The Sovietizing of American War Propaganda

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“One of our American guests is missing.”

That is the Pashtun-language caption to a leaflet air-dropped by U.S. forces onto villages near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

The leaflets, which request help in finding a U.S. soldier who was captured by Taliban forces in June, depict another American soldier sitting on the ground chatting amicably with a group of Afghan children.

This is a particularly nauseating specimen of a familiar propaganda trope: “The foreign soldier is your best and truest friend!” It was used by the occupation forces of the Nazis and the Soviets, and memorably satirized in the campy (but occasionally perceptive) 1980s science fiction mini-series V (a remake is scheduled for this fall), in which an alien army of occupation insisted on being called the “Visitors” — which isn’t much different from American invaders of Afghanistan referring to themselves as “guests.”

Think of it for a second: If a gang invaded your home, set fire to several rooms, killed several of your family members, and then decided to stay for a while, would you refer to such people as “guests”?

Another leaflet distributed in the villages ominously warns the residents not to tax the patience of their oh-so-benevolent “guests.” One side shows the forlorn and pathetic image of a soldier, his head bowed in exhaustion and pain; the other shows a team of soldiers kicking in the door of a house. The caption reads: “If you do not free the Americans soldier, then … you will be hunted.” (The last word can be translated as either “hunted” or “targeted.”)

In keeping with the self-serving conventions of official U.S. propaganda, the soldier is described as “kidnapped” — the victim of a criminal act — rather than “captured” as a prisoner of war.

Given that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have been carried out without a declaration of war, as the Constitution requires, the Afghans would be perfectly justified were they to emulate their supposed betters in Washington by referring to the soldier as a detained “unlawful enemy combatant.”

Of course, the easiest way to secure the release of the captured American soldier is also the morally appropriate course of action: Promise that once he’s safely in American hands, the foreign “guests” will go home. But this would injure the prestige, such as it is, of the Regime in Washington, which is infinitely more valuable to our rulers than any number of American or Afghan lives.

3:47 pm on July 18, 2009
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