Propaganda War: One Year Later
The Selling of America
GNN: How has propaganda changed over time? We bemoan it infiltrating the media today, but during World War II, the newsreels produced by the “press” were pretty much indistinguishable from the military’s objective.
Recall the now legendary Eisenhower outgoing speech of 1961 in which he said that our country must “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.” He’s famous for providing the military industrial complex (MID) to our lexicon, but I think he might have wanted to add another M. Today’s landscape, or at least the landscape of the last 50 years or more, is a military-media industrial complex (MMID). The military and media absorb the bulk of our research sources in technology. Anything that’s invested in information technology in the U.S. is first applied in the media and military sectors and then filters down eventually to the mass consumer society. Consumers are the last to get access to new technology that will make our lives freer and easier to challenge the power establishments.
Having said that, wartime propaganda in the 20th century and beyond has always been impacted by the American motion picture industry and American press. Can you imagine the propaganda potential of film with a captive audience of hundreds of millions in the early part of the last century alone?! In Phil Taylor’s book, Munitions of the Mind, he describes the massive film operation set up by the Office of War Information just months after the Pearl Harbor attack. What we used to call the U.S. War Department (now the Department of Defense) spent annually over $50 million on film production during World War II to propagate the message of the war both here and overseas. The famous Hollywood film director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), became Major Frank Capra during the war and was asked by General George C. Marshall to make the Why We Fight documentary war series. The free press is comprised of people like you and me who are just as subject to a swell of patriotism and ultra nationalism as is anyone else. I think we like to idealize that the press will truly separate its personal feelings about a story and report objectively, but World War II was the “Good War” and was thought then to end all wars. The American press worked in tandem with the military objectives of the U.S. Government as part of their sense of duty to country in wartime.
Today propaganda infiltration of the media system is more intense than ever. You certainly cannot turn to the Internet as a source of “the absolute truth” since the Internet functions as an open media system and is subject to the same rumormongering and gossip as a National Enquirer. The Internet, as media and democracy scholar Robert McChesney notes, is also being colonized by the corporate landscape. (That’s not to say that there aren’t some good critical sites and I do use the Internet regularly to conduct research, but always with an eye toward the source of the information.)