Democracy and Propaganda

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’ve been recently thinking about politics.  My post Cold War Era: Paranoia and Oppression is where I tried to show the historical context for the politics of the recent past.  I pointed out how decades of CIA and other covert activities set the stage for the War on Terrorism.  Our enemies now often used to be our allies.  What makes these groups and countries all of a sudden evil when we funded and trained them in the first place. If we’re a truly good nation, then why have we stood by while a number of genocides occur.  After the Nazi death camps, many people said never again and yet it happens again and again.  Our government even has commited numerous atrocities that are worthy of war crimes and yet US officials are never charged.  The CIA has been involved in illegal guns and drugs trafficking, involved in political assasinations including that of democratically voted leaders, and involved in corrupt dictatorships  and vicious paramilitary groups.  How does this happen in a supposed democracy? 

I’ve heard people argue that democracy will destroy itself when the people realize they can vote their own interests into power.  And so, as the theory goes, you get a mobocracy where everyone scrambles to get their own.  This is a possibility, but it isn’t the worse danger.  Democracy is always teetering on the edge and it’s true that the worse danger is from within.  However, I don’t think the mob is all that dangerous because I don’t think the average person is all that dangerous.  Some people think democracy should be left to elites which is an attitude that I think is truly dangerous.  The government has a long history of illegal activity and propaganda including outright deception and lies.  And the media has a long history of complicity.  So, it isn’t the mob you need to directly worry about but the people manipulating the mob.

This topic is discussed in the documentary War Made Easy.  It’s something that any intelligent American should watch.  The documentary started off with this quote:

We americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling the truth

Sydney Schanberg

An insightful observation of War Made Easy is that propaganda is surprisingly repetitive over the decades.  The government finds what works and uses it again and again.  The Gulf of Tonkin incident was a fabricated story (i.e., a lie) invented so that the president could start a military campaign in Vietnam without the necessity of having Congress officially declare a war.  That is almost exactly what Bush Junior did in attacking Iraq.  The Bush administration knowingly made false allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and falsely connected Iraq with the 9/11 terrorists attacks.  It was complete propaganda and very effective.

The government gets away with this kind of misbehavior not because the common person is stupid.  It isn’t the common person who undermines democracy.  The government tells the lies and the media reports it.  How is the common person supposed to know the truth?  And without access to the truth how is the average citizen supposed to vote intelligently?  The democratic process is made impossible before any voting has even happened.  Theoretically, the media is supposed to counter propaganda, but too often especially during wartime the media becomes main purveyor of propaganda.

Furthermore, most government officials aren’t democratically voted in.  For example, we the public have no influence on who becomes a CIA director.  And yet a CIA director has more power than the vast majority of elected officials.  By giving so much power to these alphabet agencies, we are setting democracy up for being taken over by non-democratic forces.  All that it takes is a couple of people with aspirations of power and then democracy would be gone in a heartbeat.  Secret agencies and democracy are absolutely opposed to eachother.  I’d even suggest that as long as secret agencies exist democracy doesn’t.  It’s as simple as that.  There can’t be a democracy without full disclosure and easy access to all information by any citizen, but this will never be.  The fact of the matter is that democracy is forever an unrealized ideal.  Those in power don’t want democracy and they never will allow it. 

Still, such lofty ideals make for good fodder for the propaganda machine.  The ironic thing is that the patriotic propaganda that declares democracy so righteously is that which ends up leading the country towards becoming the very enemy being demonized.  All the while “defending” democracy against terrorists, the government slowly takes away democratic freedom and the protections against civil rights infringement.  But this isn’t just an issue of American democracy.  This is a moral issue.  The number of innocents killed in the War on Terrorism immensely overshadows those killed by terrorists.  Even if the invasion of Iraq wasn’t based on a lie, it still remains that we’ve done more destruction to Iraq than Hussein ever had.  If Hussein was a bad guy, then what does that make us?

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower 

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