Flying the Flag, Faking the News

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Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, is said to have invented
modern propaganda. During the first world war, he was one of a group
of influential liberals who mounted a secret government campaign
to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath
in Europe. In his book, Propaganda,
published in 1928, Bernays wrote that the "intelligent manipulation
of the organized habits and opinions of the masses was an important
element in democratic society" and that the manipulators "constitute
an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country."
Instead of propaganda, he coined the euphemism "public relations."

American tobacco industry hired Bernays to convince women they should
smoke in public. By associating smoking with women’s liberation,
he made cigarettes "torches of freedom." In 1954, he conjured
a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the
democratically-elected government, whose social reforms were threatening
the United Fruit company’s monopoly of the banana trade. He called
it a "liberation."

was no rabid right-winger. He was an elitist liberal who believed
that "engineering public consent" was for the greater
good. This was achieved by the creation of "false realities"
which then became "news events." Here are examples of
how it is done these days:

The last US combat troops have left Iraq "as promised,
on schedule," according to President Barack Obama. TV screens
have filled with cinematic images of the "last US soldiers"
silhouetted against the dawn light, crossing the border into Kuwait.

They are still there. At least 50,000 troops will continue to operate
from 94 bases. American air assaults are unchanged, as are special
forces’ assassinations. The number of "military contractors"
is currently 100,000 and rising. Most Iraqi oil is now under direct
foreign control.

BBC presenters and reporters have described the departing
US troops as a "sort of victorious army" that has achieved
"a remarkable change in [Iraq’s] fortunes." Their commander,
General David Petraeus, is a "celebrity," "charming,"
"savvy" and "remarkable."

There is no victory of any sort. There is a catastrophic disaster;
and attempts to present it as otherwise are a model of Bernays’
campaign to "re-brand" the slaughter of the first world
war as "necessary" and "noble." In 1980, Ronald
Reagan, running for president, re-branded the invasion of Vietnam,
in which up to three million people died, as a "noble cause,"
a theme taken up enthusiastically by Hollywood. Today’s Iraq war
movies have a similar purging theme: the invader as both idealist
and victim.

It is not known how many Iraqis have died. They are
"countless" or maybe "in the tens of thousands."

As a direct consequence of the Anglo-American led invasion,
a million Iraqis have died. This figure from Opinion Research Business
is based on peer-reviewed research led by Johns Hopkins University
in Washington DC, whose methods were secretly affirmed as "best
practice" and "robust" by the Blair government’s
chief scientific adviser, as revealed in a Freedom of Information
search. This figure is rarely reported or presented to "charming"
and "savvy" American generals. Neither is the dispossession
of four million Iraqis, the malnourishment of most Iraqi children,
the epidemic of mental illness and the poisoning of the environment.

The British economy has a deficit of billions which
must be reduced with cuts in public services and regressive taxation,
in a spirit of "we’re all in this together."

We are not in this together. What is remarkable about this public
relations triumph is that only 18 months ago the diametric opposite
filled TV screens and front pages. Then, in a state of shock, truth
was unavoidable, if briefly. The Wall Street and City of London
financiers’ trough was on full view for the first time, along with
the venality of once celebrated snouts. Billions in public money
went to inept and crooked organizations known as banks, which were
spared debt liability by their Labour government sponsors.

a year, record profits and personal bonuses were posted, and state
and media propaganda had recovered its equilibrium. Suddenly, the
"black hole" was no longer the responsibility of the banks,
whose debt is to be paid by those not in any way responsible: the
public. The received media wisdom of this "necessity"
is now a chorus, from the BBC to the Sun. A masterstroke,
Bernays would surely say.

The former government minister Ed Miliband offers a
"genuine alternative" as leader of the British Labour

Miliband, like his brother David, the former foreign secretary,
and almost all those standing for the Labour leadership, is immersed
in the effluent of New Labour. As a New Labour MP and minister,
he did not refuse to serve under Blair or speak out against Labour’s
persistent warmongering. He now calls the invasion of Iraq a "profound
mistake." Calling it a mistake insults the memory and the dead.
It was a crime, of which the evidence is voluminous. He has nothing
new to say about the other colonial wars, none of them mistakes.
Neither has he demanded basic social justice: that those who caused
the recession clear up the mess and that Britain’s fabulously rich
corporate minority be seriously taxed, starting with Rupert Murdoch.

course, the good news is that false realities often fail when the
public trusts its own critical intelligence, not the media. Two
classified documents recently released by WikiLeaks express the
CIA’s concern that the populations of European countries, which
oppose their governments’ war policies, are not succumbing to the
usual propaganda spun through the media. For the rulers of the world,
this is a conundrum, because their unaccountable power rests on
the false reality that no popular resistance works. And it does.

3, 2010

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His latest book is Freedom
Next Time: Resisting the Empire

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