‘war on terror’, among other issues. His well-reasoned, but highly controversial writings spawned objections from foreign policy experts and pundits on both the ideological left and right. In 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon placed Chomsky on his Enemies List.
Currently, though, there are limited venues to charge the U.S. with war crimes, torture, genocide, economic exploitation, debt slavery and the other horrendous crimes it’s committed against countries and peoples across the globe, and be taken seriously — let alone expect the U.S. to actually pay for its crimes. (As Ward Churchill once claimed, the terrorist attacks on the U.S. probably come the closest to imposing a form of cruel accountability— or as he describes it, “the justice of roosting chickens”).
As Chomsky notes, “We [the U.S. media and government] are very scrupulous in unearthing details about the crimes of others.” However, we are unscrupulous insofar as we hide and minimize American crimes against others.
Why? Because the U.S. is the last remaining global hegemon. (Though China is fast gaining on the U.S..)
And with great power comes even greater impunity.
21 mei 2022
Shane J. Ralston, Ph.D. is a Teaching Fellow and the Dean of Wright College, Woolf University.