War propaganda

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War propaganda is that branch of public relations devoted to manipulating people's attitude toward a war or war in general, rather than engaging in open dialogue. It includes both pro-war propaganda, by governments and war industrialists, and anti-war propaganda by pacifists or enemy sympathizers. What makes it propaganda isn't the sincerity or insincerity of its originators but its methods of media manipulation, going beyond lies to misdirection, loaded vocabulary, staged events, and fallacious demagoguery, all of which can be justified/rationalized by a 'good' cause, whether patriotic or idealistic.

To be fully effective, war propaganda requires the compliance of a nation's journalism establishment and its willingness to curtail its role as watchdog and become a lapdog, passing on government propaganda. For a recent example in the United States from 2002 to 2008, see the Pentagon military analyst program.

Background on War Propaganda

War propaganda is used to confuse and demoralize enemies and also to influence public opinions in friendly countries. Often, a nation at war uses propaganda to influence its own citizens. According to British scholar F.M. Cornford, "Propaganda is that branch of the art of lying which consists in very nearly deceiving your friends without quite deceiving your enemies."

Between states it may involve lying about the potential for new weapons, which can either impress opponents into dealing, or convince them that something which is feasible is in fact not, to give the disinforming party a headstart in researching the weapon or technology.

Propaganda versus democracy is frequently debated in political science - there is a natural tension between government, which must keep secrets sometimes, and the right of the governed to know what is going on and consent.

To obtain consent for war with minimal effort, many standard techniques have been employed:

During a war, almost any unusual event can be exploited for positive publicity to "prove" how "bad" the enemy is, or how "uncertain" the situation was or is in the country (should one's own troops do something wrong) - thus the troops are brave and good.

After a war, "feel good" stories are employed to convince voters that they did the right thing, and should support future wars, and the leaders that lead them.

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles


External articles

  • Danny Schecter, The Power of Evil, znet/zmag, January 14, 2003. Regarding the phrase Axis of evil and the addition of North Korea to the axis: "Most likely, it was simply oratorical affirmative action, bussed in to lend diversity to what would otherwise have been an all-Muslim list. One thing it was not was the product of careful policy deliberation. It had not been, as they say, staffed out. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the State Department's East Asia hands learned about it only hours before the speech, and they were not happy. ... What we learn here is that the phrase comes from the world of propaganda more than politics."
  • "Just days after Pat Tillman died from friendly fire on a desolate ridge in southeastern Afghanistan, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command released a brief account of his last moments. It was a stirring tale and fitting eulogy for the Army's most famous volunteer in the war on terrorism, a charismatic former pro football star whose reticence, courage and handsome beret-draped face captured for many Americans the best aspects of the country's post-Sept. 11 character. It was also a distorted and incomplete narrative, according to dozens of internal Army documents obtained by The Washington Post that describe Tillman's death by fratricide after a chain of botched communications, a misguided order to divide his platoon over the objection of its leader and undisciplined firing by fellow Rangers." --Steve Coll, Washington Post, December 6, 2004.
  • Liz Harrop, "Propaganda's War on Human Rights." Harrop writes, "States wage war in the name of peace and democracy. Yet war propaganda can violate human rights and undermine the democratic principles it seeks to champion. Despite this it is rarely acknowledged, by the media, governments, or even anti-war campaigners, that war propaganda is illegal under international human rights law. Propaganda's War on Human Rights analyses the legal and practical implications of war propaganda and human rights. Examples of State Practise focus on the United States of America and the United Kingdom, particularly in relation to the ongoing 2003 Iraq war."
  • Richard Blow, "More Than A Thousand Words," TomPaine.com, December 19, 2003: "When this war is over, the picture of a captured Saddam will endure as an iconic image, writes Richard Blow. And so it joins a series of made-for-television images that the war in Iraq has generated -- images that shape our interpretation of the Iraq war, and consequently its aura of legitimacy."
  • Sam Gardiner, Col., USAF-Ret, "Revealed -- Saddam's Network or a PSYOPS Campaign?" MediaChannel.org, December 19, 2003.
  • "The casualties of his convictions," Kurdish Life, Spring 2004.
  • Murray Waas and Paul Singer, "Addington's Role in Cheney's Office Draws Fresh Attention," National Journal, Oct.30, 2005
  • Murray Waas, "Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information," National Journal, February 9, 2006.
  • Jim Boyd, "Editorial Pages: Why Courage is Hard to Find," Nieman Reports, Spring 2006.
  • Chris in Paris, "Propaganda program #1 failed, so it's back to FEAR," AMERICAblog, June 21, 2006.
  • Walter Pincus, "Positive Press on Iraq Is Aim of U.S. Contract," Washington Post, August 31, 2006.
  • Margaret Carlson, "Bush Mired in Stealth, Lies and Cover-Ups," Bloomberg News, April 26, 2007.
  • Rupert Cornwell, "Twisted propaganda tales of US heroes in Iraq," New Zealand Herald, April 26, 2007.

External resources


  • Wikipedia: "Edward Bernays": "'If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it,' Bernays argued. He called this scientific technique of opinion molding the 'engineering of consent'."
  • More war disinformation links on NoWarWikki.org.
  • Cost Of the War Ivo's Pages.
  • Iraqi war casualties - Iraqi civilians www.iraqbodycount.net, U.S./coalition forces icasualties.org/ (Iraqi military/insurgent and coalition civilians going uncounted?)
  • Public Diplomacy Wiki dedicated entirely to the study and practice of public diplomacy. It includes information and links about propaganda studies.