• How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy; Hide the Bodies)

    July 15, 2017 // 24 Comments »

    unclesam


    Sustaining America’s state of post-9/11 perpetual war requires skillful manipulation of the public at home. The key tool used for this purpose is the bloodless narrative, a combination of policy, falsehoods and media manipulation that creates the impression that America’s wars have few consequences, at least for Americans.

    How can the American government sustain its wars in the face of dead soldiers coming home? Why is there no outcry among the American people over these losses? The answer is the narrative of bloodless war.


    The Dead

    The bloodless war narrative’s solution to the dead is a policy of don’t look, don’t tell.

    Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense for George H. W. Bush, helped decide in 1991 the first Iraq War would play better if Americans did not see their fallen return home. He recalled the images of coffins from the 1989 invasion of Panama on television, transposed against the president speaking of victory, and banned media from Dover Air Force Base, where deceased American personnel would arrive from the Persian Gulf.

    The ban at Dover lasted 18 years, past George Bush 2.0 and Iraq War 2.0, overturned only in 2009, well after the casualty counts dropped off. Even then, allowing cameras at Dover was left at the discretion of the families, except of course when the president needed a blood-stirring photo op. Obama took one just before ordering the surge in Afghanistan.

    Death, when it is reluctantly acknowledged, must still follow the bloodless narrative as closely as possible. Death must be for a good cause, freedom if possible, “for his buddies” later when public opinion weakens.

    There is no better example in recent times than the death of Pat Tillman, America’s once-walking propaganda dream. Tillman was a professional football player making a $3.6 million salary. Following 9/11, he gave that all up, and volunteered for combat. When he died in Afghanistan, the Army told his family he’d been killed by enemy fire after courageously charging up a hill to protect his fellow soldiers.

    It was of course the right thing to say to support the narrative, but it was a lie.

    A month later, the Pentagon notified Tillman’s family he had actually died as a result of friendly fire. The month placed the non-narrative news safely after Tillman’s memorial service and in the fog of faded media interest. Later investigations revealed the Army likely knew the death was by friendly fire within days.

    The Physically Wounded
    For all the trouble the dead cause to the bloodless narrative, the wounded are even messier. They still walk around, sometimes speak to journalists, and, well, do not always look bloodless.

    The Honolulu side of Waikiki beach is anchored by a hotel run by the Department of Defense as a low-cost vacation destination for servicepeople. While some of the grounds are public by Hawaiian law, the hotel itself is off limits.

    I used to have a government ID that let me in. Inside, who is a soldier? The buff bodies stand out against the beached whale look more popular among regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans – browned faces with pale white limbs – betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    But sometimes it is a missing limb on a 20-year-old, or a face that looks like raw bacon. Could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, but I doubt it. The burns sketched precisely where the helmet had, and had not, been, a map of pain.

    That’s on the inside. When we as outsiders see images of the wounded, they instead follow the narrative. Brave troopers, with their state-of-the-art prosthetic limbs, are shown skiing, surfing or working out. Some featured amputees even demand to return to active duty. They show off their new limbs, some decorated with decals from their favorite sports teams. They are brave and they are strong.

    The inside story is again very different. A recent book by Ann Jones, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars, fills in what the narrative omits. As a summation, Jones offers the haiku of one military trauma nurse: “Amputees up to the waist. No arms. No legs. No genitals. Age 21 or 22. We cry.”


    The Mentally Wounded
    Military suicides have made it through the screen of bloodless narrative, but just barely, thanks to the Hollywood-ization of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    Where we need clarity, we get tropes, such as the freaked-out-at-home scenes in Hurt Locker and American Sniper. Not to say those things don’t happen (they do) but to say those types of scenes are incomplete, giving enough info to arouse sympathy without actually being too alarming. As Ann Jones points out, such treatment of PTSD is “useful in raising citizen sympathy for soldiers, defusing opposition to Washington’s wars, and generally medicalizing problems that might raise inconvenient political and moral issues.”

    At the same time, another non-Hollywood narrative bubbles just below the surface, that some vets are exaggerating or outright faking it. PTSD inherits all of our stigmas toward mental illness, and that dilutes the bad news.

    One way of not knowing is not to look for the answers at all. The narrative says we should be like Mafia bosses’ kids, who never ask what Daddy does for a living despite our big house and fancy cars.


    When the Narrative Fails
    During the year I spent in Iraq, the only deaths experienced by the Army units I was embedded with were suicides.

    The death I was most familiar with was a young Private, who put his assault rifle into his mouth. No one back home saw what I saw, because they were not supposed to see: the fan spray of blood and brain on the wall, already being washed off as I arrived to look.

    These things are not unspeakable, we just don’t want to talk about them, and the bloodless narrative says we don’t have to. That keeps it alive. Because when the narrative fails, the wars tend to end.

    For example, in 1969, Life magazine published a famous edition consisting entirely of portraits of the Americans who died in Vietnam that week. Many subscribers canceled, but many more looked for the first time outside the narrative. The war found its end.

    In another conflict, President Bill Clinton pulled American troops out of Somalia after a photo showed crowds cheering a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That image dogged American war mongering until it could be cleaned up by the bloodless narrative of Gulf War 1.0.

    We are no longer likely to see those nasty pictures. The military has become more skillful at manipulating the media, even as the media has become more compliant. In the X-rated world of war, most of the media refuses to budge from family fare.

    The military-media symbiosis is just one more tool that feeds the narrative. As long as Americans are convinced of the bloodlessness of perpetual war, the wars will go on.



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Propaganda: Imperial Japan and Modern Day

    June 9, 2017 // 10 Comments »

    beheading


    There are basically only two messages in propaganda: our side is good, strong and will win, and their side is evil, weak and will lose. Everything else is just music and narration.


    So to demonstrate how little propaganda statements towards whomever happens to be America’s enemy of the time change, let’s have a look at the 1943 propaganda film here, made to help stir up Americans for the long fight ahead to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. Everybody likes Japan now, but remember the country that now makes our anime, manga and weird porn used to want to conquer us, even going as far as beheading hostages (sound familiar?)

    The Video



    What We Learn

    In the video we learn many things about the evil Japanese (and ISIS):

    — They are fighting a “Holy War” against the West (no change with ISIS);

    — They are trying to establish a world government with everyone living their austere, Emperor-worshipping lifestyle, with their harsh laws (substitute Caliphate);

    — They fight “fanatically,” and are willing to give their lives for the Emperor, believing Shinto paradise awaits them (substitute Allah and the same Paradise, less virgins on the Japanese side);

    — You “cannot measure the way Japanese think by any Western standard. While their weapons are modern, their thinking and beliefs are 2000 years out of date” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese believe they have a “sacred duty” to fight for the Emperor against all others (ISIS, infidels, Allah, you get it)

    — They are “fanatics, and we must kill them before they destroy our way of life” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese are not nice to their women (no change with ISIS);

    — They hate us (no change with ISIS);

    — They behead hostages (no change with ISIS)



    The Long Con

    Now, this all begs the question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today via the mass media about ISIS, does that tell us something? Is it that our enemies, as varied as Imperial Japan and ISIS across some sixty-five years of conflicts, are just so much alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it goes to the same playbook? After all, what works, works.


    Why reinvent the scam?



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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    CNN Celebrates Iraqi Housewife Who Beheaded and Then Cooked the Skulls of ISIS fighters

    October 4, 2016 // 21 Comments »

    cnn


    When Islamic State beheads someone it is terrorism. When an Iraqi housewife beheads an ISIS fighter and cooks his skull, it is freedom. That is the CNN doctrine.


    CNN reports the story of 39-year-old Wahida Mohamed aka Um Hanadi, an Iraqi woman who supposedly leads a tribal militia force of around 70 men south of Mosul. She and her band allegedly helped “government forces” drive Islamic State out of a small town.

    “I began fighting the terrorists in 2004, working with Iraqi security forces and the coalition,” she told CNN. CNN cites no other source other than Um Hanadi herself and Facebook in its coverage.

    As a result, Um Hanadi said, she attracted the wrath of what eventually became al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which later morphed into ISIS. “I received threats from the top leadership of ISIS, including from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself,” she says. “I’m at the top of their most wanted list, even more than the [Iraqi] Prime Minister.”

    Um Hanadi stated al Qaeda/AQI/ISIS planted car bombs outside her home in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014.

    Along the way, her first husband was killed in action. She remarried, but ISIS killed her second husband. ISIS also killed her father and three brothers. They also killed, she added, her sheep, her dogs and her birds, and tried to otherwise assassinate her six times.



    Where Has Um Hanadi Been Hiding All These Years?

    Despite her claim to have worked with the U.S. coalition, to be higher on the ISIS hit list than the Prime Minister, to have been the target of multiple bombing attempts, and to be a very, very, very rare example of a Muslim woman leading Muslim men in combat, I could not find any references to Um Hanadi that predate the CNN report. Um Hanadi does have a self-created social media presence which she updates between battles.

    In addition, Um Hanadi may be the luckiest person in Iraq, apparently cheating death on a near-daily basis.

    CNN did not explain in its coverage how it came to locate and interview Um Hanadi amid the chaos of present-day Iraq.



    The Beheadings

    Now, on to the beheadings.

    CNN quotes Um Hanadi as saying of ISIS “I fought them. I beheaded them. I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies.” CNN states “She made no excuses, nor attempted to rationalize this. It was delivered as a boast, not a confession.”

    “This is all documented,” she said. “You can see it on my Facebook page.”

    The CNN reporter wrote that he indeed checked her Facebook page and saw photos, and though he could not verify them, still “got the point.”

    Comment

    This is propaganda of the worst, and most infantile, kind. In addition to the broad question of whether or not any of this is even true, the question of who set CNN up to meet with Um Hanadi is left unanswered. That CNN would run this story on its television news, and website, is a shameful descent into the decaying corpse of the First Amendment. Media around the globe, including the once venerable New York Times, have reprinted the story.

    Lastly is the horrific idea that atrocities such as beheading people are somehow right when an anti-ISIS person does it, and justification for an entire undeclared war by the U.S. when ISIS does it.

    CNN have you no shame? Hah, trick question, you bast*rds really don’t, do you?





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    We’re Winning the War Against ISIS! Maybe? On Social Media?

    September 22, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    isis twitter.resized


    Now if we can just stop them from blowing stuff up all the time, this thing is in the bag.



    Social Media Uber Alles

    Despite the reality that propaganda in wartime is as old as dirt, America collectively is freaking out because a lot of ISIS’ takes place on social media. The elderly and feeble who run our government do not understand The Online gizmos and thus are terrified of them and declare they must be turned off with a big switch somewhere.

    The young who serve them and understand little outside their own online bubbly life, all want to get ahead and so are eager to “engage” in online warfare with ISIS as if it was all just a cooler version of Pokemon Go.

    So it was without meaning or surprise that the Obama Administration announced that Twitter traffic to pro-ISIS accounts has fallen 45 percent in the past two years.



    American Strikes Back in the Twitter Wars

    See, two years ago the administration put together an international coalition that’s mostly just America to fight ISIS, with one of the goals being to discourage the popularity of the group online. The “coalition” has been unsuccessful, making “gaffes” that seem, um, amateur. For example, a lot of the content was written solely in English, which sort of didn’t help in that a lot of ISIS people read only Arabic or whatever Chechens speak.

    The State Department, who is in charge of all this media-ing, also spent $1.5 million of your taxpayer money earlier this year making a TV drama for Afghans saying ISIS is bad. Silicon Valley executives even met with top government officials to “game out” strategies to counter Islamic State online.

    There’s been ever so much “messaging” over the last two years. One example is that in honor of #HumanRightsDay 2015, the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” program Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a discredited Islamophobe who says things like Islam itself is a death cult. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.

    Also, in a whole-of-government effort, everyone calls ISIS “Daesh,” which supposedly is a meany word in Arabic. I guess the idea is that in a war for minds, sending every ISIS fighter to bed angry at being called a name by the Secretary of State is a thing.



    But It’s All Better Now

    According to an Administration spokesperson, the coalition now uses “memes” — like a teddy bear that says ISIS “slaughters childhood” — written in Arabic. And Anonymous declared war on ISIS with, most recently, a member shaming ISIS by hacking their accounts and posting sexy photos of women. The same group once hacked an ISIS web site and replaced it with a Viagra ad. Laffs!

    The only problem of course is that ISIS seems to have no problem recruiting people to replace those killed by the “coalition.” Could it be… that U.S. actions on the ground stomping on Muslims, and U.S. actions from the air droning women and children, and U.S. actions garrisoning Muslim lands, could possibly play more of a role in ISIS recruitment than 140 characters on Twitter?




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    U.S. Drops Pink Floyd-Inspired, Anti-IS leaflet in Syria

    May 13, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    4 T


    You’d be forgiven if the anti-IS leaflet pictured below reminds you of images from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, you know, the whole meat grinder meets Ralph Steadman thing.

    This graphic, however, is part of America’s multi-billion dollar effort to defeat Islamic State, so it is not intended to be weirdly amusing, even though it is. Somehow, this is actually serious.

    An American F-15E pilot risked his life to drop 60,000 copies of the leaflet on Raqqa, Syria, the base of operations for the Islamic State. Al Jazeera’s translation says the image shows a “Daesh Employment Office” (Daesh is a pejorative nickname for IS in the Arab world, so nah nah poopy heads!) as two Floyd-esque IS recruiters feed young men into a meat grinder with “Daesh” written in blood on its side.




    When asked about the intended message of the leaflet, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, said “If you allow yourself to be recruited by Daesh, you will find yourself in a meat grinder.” Warren said the leaflet was created by the Army’s Military Information Support Operations, formerly known as PSY-OPS.

    The theory of course was that some young man who is otherwise being bombed day and night by the U.S. and/or his own government and/or some rival militant group, will pick up the leaflet from among the other trash strewn all over the streets, glance at the whacky comic, and decide that instead of joining Islamic State he’ll, whatever, finally start in on that art history degree at community college his mom is always bugging him about.


    Surprisingly, some experts have questioned the efficacy of the leaflet.

    Faysal Itani, a Fellow at the Atlantic Center in Washington who studies the various groups fighting in Syria’s war, said anyone in Raqqa thinking of joining IS is either ideologically committed or coerced. “Members of the first category are likely immune to leaflet propaganda, especially if distributed by an air force that has been bombing Raqqa,” Itani said. The rest, he said, would join out of financial necessity, the need for protection, or because they were forced to do so.

    News Flash to America: Dying for Islamic State, that whole jihadi thingie, is kind of what most recruits expect.







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    Getting Off on War Porn

    March 2, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    sniper

    In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

    Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand).American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.

    There’s Only One War Movie

    Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda.  It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks.  Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us.

    Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains.

    Like propaganda films and sexual pornography, Hollywood movies about America at war have changed remarkably little over the years. Here’s the basic formula, from John Wayne in the World War II-era Sands of Iwo Jima to today’s American Sniper:

    *American soldiers are good, the enemy bad. Nearly every war movie is going to have a scene in which Americans label the enemy as “savages,” “barbarians,” or “bloodthirsty fanatics,” typically following a “sneak attack” or a suicide bombing. Our country’s goal is to liberate; the enemy’s, to conquer. Such a framework prepares us to accept things that wouldn’t otherwise pass muster. Racism naturally gets a bye; as they once were “Japs” (not Japanese), they are now “hajjis” and “ragheads” (not Muslims or Iraqis). It’s beyond question that the ends justify just about any means we might use, from the nuclear obliteration of two cities of almost no military significance to the grimmest sort of torture. In this way, the war film long ago became a moral free-fire zone for its American characters.

    *American soldiers believe in God and Country, in “something bigger than themselves,” in something “worth dying for,” but without ever becoming blindly attached to it. The enemy, on the other hand, is blindly devoted to a religion, political faith, or dictator, and it goes without saying (though it’s said) that his God — whether an emperor, Communism, or Allah — is evil. As one critic put it back in 2007 with just a tad of hyperbole, “In every movie Hollywood makes, every time an Arab utters the word Allah… something blows up.”

    *War films spend no significant time on why those savages might be so intent on going after us. The purpose of American killing, however, is nearly always clearly defined. It’s to “save American lives,” those over there and those who won’t die because we don’t have to fight them over here. Saving such lives explains American war: in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, for example, the main character defuses roadside bombs to make Iraq safer for other American soldiers. In the recent World War II-themed Fury, Brad Pitt similarly mows down ranks of Germans to save his comrades. Even torture is justified, as in Zero Dark Thirty, in the cause of saving our lives from their nightmarish schemes. In American Sniper, shooter Chris Kyle focuses on the many American lives he’s saved by shooting Iraqis; his PTSD is, in fact, caused by his having “failed” to have saved even more. Hey, when an American kills in war, he’s the one who suffers the most, not that mutilated kid or his grieving mother — I got nightmares, man! I still see their faces!

    *Our soldiers are human beings with emotionally engaging backstories, sweet gals waiting at home, and promising lives ahead of them that might be cut tragically short by an enemy from the gates of hell. The bad guys lack such backstories. They are anonymous fanatics with neither a past worth mentioning nor a future worth imagining. This is usually pretty blunt stuff. Kyle’s nemesis in American Sniper, for instance, wears all black. Thanks to that, you know he’s an insta-villain without the need for further information. And speaking of lack of a backstory, he improbably appears in the film both in the Sunni city of Fallujah and in Sadr City, a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, apparently so super-bad that his desire to kill Americans overcomes even Iraq’s mad sectarianism.

    *It is fashionable for our soldiers, having a kind of depth the enemy lacks, to express some regrets, a dollop of introspection, before (or after) they kill. In American Sniper, while back in the U.S. on leave, the protagonist expresses doubts about what he calls his “work.” (No such thoughts are in the book on which the film is based.) Of course, he then goes back to Iraq for three more tours and over two more hours of screen time to amass his 160 “confirmed kills.”

    *Another staple of such films is the training montage. Can a young recruit make it? Often he is the Fat Kid who trims down to his killing weight, or the Skinny Kid who muscles up, or the Quiet Kid who emerges bloodthirsty. (This has been a trope of sexual porn films, too: the geeky looking guy, mocked by beautiful women, who turns out to be a superstar in bed.) The link, up front or implied, between sexuality, manhood, and war is a staple of the form. As part of the curious PTSD recovery plan he develops, for example, Kyle volunteers to teach a paraplegic vet in a wheelchair to snipe. After his first decent shot rings home, the man shouts, “I feel like I got my balls back!”

    *Our soldiers, anguished souls that they are, have no responsibility for what they do once they’ve been thrown into our wars.  No baby-killers need apply in support of America’s post-Vietnam, guilt-free mantra, “Hate the war, love the warrior.” In the film First Blood, for example, John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran who returns home a broken man. He finds his war buddy dead from Agent Orange-induced cancer and is persecuted by the very Americans whose freedom he believed he had fought for. Because he was screwed over in The ‘Nam, the film gives him a free pass for his homicidal acts, including a two-hour murderous rampage through a Washington State town. The audience is meant to see Rambo as a noble, sympathetic character. He returns for more personal redemption in later films to rescue American prisoners of war left behind in Southeast Asia.

    *For war films, ambiguity is a dirty word. Americans always win, even when they lose in an era in which, out in the world, the losses are piling up. And a win is a win, even when its essence is one-sided bullying as in Heartbreak Ridge, the only movie to come out of the ludicrous invasion of Grenada. And a loss is still a win in Black Hawk Down, set amid the disaster of Somalia, which ends with scenes of tired warriors who did the right thing. Argo — consider it honorary war porn — reduces the debacle of years of U.S. meddling in Iran to a high-fiving hostage rescue. All it takes these days to turn a loss into a win is to zoom in tight enough to ignore defeat. In American Sniper, the disastrous occupation of Iraq is shoved offstage so that more Iraqis can die in Kyle’s sniper scope. In Lone Survivor, a small American “victory” is somehow dredged out of hopeless Afghanistan because an Afghan man takes a break from being droned to save the life of a SEAL.

    In sum: gritty, brave, selfless men, stoic women waiting at home, noble wounded warriors, just causes, and the necessity of saving American lives. Against such a lineup, the savage enemy is a crew of sitting ducks who deserve to die. Everything else is just music, narration, and special effects. War pornos, like their oversexed cousins, are all the same movie.

    A Fantasy That Can Change Reality

    But it’s just a movie, right? Your favorite shoot-em-up makes no claims to being a documentary. We all know one American can’t gun down 50 bad guys and walk away unscathed, in the same way he can’t bed 50 partners without getting an STD. It’s just entertainment. So what?

    So what do you, or the typical 18-year-old considering military service, actually know about war on entering that movie theater? Don’t underestimate the degree to which such films can help create broad perceptions of what war’s all about and what kind of people fight it. Those lurid on-screen images, updated and reused so repetitively for so many decades, do help create a self-reinforcing, common understanding of what happens “over there,” particularly since what we are shown mirrors what most of us want to believe anyway.

    No form of porn is about reality, of course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t create realities all its own. War films have the ability to bring home emotionally a glorious fantasy of America at war, no matter how grim or gritty any of these films may look. War porn can make a young man willing to die before he’s 20. Take my word for it: as a diplomat in Iraq I met young people in uniform suffering from the effects of all this. Such films also make it easier for politicians to sweet talk the public into supporting conflict after conflict, even as sons and daughters continue to return home damaged or dead and despite the country’s near-complete record of geopolitical failures since September 2001. Funny thing: American Sniper was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture as Washington went back to war in Iraq in what you’d have thought would be an unpopular struggle.

    Learning From the Exceptions

    You can see a lot of war porn and stop with just your toes in the water, thinking you’ve gone swimming. But eventually you should go into the deep water of the “exceptions,” because only there can you confront the real monsters.

    There are indeed exceptions to war porn, but don’t fool yourself, size matters. How many people have seen American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, or Zero Dark Thirty? By comparison, how many saw the anti-war Iraq War film Battle for Haditha, a lightly fictionalized, deeply unsettling drama about an American massacre of innocent men, women, and children in retaliation for a roadside bomb blast?

    Timing matters, too, when it comes to the few mainstream exceptions. John Wayne’s The Green Berets, a pro-Vietnam War film, came out in 1968 as that conflict was nearing its bloody peak and resistance at home was growing. (The Green Berets gets a porn bonus star, as the grizzled Wayne persuades a lefty journalist to alter his negative views on the war.) Platoon, with its message of waste and absurdity, had to wait until 1986, more than a decade after the war ended.

    In propaganda terms, think of this as controlling the narrative. One version of events dominates all others and creates a reality others can only scramble to refute. The exceptions do, however, reveal much about what we don’t normally see of the true nature of American war. They are uncomfortable for any of us to watch, as well as for military recruiters, parents sending a child off to war, and politicians trolling for public support for the next crusade.

    War is not a two-hour-and-12-minute hard-on. War is what happens when the rules break down and, as fear displaces reason, nothing too terrible is a surprise. The real secret of war for those who experience it isn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible, but that you, too, can be filthy and horrible. You don’t see much of that on the big screen.

    The Long Con

    Of course, there are elements of “nothing new” here. The Romans undoubtedly had their version of war porn that involved mocking the Gauls as sub-humans. Yet in twenty-first-century America, where wars are undeclared and Washington dependent on volunteers for its new foreign legion, the need to keep the public engaged and filled with fear over our enemies is perhaps more acute than ever.

    So here’s a question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today about the Islamic State, and if Hollywood’s war films, themselves a particularly high-class form of propaganda, have promoted the same false images of Americans in conflict from 1941 to the present day, what does that tell us? Is it that our varied enemies across nearly three-quarters of a century of conflict are always unbelievably alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it always goes to the same script?




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    The Dumbest North Korea/”The Interview” Articles You’ll Read This Week

    December 30, 2014 // 14 Comments »

    North-Korean-Propaganda-Poster-01


    The competition was heavy, but the results are in: the dumbest article you’ll read this week about North Korea, and Seth Rogen’s ugly stain on his sheets The Interview, was published by the web site Business Insider. Second place goes to the Washington Post. Respect, bros.


    Psst… Wanna Buy a Copy of “The Interview?” Only $50…

    In a piece of turgid so-called journalism, Business Insider states “demand for The Interview has been shooting up among North Koreans. People are willing to pay almost $50 a copy of the movie…” The web site’s sole source for this information is an anti-Kim propaganda site, Free North Korea Radio, an online radio network run by North Korean defectors.

    The article mirrors an Op-Ed piece from the Washington Post, which tells us to “Think of the movie as Chernobyl for the digital age. Just as the nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union and the dangerously clumsy efforts to hide it exposed the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt, overseeing a superpower rusting from the inside, so does The Interview risk eroding the myths, fabrications and bluster that keep the Kim dynasty in power.”


    Let’s Break This Down

    As for the idea that there is any demand for The Interview, let alone a “shooting demand,” within North Korea, one wonders how people there might even have heard of the film. Aren’t we bombarded with constant tales about how information into the country is so tightly controlled, and of how the internet is available to a tiny handful of super-loyal people unlikely to be a fertile audience for an anti-Kim film full of adolescent jokes? And who’s got fifty bucks laying around in North Korea for a movie that if owned could send you to a labor camp for the rest of your life? Do you think the film is available on Betamax or LaserDisc or whatever 1980s format North Korea uses?

    For any news outlet to push out such nonsense, especially sourced only to an obvious propaganda site, is just sad.

    As for the Washington Post Op-Ed, really? After decades of economic sanctions and international shunning, it’ll be a stupid bro comedy that brings down the Kim dynasty that has held power since 1945? While we are at it, was it really the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that exposed “the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt?” Chernobyl happened in 1986; it was three full years later that the Berlin Wall came down, not exactly cause and effect. And the ascension to power of Mikhail Gorbachev also had some connection to the changes in the then-Soviet Union, apart from the nuclear mess.

    It is just possible the writer of that Op-Ed really doesn’t know what he is talking about. To be fair, maybe Wikipedia was broken the day he wrote his piece.


    So Why Publish Such Transparent Crap?

    Why publish such transparent crap? Because people want to believe it is true, and the media gives the people what they will pay for.

    In the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world where the U.S. flounders for purpose and staggers like an aged fighter who went into the ring one too many times, Americans want black and white villains. They want a nation-state, ruled by a Bond villain, to fight, and if they can’t have one they’ll allow one to be created. Remember how Saddam was portrayed pre-2003 invasion of Iraq?

    North Korea represents little threat to the United States (as with Saddam, or Syria’s Assad, or ISIS for that matter.) It is a small, isolated country. Granted, it has a nuke or two that might work, but no way to deliver them. Pakistan, on the Taliban’s doorstep if not in its lap, has a much more robust nuclear arsenal and missiles with which to deliver it. There are any number of “threshold” nations (Iran and Saudi come to mind) that could field nukes very quickly if desired. The U.S. wants nothing from North Korea — other than to be the evil super villain we all love to hate, the fat kid on the playground that is always fair game to bully. After all, other than a little bluster no one takes seriously, he never fights back.

    None of this is to say “fair and balanced” reporting on North Korea need tell us the trains run on time or that people are thrilled to be there. There is no doubt that North Korea is a dictatorship, like many that exist and some that the U.S. supports, which abuses its people. But fear-mongering and outright silly reporting accomplishes nothing but the churning of always-ready America jingoism, and distracts from real global issues at hand.

    After all, there was a reason circus freak shows were popular, and the phrase “dog and pony show” has an honored place in our vocabulary.



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    ISIS vs. Imperial Japan Propaganda Showdown

    November 7, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    beheading


    There are basically only two messages in propaganda: our side is good, strong and will win, and their side is evil, weak and will lose. Everything else is just music and narration.


    So to demonstrate how little propaganda statements towards whomever happens to be America’s enemy of the time change, let’s have a look at the 1943 propaganda film here, made to help stir up Americans for the long fight ahead to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. Everybody likes Japan now, but remember the country that now makes our anime, manga and weird porn used to want to conquer us, even going as far as beheading hostages (sound familiar?)

    The Video



    What We Learn

    In the video we learn many things about the evil Japanese (and ISIS):

    — They are fighting a “Holy War” against the West (no change with ISIS);

    — They are trying to establish a world government with everyone living their austere, Emperor-worshipping lifestyle, with their harsh laws (substitute Caliphate);

    — They fight “fanatically,” and are willing to give their lives for the Emperor, believing Shinto paradise awaits them (substitute Allah and the same Paradise, less virgins on the Japanese side);

    — You “cannot measure the way Japanese think by any Western standard. While their weapons are modern, their thinking and beliefs are 2000 years out of date” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese believe they have a “sacred duty” to fight for the Emperor against all others (ISIS, infidels, Allah, you get it)

    — They are “fanatics, and we must kill them before they destroy our way of life” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese are not nice to their women (no change with ISIS);

    — They hate us (no change with ISIS);

    — They behead hostages (no change with ISIS)



    The Long Con

    Now, this all begs the question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today via the mass media about ISIS, does that tell us something? Is it that our enemies, as varied as Imperial Japan and ISIS across some sixty-five years of conflicts, are just so much alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it goes to the same playbook? After all, what works, works.


    Why reinvent the scam?



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    Hilarious Anti-China U.S. Propaganda Smoked by Online Ad

    May 24, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently sort-of happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. The video explains how to become a Chinese spy so you don’t do that.

    If you’d like to see this 21st century version of those hygiene movies once shown in health classes across America (Reefer Madness for STDs), you need only drop by the Facebook page of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). What, you didn’t know that the U.S. government organization responsible for coordinating all spying for America had a Facebook page? Silly you. It’s here. We’ll leave the question of who the 23,000 people who “like” the page are aside for now.

    Instead, let’s enjoy the irony of the web. Playing inside the video warning American kids about being recruited as spies when they study abroad is in fact an ad encouraging Americans to study abroad. Look:




    See the ad, there on the bottom? Win for the internet.

    As a follow up, did the Chinese in fact place that ad to undermine the U.S. government’s efforts to get kids to stay at home? Or does the ad imply the close cooperation Google and Facebook warmly enjoy with the NSA helping them spy on Americans? Better yet, why does a video made and paid by taxpayer money have ads at all?

    Bottom Line: Americans, stay home. Ignorance of the world is a small price to pay. For Freedom.



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    The Real Tragedy in Afghanistan

    April 8, 2013 // 16 Comments »

    Blog The People’s Republic of Snarkistan cuts right to the heart of the tragedy in Afghanistan surrounding the death of State Department Foreign Service Officer Anne Smedinghoff this weekend:

    While Smedinghoff’s death is tragic, what’s more tragic is why she was in Qalat at all. She died on a mission meant to prop up the American people in the eyes of a country that doesn’t want us here anymore. Or at least prove to the American people that we are still doing G. W.’s good work, since the Afghan people aren’t buying it. From Karzai down to the “average” Afghan (who, not being as rich as a Karzai, only has the one name), the Afghan people have grown disillusioned as the early years of hope gave way to the understanding that the Americans were here to back a rogue’s gallery of war criminals and thugs, because, well, freedom. We were supposed to be different. To be better. But instead, we’ve replaced the old meritocracy with a new one, one that’s full of a lot of bad men.

    Smedinghoff was yet another casualty in the perception war, part of the “messaging” process, her role to ensure that the Afghans got the story that U.S. Embassy Public Affairs needed them to get. That’s not cynicism, but a gross acknowledgment of the pragmatism that drives these kinds of photo ops.

    Rather than ensuring that education officials in Zabul had the tools they needed to succeed, what happened instead was boilerplate Public Affairs/Public Diplomacy: get the press to the event, get the right pictures of the right kids and maybe get them saying the right things, then get the message out. In this case, the message is that the American people care deeply about the future of education for the Afghan people. It’s 2013: if we’re still having to hand out books for the photo op, we’re doing it wrong.

    It’s 2013: America’s legacy here post-2001 has already been written. There’s nothing a book drop can do to change that. Nothing we can do to rewrite the painful story the American involvement in Afghanistan. And now, there’s nothing we can do to bring Anne Smedinghoff back.


    If a more succinct version of America’s failure in nation building has been written, please send me a link.

    Anne Smedinghoff was also involved in the propaganda show that brought several young Afghan musicians to the U.S. this year to ensure Americans that the nation was well-loved.

    And on the same day Anne died, a NATO air strike in Afghanistan killed ten children.

    I mourn Anne’s death along with you, but mourn it doubly; not just for Anne’s own life so early taken, but for what she represented. I too do not doubt her good intentions and desire to do well in Afghanistan, but am angry that such a person ended up having her life taken from her for such an ignoble cause– U.S. failure in Afghanistan.

    By her death, she is thrust into the role of symbolism, and our job is to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that. I in no way suggest disengagement or isolationism, just the contrary. But America must do so with true intentions, not just as a series of photo ops and wasted lives.

    Diplomacy, yes, always. Propaganda at such a price no more.


    So now, in 2013, as the American Empire rolls over the top of the hill and begins its descent, this is what we sacrifice our young, bright and energetic for. It has reached the point for our nation where killing off young people in the cause of photo ops that are hollow and false makes some wicked sense. In that calculus, we are forever lost.

    Mark this day, historians.




    FYI, Here’s the U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s Twitter response to the death. No word on the killing of ten Afghan children the same day.






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    Very Sexy Videos from State Department

    November 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Very Sexy Videos from State Department

    Did you know your government has a propaganda arm? No, no, not Fox News, they’re independent, I’m talking actual Federal employees. They live and work inside the State Department (New motto once someone can figure out the Latin translation: “We’re Almost as Good as the Military”) and they make cartoon videos like this one:



    (Follow this link if the video embed does not work)

    The video cartoon has an Arabic title, which Google Translate (New motto once someone can figure out the Latin translation: “We’re Better than the State Department”) says is What did not know about the Arab spring – very sexy. To be fair, the “very sexy” part likely means “very interesting” though even the possibility of a misquote is for laffs.

    Anyway, even without understanding Arabic, watching the cartoons you can get State’s propaganda point, that Terror = Bad, Peace = Sexytime.

    Um, State, I know you’re all Hollywood on this and all, but if you’re looking for notes, here’s one: al Qaeda recruits are created by our drone attacks, collateral damage massacres at weddings and funerals, support for “friendly” dictators in Bahrain and Saudi, invasions and bombings of Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, etc.), not by cartoons. Memories of Abu Graidh tortures, Nissoor Square, the Black Hearts rape/murder and the like loom much larger in Muslim minds than cartoon images.

    Bottom Line: work on your Latin, this propaganda sucks.



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    Chicken Shit

    October 2, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    If you’ve surfed over from the excerpt from my book on TomDispatch, or you’ve read the chapter entitled “Chicken Shit” in the book, you know all about the $2.58 million failed chicken processing plant in Iraq your tax dollars paid for.

    But could you imagine the scene? To help out, here are some photos from the actual plant, including an image from the chicken beheading room not usually shown to visitors. Mmmm… tasty.





    Best of all, KPFK 90.7 FM in L.A radio host Jon Weiner located actual US Army propaganda video of the chicken plant.


    (If the video is not showing, follow this link)

    When watching the video (yeah, you tax dollars paid for that too), be sure to note the sign at the very beginning, and the line in the narration that says the plant employs 400 Iraqis. See if you can spot more than 10 working there.

    When we can’t even get the propaganda right, it is really time to go home troops.



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    Al Qaeda Magazine Online: Inspire

    May 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Al Qaeda Magazine Online: Inspire

    Speaking of American Citizen target al Awlaki, one of his alleged duties is to edit al Qaeda’s online magazine, Inspire. The magazine has been published on and off for the last two years, albeit to an audience mostly limited to US intelligence analysts.

    If you’d like to have a look yourself, the current issue is available. Scroll down to the bottom of that same page to find links to a couple of back issues.

    Interestingly, the mag sides with the US on wanting Gaddafi out of Libya, declaiming him as an apostate and criticizing his “rockstar” lifestyle. I’m guessing al Qaeda would prefer to see Gaddafi replaced by a different dude than the US, but for now, can’t we all just be friends?

    A “What to Expect in Jihad” feature helpfully emphasizes the need to be in shape, suggesting would-be terrorists start jogging. You don’t need to be a Carl Lewis, it says, but you do need to be able to run well enough to storm an enemy position.

    Actually, the mag is just boring. Needs some travel tips or recipes or more celebrity articles.



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    Bin Laden Porn Stash: Hubba Hubba

    May 19, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    You gotta figure that if anyone could find a porn stash in the middle of Pakistan, it’d be a bunch of sailors.

    You can be equally sure that the hard drives and computer gear taken from bin Laden’s house must be being analyzed in the most Wikileaks proof facility the US government has. So then how is it that everyone in the world now knows that the SEALS discovered loads of porn inside Dr. Evil’s lair?

    The US Government leaked the info.

    With all the secrecy around what was found with bin Laden, it is odd at first that our premiere look inside reveals the guy’s hard drives were loaded with porn. Media speculation throbbed with delight in wondering if he liked gay stuff, or pedophilia, or bestiality or corpo or shemales or BDSM or Trump sex or lesbian wrestling or amputee masturbation or futanari or sexy clowns or schoolgirl anime or… well, if you want more, just Google it yourself. Whatever bin Laden did or not have is available on your desktop anyway and your teenage kids have already seen it. Start with “Two Girls, One Cup” and digress from there. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    So why did the US leak that bin Laden had wank fodder, er, at hand? To discredit him, of course. The US seems to get some sort of self-pleasuring out of insinuating that world leaders we don’t like are sexual freaks. I guess the idea is that devout Muslims will think even less of Osama now that we all know he jerks the gherk even with three wives.

    It is an old game. In fact, blog SpyTalk had the story a year ago that the CIA actually made a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” quoting a former CIA officer.

    Spytalk also reminds us that the CIA had a bag of dirty tricks ready for Saddam Hussein in preparation for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that included making him look like a pedophile. Citing former CIA officials, the blog said one devious tactic involved creating a video showing the Iraqi strongman purportedly having sex with a teenage boy. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one ex-CIA official told Spy Talk’s Jeff Stein. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”

    However, no real need to go all the way back to 2003 to find the US Government trying to make bad world leaders look like hairy palmed teenagers.

    Just last month the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, claimed that Gaddafi is supplying his troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape. Rice made the claim while accusing Gaddafi of numerous human rights abuses. The Viagra claim surfaced in an al-Jazeera report from Libya-based doctors who said they had found Viagra in the pockets of pro-Gaddafi soldiers.

    Or take North Korean Netflix buff Kim Jong Il. Otherwise reliable news sources reported on the 2000 girls employed in the dictator’s “pleasure groups”. Each “pleasure group” is composed of three teams — a “satisfaction team”, which performs sexual services; a “happiness team,” which provides massage and a “dancing and singing team.” The good news for Kim is that he is only accused of heterosexual excesses. Plus really bad hair for such a stud.

    Some folks really seem to believe that portraying bin Laden as a porn hoover will undercut his support. For example:

    This is why the leaks about Bin Laden’s “porn stash” are more than a joke. His sympathizers and potential followers are, by several measures, more categorically averse to pornography, adultery, and the mixing of men and women than they are to suicide bombing of civilian targets. If you want to sour these people on Bin Laden and his movement, calling him a terrorist won’t cut it. You’re better off portraying him as a hypocritical porn hound who lived in a million-dollar mansion, touched himself up for videos, and hid behind women when martyrdom called.

    Got it. Mass murder: OK. Boobs: Bad. Does that even make sense? We’re trying to persuade folks who think killing innocents is OK by appealing to their prudish side?

    Bottom Line: Cheap propaganda does not influence hearts and minds. Like telling fibs, it only serves to discredit the source, us in this case. Can we please stop the silliness America?


    Note: if you’re current on your to-do list, have fixed that leaky faucet, cleaned out your wallet, returned library books, made some extra for leftovers and put it in the freezer, spell-checked your Facebook, deleted your spam folder and sharpened all your pencils, then check out the hash tag #binLadenpr0n on Twitter for more fun.



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