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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on Lasswell

A followup on my earlier post. Robin Andersen wrote a couple of years ago about Lasswell's contribution to wartime propaganda:
Harold Lasswell’s 1927 study of WWI delineates key elements of war propaganda. Demonization of the enemy is essential in overcoming the strong “psychological resistances” to war in modern nations, “every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor (206).” When President Bush called Osama Bin Laden the Evil One, he seemed to have read Lasswell’s account of war rhetoric as a “how to” book. Lasswell states, “All the specific means of conquering the Evil One are, and should be, glorified.”

The category of evil eliminates ambiguity, history and international politics. Lasswell understood propaganda’s needs: “The war must not be due to a world system of conducting international affairs…but to the rapacity of the enemy. Guilt and guilelessness must be assessed geographically, and all the guilt must be on the other side of the frontier.” Political logics and failed diplomacy that lead to war, including competition for economic resources are denied: simple inherent evil must always be the cause. Propaganda always pits our “civilized way of life” against the enemy’s “barbarism.”

Mobilizing a collective sensibility of animosity toward an enemy requires that a variety of social inhibitions that exist in peacetime be dismantled. Society normally discourages crime motivated by visceral hatreds. In promoting state sanctioned violence, actions and qualities ascribed to the enemy must be so outside the bounds of acceptability, that reform and negotiation are not alternatives. The demonized enemy then stands conceptually outside the human family and can be killed with impunity.
Compare this to what aWol said Sunday night:
I see a global terrorist movement that exploits Islam in the service of radical political aims -- a vision in which books are burned, and women are oppressed, and all dissent is crushed. Terrorist operatives conduct their campaign of murder with a set of declared and specific goals -- to de-moralize free nations, to drive us out of the Middle East, to spread an empire of fear across that region, and to wage a perpetual war against America and our friends. These terrorists view the world as a giant battlefield -- and they seek to attack us wherever they can. This has attracted al Qaeda to Iraq, where they are attempting to frighten and intimidate America into a policy of retreat.

The terrorists do not merely object to American actions in Iraq and elsewhere, they object to our deepest values and our way of life. And if we were not fighting them in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia, and in other places, the terrorists would not be peaceful citizens, they would be on the offense, and headed our way.

September the 11th, 2001 required us to take every emerging threat to our country seriously, and it shattered the illusion that terrorists attack us only after we provoke them. On that day, we were not in Iraq, we were not in Afghanistan, but the terrorists attacked us anyway -- and killed nearly 3,000 men, women, and children in our own country. My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens, and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.
The same propaganda that worked for Wilson, Hitler, Johnson and Bush Sr. has worked, so far, for W. In war, many suffer and few prosper. But the few call the shots, and they use propaganda to con the many into supporting them. Again and again and again. People are SO ignorant.