Saturday, August 24, 2013

American Propaganda

Today is Saturday, August 24, 2013.

According to Wikipedia, propaganda is "a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes."

 When I was growing up and learned the word propaganda, I had the impression that propaganda was false information about the United States that the communist government of the Soviet Union disseminated to her people.  In fact, when I first encountered the word, it was always in the expression, "Communist propaganda."  It's true that the people of the Soviet Union under Communist rule, China under Mao, and Cuba under Castro, for example, were systematically fed misinformation about the United States.  We know this because when people came to the United States from these countries, they often remarked that it was much different here from what they had been led to expect.  

I certainly never thought that my own country would engage in this type of practice, but when I lived in Japan, I was given to learn otherwise for myself.  Remember when Ronald Reagan was president, and U.S. forces went to Grenada, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean?  The Japanese newspapers were calling it an invasion, so when I called my mother, I asked about the invasion of Grenada.   

"Invasion?" she asked.  "What invasion?.... Oh! You mean the rescue mission!"  Sure enough, the military action that is now generally considered to be an invasion was being represented to the American people at the time as a rescue mission!  

The faces are caricatures of Adolf Hitler
and General Hideki Tojo.
It's easy now to see how we have used propaganda in our own country to influence the population against those who were perceived at the time to be our enemies.  During the World War II era, folks saw lots of posters defaming the Japanese and Germans.  One that I found warned against starting forest fires, with the insinuation that our enemies would be delighted if someone started a forest fire, and that anyone who started the fire was probably working in collusion with the enemy.

Another shows a caricature of General Tojo with elongated canine teeth, who says he's happy that a worker missed work and lost man-hours.  Another shows a lustful-looking Japanese soldier with a "fu-manchu mustache" holding a handgun, with a naked woman slung over his shoulder.  "This is the enemy!" says the poster.  

It didn't help matters any that the Japanese army did do a lot of senseless looting, killing and raping of women in China and Korea when they took over those countries.  In fact, when I was in Japan, I was told that after the emperor's surrender, Japanese were terribly afraid of the American troops, because they were afraid that they would behave like the Japanese army did in China and Korea.  The Japanese people were incredibly surprised when our troops were, for the most part, friendly and respectful.  When asked why the Japanese army behaved so abominably in Korea and China, one Japanese offered the opinion that that is what they thought invading armies were supposed to do! 

A poster about the German Nazis has a soldier with a swastika on his sleeve running a Bible through with a dagger, to give the impression that the Nazis were anti-Christian.  What they were was anti-Jewish, but so were the Americans, unfortunately, so an image of a soldier running a dagger through a depiction of the Torah would not have done the trick. 

Interestingly enough, German people tolerated the Nazis because they were supposed to be getting rid of the Jews in order to protect Christians from the Christ-killers.  Of course, nobody said that any of this actually makes sense.  The idea is to appeal to people's emotions, particularly their fears.  

If you think propaganda is no longer used, think again.  The government doesn't even have to do it these days, because it is done for them by organizations with an axe to grind.  There is an element in American society that is vehemently anti-Muslim, and they have made a lot of noise ever since two planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York in 2001.  

It's one thing to fear terrorists, although that has probably been overdone, but it's quite another thing to fear that the whole country will be taken over lock, stock and barrel by the Muslims, when there are only two Muslims in the entire 113th Congress.  The poster on the right shows the irrational fear that American public schools will somehow be subject to Sharia Law, for some reason.  (Most non-Muslim people couldn't even tell you what Sharia Law is, to save their own lives, and few know that it is not one single document all written down in one place.)

An organization called American Freedom Defense Initiative, headed by right-wing, anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, has put up ads like the one at left in subway stations operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York.  The ad takes a verse from the Quran out of context, next to a photo of the burning World Trade Center towers.  (For what it's worth, the Christian Bible also speaks of dire consequences for unbelievers.)

A group of "concerned citizens," in New York has been plastering these Geller ads with signs of their own that say, Caution (or Warning). This is war propaganda.  You're the target."

I think it's a good sign that more people are generally a little less susceptible to extremist propaganda nowadays, but there is always subtle propaganda that goes unnoticed.  

The Upworthy web site published a great video showing scenes from Afghanistan, in which Afghans are shown as they are, and not as "the enemy."  The photojournalists who created the video said that they were aware that Iraq was also unfairly portrayed while U.S. troops were fighting there.  You can watch the short film about Afghanistan here.   :-)

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