Our Democracy needs a war whether it wants one or not
During a rare moment of lucidity, while pretending to be a college student, I remember a professor talking about Helmuth von Moltke. This Prussian general had come to the United States to study the American Civil War. The lecturer mentioned how von Moltke had observed the railroads in America and went home to invest and make a killing in German trains. Von Moltke also had another observation. He contradicted any idea that the spread of democracy would lead to a more peaceful world. Rather, democracy would lead to mass armies as the whole nation would need to be involved in the war effort and the people propagandized for the national crusade.
Time has dulled my memory, so I do not claim to have the general's thoughts right. I have searched half-heartedly to find his writings on the subject and failed. Even so, I think World Wars I and II proved the point sufficiently.
The thesis of the necessity of mass propaganda would seem to validate Chomsky and Herman's Manufacturing Consent. I have not read it, but from what I have gleaned elsewhere, the media narratives serve the interest of the elite however that is defined politically and socially.
To elucidate the concept, we only need to list the wars of the U.S. Almost all of them have a propaganda surge before the conflict begins.
High school history classes usually present The War of 1812 as a crusade for freedom of the seas. There is little mention that the conquest of Canada was a pet project of Henry Clay and others in the group known as the war hawks.
The Mexican War was also contrived. The narrative is the heroic Texicans won their freedom, joined the Union and then resisted Mexican aggression and the Southwest became part of the US.
As evidence against the accepted version, we have the words of no less than General and later President Grant:
"For myself," Grant wrote later about the United States war against Mexico, "I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."
The Spanish American war is another example. An explosion sunk our ship in Havana Harbor and "Remember the Maine" became the battlecry for war. It was used to push the declaration even though there was no evidence of Spanish guilt.
The next adventure for our nation was World War I. This would be a real test for having to gin up the propaganda machine.
President Woodrow Wilson spent his first administration not getting involved in the murderous conflict waging in Europe. The campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war” got him re-elected. Scarcely a month back in office and he asked congress to declare war on Germany for sinking British shipping. Kind of a contrived rationale, but when you figure you are the man to end war and make the world safe for democracy, why quibble.
How did the country feel about the war? After the United States entered the conflict, the crusade didn’t have a Deus Vult moment. Wilson wanted a million-man army of volunteers, but after six weeks only 73,000 had signed up.
What Wilson was selling, few were buying.
The war was sold to the American populace by an official team of war promoters. One of them was the Irish-American entertainer, George M. Cohan. His stirring anthem, “Over There” is still played today. It is a great tune, but even so, a draft was necessary. Hey, somebody was going to have to pull the Anglo-French chestnuts out of the fire.
Despite getting us into a ridiculous war, Wilson was considered a great president by many historians even with over 100,000 deaths. It is only lately that he has been somewhat canceled as he was a racial bigot. As to which is worse, a pile of corpses or prejudice we will leave to the moral police of which there is no dearth in our country.
That his program was a failure never mattered even though none of the goals were achieved. His League of Nations was useless.
What could top "The Great War?" That would be World War II.
Prior to the war, there was the America First Movement. It was big and popular, but some of its spokesmen were easy to condemn for possible antisemitism.
Its core idea, no involvement in the world war, would retain majority sentiment up until December 7, but would not continue after. There is a key element that one should be ever mindful of.
A physical attack on the nation does wonders for war.
Korea was the first war of my boomer generation and most of us were not conscious of it. It was done without a declaration and under UN auspices. It was not popular and Ike became president because he said he would go to Korea and work to end it.
Vietnam was next. It would be fought with a draft in effect. This would not go well. A college education was sold to American families as the step up to get into or stay in the middle class. How true that was societally can be debated, but there was another aspect of post-secondary education that appealed to the young, it was fun.
Add to that the fact that there was no attack on American territory. There was the Tonkin Gulf incident, but it was a bit weak and would, on later examination, be found fraudulent.
The protests and resistance to the draft did not end the war, but did end conscription.
The war itself ended through negotiations and once the cease fire was in place and we left, everyone knew we were not going back.
There were a few lessons from Vietnam that the U.S. establishment took to heart.
Without a draft, the country had to be somewhat careful about the wars it was involved in. Small scale actions such as Grenada and Panama were not a problem, but large-scale wars had to be carefully considered. Thus we had the Powell doctrine about clear objectives and all that.
Not to be forgotten was the all-important propagandizing of the American people. This was not done very honestly in Gulf War I when the lie of babies being taken out of incubators was told before Congress and on 60 Minutes by Nayirah, who later turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador.
No one stopped to ask, why the heck would the Iraqis invade a country for incubators?
Still, it was used to sell a war of no value to a credulous nation.
No one needed to "sell" the invasion of Afghanistan, 911 worked that magic. As to was the invasion done intelligently or did we overstay, that is another story.
Gulf War II was going to be a harder sell. At least in the previous conflict, Iraq had invaded someone. Now something had to be made up out of whole cloth.
A few items were run up the flagpole to see who saluted. Anthrax was tried and was found wanting which should have gotten the skeptic juices flowing.
No matter, the grand coalition of media and academia was up to the task. It was loud and constant from Fox to most of NPR.
There was Colin Powell's testimony before the UN. A shoddy performance that would damage U.S. credibility. Bush and his neocon clique were going to invade anyway.
Syria and Libya had their own lies (Assad and chemical weapons were a scam, though still asserted), but as sideshows are little remembered.
So, here we are today. There is a land war in Europe and the official narrative is that one nation invaded another for no reason other than naked aggression.
In light of the untruths and obfuscation used to sell previous foreign policy debacles, one might be a little miffed to find out that, according to an article in The Hill by Caroline Vakil dated 4/26/2022 Close to 75 percent of Americans back the United States assisting in supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Except, there is a reason for such lopsided support.
As someone who has been observing American media to before the Vietnam War, I can say without qualification, the hype and propaganda surrounding the war in Ukraine has been the biggest effort I've experienced in my life, and there has been a lot over the years.
From before the invasion until now, the media has been beating the war drums.
A few days before the invasion, WBUR had a piece on how horrible things were for Ukraine and was centered on the Boston area ethnic community. On February 14, Tiziana Dearing hosted a soulful segment about how the Ukrainian Community was doing, well, more like feeling. It was essentially a commercial for Ukraine on non-commercial radio.
I watched Roadrunner, the movie about the life of Anthony Bourdain. Part of the deal is you have to watch commercials interspersed during the show. They show the same sales pitches several times. One of the pitches is for CNN (Roadrunner is a CNN film).
Jake Tapper and other CNNers were on the ground in Ukraine, so it seemed, and broadcasting. As above, it was a commercial, and it was not subtle.
News coverage is constantly talking about how the Russians are losing and the Ukes heroic. There was the Ghost of Kiev who shot down five Russian jets. Only problem, he didn't exist. The Snake Island incident was of the soldiers who went down fighting except for the part where they had surrendered and were well treated by the Russkies.
Local talk radio is part of the drumbeat. Out driving in the morning, there was the pleasure of listening to local drive time guy, Hank Stoltz psychoanalyze Putin.
I'm no psychiatrist so I cannot judge other than to say I am not impressed with the mental balance of American pundits.
What can one conclude?
The American media tends to be hawkish, other than that short interlude during the later stages of Vietnam and for a while after (see: Why is the Wartime Press So Hawkish? By Mark Hannah).
The American people can be proselytized to support U.S. foreign policy, but don't seem to be anxious for "boots on the Ground."
World War II and 911 well make the case that a large-scale attack is necessary for the people to be willing to see their countrymen and women deployed in significant numbers.
Unlike the wars with mass participation, we have no boots on the ground, but coverage is vast as if this were existential right now.
That the country is currently undergoing an onslaught of propaganda to support one side in an East European war with no investigation as to the case for the other side should give the thoughtful citizen pause, but that is a problem with democracy.
Meanwhile, there is no little fanaticism among the herd.