Discover more from Dispatches from the No Fly Zone
Inside the Submissive Void
Propaganda, Censorship, Power, and Control
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Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. — David Hume, Of the First Principles of Government, 1768.
PREAMBLE: The use of propaganda and censorship is more frequently associated with totalitarian, corrupt and/or despotic regimes, not modern democracies. Yet the history of how western governments and their ever-vigilant junkyard dogs in the media, financial, and business spheres have controlled the political narrative of the time via these means is a long, storied and ruinous one, going back well before 1914.
Along with serving the contemporaneous political objectives of its perpetrators as contrived, such activities often continue to inform our understanding, and cement our interpretation, of history. If as the saying goes, “history repeats itself”, we need look no further than this as to the main reason why. Though perhaps Georges Hegel (he of the Hegelian Dialect) said it best when he opined: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”.
Be that as it may, whether we know it or not or like it or not, no matter how clever we think we are, or how mindful we might be of—and from that consciously resistant to—the pernicious effects of media propaganda and censorship, we’re all susceptible to the enervating forces they unleash, with hubris, complacency, arrogance, ignorance, and self-delusion being but a few of them.
In this wide-ranging ‘safari’ into the propaganda, fake news, myth-making, perception management, misinformation and disinformation wilderness—aka The Big Shill—Greg Maybury does indeed look further, and concludes that “It’s the narrative, stupid!”
Author Note: First published in 2019.
— Free-diving into the Forgettery —
The following yarn may be may or may not be true, but either way the ‘moral of the fable’ should serve our narrative well. The story goes like this: sometime during the height of the Cold War a group of American journalists were hosting a visit to the U.S. of some of their Soviet counterparts. After allowing their visitors to soak up the media zeitgeist, most of the Americans expected their guests to express unbridled envy at the professional liberties they enjoyed in the Land of the Free Press. That the visitors were indeed impressed was in no doubt. One of the Russian scribes was in fact compelled to express his unabashed ‘admiration’ to his hosts…in particular, for the “far superior quality” of American “propaganda”.
Now it’s fair to say his hosts were taken aback by what was at best a backhanded compliment, or maybe an attempt at Russo-Slavic humour or irony that escaped the Americans. After some collegial ‘piss-taking’ about the stereotypes associated with Western “press freedom” versus those of the controlled media in the Soviet system, one of the Americans called on their Soviet guest to explain what he meant. In the fractured, guttural English for which our Russian brethren are well known, he replied: ‘It’s very simple…In Soviet Union, we don’t believe our propaganda. In America, you believe yours!’
As irresistibly amusing as this anecdote might be, the reality of the Russian nee Soviet journo’s jibe doesn’t simply remain true now; that ‘belief’ has become even more delusional, farcical, and above all, dangerous. And at least until the arrival of Covid, and more recently with the Ukraine crisis, in few cases was the “delusional”, “farcical”, and “dangerous” nature of this conviction been more evident than with the West’s continued provocations of Russia, with “Skripalgate” in Old Blighty (see here, and here), and “Russia-Gate” stateside (see here, and here) being prime, though far from the only, exemplars we might point to.
Of course, some may recall at the height of the Russia-Gate hullabaloo, the hugely entertaining dog n’ pony show that was the much-touted London “media freedom” conference, organised under the auspices of the so-called Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), a UK/Canadian ‘initiative’. As the name suggested, this was the Anglo-American establishment’s lip-service effort to be seen to be upholding or ‘defending’ media freedom, and initiating stronger strategies and frameworks for the ‘protection’ of journalists and defence of press freedom.
Up until that time I couldn't recall many previous events that so perfectly embraced the Orwellian playbook, absent any hint of irony or embarrassment from the parties involved. To illustrate, after noting that ‘the world is becoming a more hostile place’ for journalists, the MFC website then righteously intones: …‘[they face dangers beyond warzones and extremism, including increasing intolerance to independent reporting, populism, rampant corruption, crime, and the breakdown of law and order….’
The cynic might be tempted to add: ‘And that’s just in our Western democracies!’
And who can forget the infamous “integrity initiative” that preceded it, whose lofty ambitions aimed to ‘defend democracy against disinformation’? One surmises this meme could have been reimagined along the following lines: “Making the world safe for democracy, one redacted syllable at a time!” In any event, this is faux-elite code for limiting—if not eliminating—free speech; this is already happening at a rate of knots, with the powers that be ‘setting up new perimeters’ online and offline in order to achieve this objective.
The prevailing efforts for example by certain people to make it a crime to criticise Israel or boycott the country is arguably the most obvious example. The efforts by the MSM to designate genuine, independent analysis by alternative media as “fake news” is another one. The BigTech behemoths increasingly draconian attempts to control the flow and substance of free speech and independent journalism does not go unnoticed.
Such is the sophistication and ubiquity of the narrative control techniques used today—afforded increasingly by ‘computational propaganda’ via automated scripts, hacking, botnets, troll farms, and AI algorithms and the like, along with the barely veiled censorship and information gatekeeping practised by Google and Facebook and other tech titans—it’s become one of the most troubling aspects of the technological cum social media revolution. (See here, here, and here.)
Indeed, as it turns out, it should be “troubling” for any and all reasonable, rational folks regardless of whether they (ahem) ‘dress to the left’ or ‘dress to the right’, though it increasingly seems far less troubling for the former, however we might actually define them these days. Notably, the MFC conference came and went after organisers saw fit to exclude legitimate Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik, an ideological ‘fashion statement’ somewhat at odds with the purported premise upon which it was ostensibly purpose-built.
Moreover, there was little mention of the ‘pachyderm on the political patio’ Julian Assange—the person who embodies foremost on countless levels the disconnect between the practice and the preaching of Western media freedom. This, to say little of underscoring the irony, self-serving opportunism, and double standards that frequently attend any mainstream debate about what it actually means.
Put bluntly, the concept of “media freedom” in the West is increasingly ‘more honoured in the breach than in the observance’, with the London confab all about keeping up appearances to the contrary, an event we might say was conceived of by soulless, demented, establishment shills, ‘…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. This surreal spectacle though must have induced cognitive dissonance amongst pundits, and many head-shaking moments for Assange supporters and genuine truth-seekers alike. And for those of us who’ve spent any time in history’s ‘forgettery’, as we’ll see, we find again that the reality of much touted press freedom in the West hasn’t always matched the rhetoric. Not by a long shot from the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building.
As for Wikileaks and Assange himself, it’s worth noting the attitude of the national security state toward him. After accusing Assange of being a “narcissist”, “fraud”, and “a coward”, and labelling WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service”, the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared he [Assange] was ‘eager to do the bidding of Russia and other American adversaries’.
In saying such, Pompeo seemed oblivious to any irony given how much the US does the bidding of Israel and its Stateside fifth column, with himself being one of the most “eager” in this regard. At all events, Pompeo’s ‘parrot-droppings’ on Assange and his situation can and should be taken as more or less representative of most if not all of the ‘group-thinkers’ that comprise the Beltway’s political trendies. Along with noting that official Washington’s hatred of Assange ‘borders on the rabid’—as evidenced by Pompeo’s statements—Ted Carpenter offered this:
‘[Assange] symbolizes a crucial fight over freedom of the press and the ability of journalists to expose government misconduct without fear of prosecution. Unfortunately, a disturbing number of “establishment” journalists in the United States seem willing—indeed, eager—to throw him to the government wolves.’
— Lapdogs for the Government —
This was of course another surreal spectacle, this time courtesy of one of the Deep State’s most reviled and divisive of figures. Pompeo was a notable protagonist in the Russia-Gate conspiracy to be sure, and at the time America’s most senior diplomat no less. Not only is it difficult to accept that the former CIA Director actually believed what he said at the time, well might we ask, “Who can believe Mike Pompeo?” Like so many of his clique, he is someone whose manifest cynicism, hypocrisy, and chutzpah would embarrass the much-derided scribes and Pharisees of Biblical days. And perhaps even some of their contemporaries, though that may be stretching it a bit.
Many will recall Pompeo famously on record, in a rare moment of candour fessing up—whilst laughing his ample ass off as if he was recalling some “Boy’s Own Adventure” from his misspent youth—that under his watch as CIA Director,‘…We lied, we cheated, we stole…we had entire training courses.’ It may have been one of the few times in his wretched existence that he didn’t speak with a forked tongue. At all events, his candour aside, we can assume safely that this reactionary, Christian Zionist shill passed all the Company’s “training courses” with flying colours. More likely he was Langley’s Facilitator-in-Chief.
According to Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times, all this didn’t stop Pompeo though from namechecking Wikileaks when political expediency came a’calling. In 2016 at the height, and in the heat of, the election campaign, he had ‘no compunction…about pointing people toward emails stolen* by Russian hackers from the Democratic National Committee and then posted by WikiLeaks.’
[*Author Note: Rosenberg’s omission of the word “allegedly”—as in “emails allegedly stolen”—seems a dead giveaway on his part, a journalistic Freudian slip, with his employer the Times being one of those MSM marques leading the charge with the “Russian Collusion” yarn. For a more insightful view of the source of these emails and the skullduggery and thuggery that attended Russia-Gate, readers are encouraged to check this out. Also see my own recent two part series on the New York Times, here and here.]
And this is “The Company” we’re talking about, whose past and present relationship with the media it might best be summed up in two words: Operation Mockingbird (OpMock). Anyone vaguely familiar with the well-documented Grand Deception that was/is OpMock, arguably the CIA’s most enduring, insidious, and successful psy-ops gambit, will know what we’re talking about. (See here, here, here, and here.) At its most basic, this operation was all about propaganda and censorship, usually operating in tandem to ensure complete control of the political narrative.
After opining that the MSM is ‘totally infiltrated’ by the CIA and various other agencies, for his part former NSA whistleblower William Binney added, ‘When it comes to national security, the media only talk about what the administration wants you to hear, and basically suppress any other statements about what’s going on that the administration does not want [to become] public [knowledge]. The media is basically the lapdogs for the government.’
Even the redoubtable William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director back in the day reportedly said something along the following lines: ‘We know our disinformation program is complete when almost everything the American public believes is false.’ Even if he didn’t say it, it’s no stretch to imagine he held to such a view.
In order to provide a broader and deeper perspective, we should now consider the views of a few others on the subjects at hand, along with some history. In a 2013 piece musing on the modern meaning of the practice, my estimable compatriot John Pilger recalled a time when he met Leni Riefenstahl back in the 70s and asked her about her films that ‘glorified the Nazis’.
Using groundbreaking camera and lighting techniques, Riefenstahl famously produced a documentary that mesmerized Germans; as Pilger noted, her Triumph of the Will ‘cast Adolf Hitler’s spell’. Riefenstahl told the veteran Aussie journo the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of the German public, a phrase which resonates with perhaps even greater portent now, and not just with Germans.
All of which is to say, Riefenstahl produced for the rest of the world the most compelling historical footage of mass hysteria, blind obedience, nationalistic fervour, and existential menace, all key ingredients in anyone’s average garden variety totalitarian nightmare. That it impressed a lot of very powerful, high profile people in the West on both sides of the pond is also axiomatic: These included bankers, financiers, industrialists, propagandists of all stripes and shapes and sundry business elites without whose support Hitler might’ve at best ended up a footnote in the historical record after the ill-fated 1923 beer-hall putsch. (See here, and here.)
“Triumph” as hinted still resonates today it would appear. To the surprise of few one imagines, such was the impact of the film—as casually revealed in the excellent 2018 Alexis Bloom documentary of Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes—it even elicited no small amount of admiration from the eponymous Fox News heavyweight of the title, to be sure one of the most influential propagandists of recent times. (Author’s Note: Readers might wish to check out Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Ailes in the aptly titled mini-series The Loudest Voice, in my view one the best performances of the man’s career.)
SIDEBAR: Mark Davis is a multi-award winning Australian journalist who was an eye-witness to the entire preparation of the Afghan War Logs, submitted in 2010 to Wikileaks by the whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Davis had documented the process in a film called ‘Inside Wikileaks’, which showed the Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, working alongside journalists from the New York Times, The Guardian & Der Spiegel. In 2019 in Sydney, at an event entitled ‘Julian Assange & the Alliance against the US Culture of Revenge’, Davis revealed details of the interactions he had never spoken of publicly before.
– The Discreet Use of Censorship and Uniformed Men —
‘It is hardly surprising that those who hold power should seek to control the words and language people use’ said Canadian author John Ralston Saul in his 1993 book Voltaire’s Bastards–the Dictatorship of Reason in the West.
Fittingly, in a discussion encompassing amongst other things history, language, power, and dissent, he opined in the same vein, ‘Determining how individuals communicate is…an objective which represents for the power elites the best chance [they] have to control what people think.’ In essence, this translates as: The more control ‘we’ have over what the proles think, the more ‘we’ can reduce the inherent risk for elites in democracy. ‘Clumsy men’, Saul went on to note,
‘…try to do this through power and fear. Heavy-handed men running heavy-handed systems attempt the same thing through police-enforced censorship. The more sophisticated the elites, the more they concentrate on creating intellectual systems which control expression through the communications structures. These systems require only the discreet use of censorship and uniformed men.’
In other words, along with assuming it is their right to take it in the first place, ‘those who take power will always try to change the established language’, presumably to better facilitate their hold on it and/or legitimise their claim to it. For Oliver Boyd-Barrett, ‘democratic theory presupposes a public communications infrastructure that facilitates the free and open exchange of ideas.’
Yet for the author of RussiaGate and Propaganda: Disinformation in the Age of Social Media, ‘No such infrastructure exists.’ The mainstream media he says, is ‘owned and controlled by a small number of large, multi-media and multi-industrial conglomerates’ that lie at the very heart of US oligopoly capitalism and much of whose advertising revenue and content is furnished from other conglomerates:
‘The inability of mainstream media to sustain an information environment that can encompass histories, perspectives and vocabularies that are free of the shackles of US plutocratic self-regard is also well documented.’
Now the word “inability” suggests the MSM view themselves as having some responsibility for maintaining such an egalitarian news and information milieu. They don’t of course, and in truth, probably never really have! A better word perhaps might be “unwilling”, or even “refusal”, though Boyd-Barrett’s point is still well made. The MSM all but epitomise the “plutocratic self-regard” that is characteristic of “oligopoly capitalism”, and have done for far longer than most might think.
In reality, the MSM collectively functions as advertising, public relations/lobbying entities for Big Corp, in addition to acting as its Praetorian bodyguard, protecting their secrets, crimes, and lies from scrutiny, or heaven forbid, outright exposure. Like all other public companies, they are beholden to their shareholders (profits before truth), most of whom it can safely be assumed are no strangers to “self-regard”, and could care less about “histories, perspectives and vocabularies” that run counter to their own interests.
It is worth noting it was the under-appreciated Aussie social scientist Alex Carey who pioneered the study of nationalism, corporatism, and perhaps moreso for our purposes herein, the management (read: manipulation) of public opinion, though all three have important links. For Carey, the conclusion was inescapable:
‘It is arguable that the success of business propaganda in persuading us, for so long, that we are free from propaganda is one of the most significant propaganda achievements of the twentieth century.’
This former farmer from Western Australia became one of the world’s foremost experts on propaganda and the manipulation of the truth to serve nefarious agendas. Prior to embarking on his academic career, Carey was a successful sheep grazier. By most accounts, he was a first-class judge of the animal from which he made his early living, leaving us to ponder if this expertise inspired—indeed gave him unique insight into—his main area of research! 😉
In any event, Carey eventually sold the family farm and travelled to the U.K. to study psychology, apparently a long-time ambition if not a predictable career trajectory for an Aussie sheep farmer to be sure. At all events, from the late fifties until his death in 1988, he was a senior lecturer in psychology, organisational behaviour, and industrial relations at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. His research was lauded by such luminaries as Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, both of whom have had a thing or three to say over the years about The Big Shill. In fact such was his admiration, Pilger described him as “a second Orwell” in his prophecies, which in anyone’s lingo is a big call.
Carey unfortunately, died suddenly in 1988, interestingly the year that his more famous contemporaries Edward Herman and co-author Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media was published, the authors notably dedicating their book to him. Though much of his work remained unpublished at the time of his death, a book of Carey’s essays—Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty—was published posthumously in 1997.
Carey’s research remains seminal to be sure. In fact, for anyone with an interest in how public opinion is moulded and how our perceptions are managed and manipulated, in whose interests they are done so and to what end, it is as essential reading as any of the work of other more famous names. This tome came complete with a foreword by Chomsky, so enamoured was the latter of his work. (As an aside, the author acknowledges herein that the formerly esteemed dean of establishment counter-narratives may have passed his UBD a long time ago. A story for another time for those uncertain of my reasons for saying so.)
For Carey’s part, the three “most significant developments” in the political economy of the twentieth century were the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; the growth of propaganda as a means of protecting that same corporate power against democracy.
Although Carey implicitly recognised such back then, even four decades or more after he penned these words, the principal source of modern propaganda remains the establishment media, albeit aided and abetted by the broader public relations business, with which it is umbilically tied. That this state of affairs has evolved over the past 25 years or more to an even deeper level is now palpably clear, and in the past two years or more with Covid, exponentially so.
Carey’s main focus then was on the following:
a) advertising and publicity devoted to the creation of artificial wants;
b) the public relations and propaganda industry whose principal goal is the diversion to meaningless pursuits and control of the public mind; and
c) the degree to which academia and the professions are under assault from private money power determined to narrow the spectrum of thinkable (sic) thought.
For Carey, it is an axiom of conventional wisdom that the use of propaganda as a means of social engineering and ideological control is ‘distinctive’ of totalitarian regimes. Yet as he stresses:
‘the most minimal exercise of common sense would suggest a different view: that propaganda is likely to play at least as important a part in democratic societies (where the existing distribution of power and privilege is vulnerable to quite limited changes in popular opinion) as in authoritarian societies (where it is not).’
In this context, “conventional wisdom” becomes conventional ignorance; as for “common sense”, maybe not so much. Again, herein we should recall our opening anecdote. The purpose of this propaganda barrage then, as Sharon Bader has noted, has been to convince as many people as possible that it is in their interests to relinquish their own power, freedom, critical thinking, and independence (such as it is is) as workers, consumers, and citizens and ‘forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result, the political agenda is now…confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.’
A classic example of this view playing itself right under our noses over decades was the cruel fiction of the “trickle-down effect” (TDE)—aka the ‘rising tide that lifts all boats’—of Reaganomics. One of several mantras that defined Ronald Reagan’s overarching political shtick, the TDE was by any measure, decidedly more a torrent than a trickle, and said “torrent” was going up not down. This reality as we now know was not in Reagan’s glossy economic brochure to be sure, and it may have been because the ‘Gipper’ confused his prepositions and verbs.
Yet as the GFC of 2008 amply demonstrated, it culminated in a free-for-all, dog-eats-bitch-eats-dog, anything goes, everyman for himself form of cannibal (or anarcho) capitalism—an updated, much-improved version of the no-holds-barred mercenary mercantilism much reminiscent of the era of the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons who ‘infested’ it, only one that doesn’t just eat its young, it consumes itself!
— Making the World Safe for Plutocracy —
In the increasingly dysfunctional political economy we inhabit then, whether it’s widgets or wars or what-nots or everything in between, few people realise the degree to which our opinions, perceptions, emotions and views are shaped and manipulated by propaganda (and its similarly ‘evil twin’ censorship), its most adept practitioners, and those elite, institutional, political, and corporate entities that seek out and ruthlessly leverage their expertise. All of which amounts to a ‘blood poisoning of the body politic’.
It’s now just well over a hundred years since the practice of propaganda took a giant leap forward, then in the service of persuading palpably reluctant Americans that the war raging in Europe at the time was their war as well. This was at a time when Americans had just voted their then-president Woodrow Wilson back into office for a second term, a victory largely achieved on the back of the promise he’d “keep us out of the War.”
It is important here to understand the context of the era. The US was then very much in what was one of its most isolationist phases, and so Wilson’s promise resonated with his countrymen. Little did they realise the degree their president was at the time beholden to international money power and banking elite castes ‘overlorded’ by the infamous Rothschilds (what author James Perloff would call the “Zionist Power Configuration”), a reality no serious historian would now dispute.
(Even before the election, Wilson had committed the US to the war on the side of the Triple Entente. He was not the first US president to get [re]elected based on a promise to keep his country out of foreign wars. Nor would he be the last.)
But over time Americans were convinced of the need to become involved by a distinctly different appeal to their political sensibilities. This “appeal” also dampened the isolationist mood, one which it has to be said was not embraced by the political, banking, media and business elites of the time. The leading denizens of this sinister Zelig-like cabal (the then forbears of today’s ‘grab-it-all globalistos’) stood to lose big-time if the Germans won said war, one which they’d initiated from the get go, and from which they were already profiting or benefitting handsomely.
SIDEBAR: The mantra “all wars are bankers’ wars” is not by any means an unthinking, idle catchphrase trotted out by touchy-feely peaceniks; taking into account all manner of human economic endeavour, the profits of war-like enterprise are unmatched in scope and scale, the evidence for which is deep-rooted in an ineluctable, albeit existentially tragic, historical reality. The infamous Goering dictum notwithstanding (i.e. “…people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country…), it is in convincing a country to go to war that our finest propagandists—past and present—revel in the task at hand and are compelled to perform at the top of their game.
Now for a president who “kept us out of the war”, none of this was going to be an easy ‘pitch’. In order to sell the war, the president established the Committee on Public Information (aka the Creel Committee) for the purposes of publicising the rationale for the war and from there, garnering support for it from the general public. In short, manufacturing consent!
Enter Edward (“More Doctors Smoke Camels”) Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who’s generally considered to be the father of modern public relations. In his film Rule from the Shadows: The Psychology of Power, Aaron Hawkins says Bernays was influenced by people such as Gustave le Bon, Walter Lippman, and Wilfred Trotter, as much, if not moreso, than his famous uncle. Either way, Bernays combined their perspectives and synthesised them into an applied science, which he then ‘branded’ “public relations”.
For its part the Creel committee struggled with its brief from the off; but Bernays worked with them to persuade Americans their involvement in the war was justified—indeed necessary—and to that end he devised the brilliantly asinine slogan, “making the world safe for democracy”. Thus was born arguably the first great propaganda catch-phrases of the modern era, and certainly one of the most portentous. Then, as now, the ones screaming the loudest in righteous defence of democracy are invariably the ones doing their utmost to dismantle it. History may or may not always repeat, but if there’s any constants, this has to be one of them.
The following then summed up Bernays’s unabashed mindset at the time:
‘The conscious, intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.’
The rest is history (sort of), with Americans becoming more willing to not just support the war effort but encouraged to view the Germans and their allies as evil brutes threatening democracy and freedom and the beloved, much sought after American way of life, however that might’ve been viewed then. From an historical perspective, it was a mindless premise to be sure.
It was nonetheless an extraordinary example of how a few well-chosen words tapped into the collective psyche of a country that was decidedly opposed to any involvement in the war, could turn that mindset completely on its head. ‘[S]aving the world for democracy’ (or some ‘cover version’ thereof) has since become the Anglo-American-Euro-Zionist’s positioning statement, ‘patriotic’ rallying cry, and the “Get out of Jail Free” card for both its war and its white collar criminal clique.
At all events it was by any measure, a Machiavellian meisterstroke on Bernays’s part; by appealing to people’s basic fears and desires, he could engineer consent and mould opinion on a critical mass scale, leaving most with the illusion (i.e. delusion) they’d arrived at the decision on their lonesome. It goes without saying it changed the course of history in more ways than one.
That the U.S. is to this day still using a not dissimilar trope to justify its seemingly endless “foreign entanglements” is testament to both its utility and durability. The reality as we now know was markedly different of course. They have almost always been about power, empire, control, hegemony, resources, wealth, opportunity, profit, dispossession, keeping existing capitalist structures intact and well-defended, and crushing dissent and opposition. Oh, and real estate!
It is instructive to note that the template for ‘manufacturing consent’ for war had already been forged by the British. For around twenty years prior to the outbreak of the war in 1914, the then stewards of the British Empire had been diligently preparing the ground for what they viewed as a preordained clash with their designated rivals for empire, the Germans. To begin with, contrary to the opinion of the general populace over one hundred years later—one underscored by every high-school history textbook published since then—it was not the much touted German aggression and militarism, nor their undoubted imperial ambitions, which precipitated its outbreak.
And neither did the Europeans ‘sleepwalk’ into this conflagration. The simple fact of the matter was that the stewards of the British Empire were not about to let the Teutonic upstarts chow down on their imperial lunch as it were. To prevent that, they set about unilaterally and preemptively crushing Germany, and with it any ambitions it had for creating its own imperial domain in competition with the Empire upon which Ol’ Sol famously never set.
The “Great War” is worth noting here for other reasons. As documented so by Jim Macgregor and Gerry Docherty in their two seminal books covering the period from 1890-1920, we learn much about propaganda and censorship, which attest to the extraordinary power of both, in particular their individual and collective power to distort reality en masse in enduring and subversive ways. In reality, the only things “great” about World War One was firstly the degree to which the masses fighting for Britain were conned into believing this war was necessary, and secondly, the way the official narrative of the war was sustained for posterity via both mechanisms. “Great” maybe, but not in a good way! “Great” definitely, but only if we consider it was Great Britain’s war!
In these seminal tomes—World War One Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War and its follow-up Prolonging the Agony: How the Anglo-American Establishment Deliberately Extended WWI by Three-And-A-Half Years—Macgregor and Docherty provide a masterclass for us all of the power of propaganda and censorship in the service of firstly inciting, then deliberately sustaining a major war. The horrendous carnage and destruction that resulted from it was of course unprecedented, the global effects of which linger on now well over one hundred years later.
Such was the enduring power of the propaganda and censorship techniques utilised during the war that today most people would have great difficulty in accepting the following; this is a short summary of historical realities revealed by Macgregor and Docherty that are at complete odds with the official narrative, the political discourse, and as noted, the school textbooks:
It was Britain (supported by France and Russia) and not Germany who was the principal aggressor in the events and actions that let to the outbreak of war;
The British had for twenty years prior to 1914 viewed Germany as its most dangerous economic and imperial rival, and fully expected a war as inevitable;
In the U.K. and the U.S., various factions worked feverishly to ensure the war went on for as long as possible, and scuttled peacemaking efforts from the off;
key truths about this most consequential of conflicts have been concealed for over one hundred years, with no sign the official record will change;
very powerful forces (incl. a future US president) amongst U.S. political, media, and economic elites conspired to eventually convince an otherwise unwilling populace in America that U.S. entry onto the war was necessary;
those same forces and many similar groups in the U.K. and Europe engaged in everything from war profiteering, destruction/forging of war records, false-flag ops, treason, conspiracy to wage aggressive war, and direct efforts to prolong the war by any means necessary, many of which will shock.
But peace was not on the agenda. When, by 1916, the military failures were so embarrassing and costly, some key players in the British government were willing to talk about peace. This could not be tolerated. The potential peacemakers had to be thrown under the bus. The unelected European leaders had one common bond. They would fight Germany until she was crushed. (Or as Tsar Nicholas reportedly noted, Great Britain determined to fight to the very last Russian.)
Prolonging the Agony details then how this secret cabal organised to this end the change of government without a single vote being cast. David Lloyd George was promoted to prime minister in Britain and Georges Clemenceau made prime minister in France. A new government, an inner-elite war cabinet thrust the Secret Elite leader, Alfred Milner into power at the very inner-core of the decision-makers in British politics. Democracy? They had little truck with democracy, and if they’d been so brazen might’ve decreed the word be expunged from the OED. The voting public had no say, thereby underscoring that indelible dictum: If voting made any difference, they’d make it illegal. The men entrusted with the task would keep going till the end, with their ‘place-men’ backed by the media and the money-power, in Britain, France, America and the dominions.
— Propaganda Always Wins —
But just as the pioneering adherents back in the day might never have dreamt how sophisticated and all-encompassing both the practice and the tools and the impacts of propaganda would become, nor would the citizenry at large have anticipated the extent to which the industry has facilitated an entrenched, rapacious plutocracy at the expense of our economic opportunity, our financial security, our physical environment, and increasingly, our basic democratic rights and freedoms. We now live in the Age of the Big Shill—cocooned in a submissive void no less—it being at once an era:
a) where nothing can be taken on face value yet where time and attention constraints (to name just a few) force us to do so;
b) where few people in public life can be taken at their word and unchallenged perceptions become accepted reality;
c) where ‘open-book’ history is now, in some cases, incontrovertible not-negotiable, upon pain of penalty—even imprisonment—fact;
d) where news, information, education and public debate and political discourse is about uniformity, function, form and conformity; and
e) where our power elites increasingly act and behave beyond the boundaries of public accountability and transparency whilst expanding that power and control at the expense of our own individual freedoms, rights and opportunities.
More broadly, it’s the “Roger Ailes” of this world—acting on behalf of the power elites who after all are their paymasters, in Ailes’ case, the unlovable propaganda magnate par excellence Rupert Murdoch—who create the intellectual systems which control expression through the communications structures, whilst ensuring…these systems require only ‘the discreet use of censorship and uniformed men’. They are the shapers and moulders of the discourse that passes for the accepted lingua franca of the increasingly globalised, interconnected political economy of the planet. Throughout this process they ‘will always try to change the established language.’
And we can no longer rely on our elected representatives to honestly represent us and our interests. Whether this decision making is taking place inside or outside the legislative process, these processes are well and truly in the grip of the banks and financial institutions and transnational organisations. In whose interests are they going to be more concerned with?
We saw this all just after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) when the very people who brought the system to the brink, made billions off the dodge for their banks and millions for themselves, bankrupted hundreds of thousands of American families, were called upon by the U.S. government to fix up the mess, and to all intents given a blank cheque and the all-important, much sought-after “get out of Jail Free” card to so do.
That the U.S. is at even greater risk now of economic implosion is something few serious pundits would dispute, and a testament to the effectiveness of the snow-job perpetrated upon Americans regarding the causes, the impact, and the implications of the 2008 meltdown going forward. In most cases, one accepts almost by definition such disconnects (read: hidden agendas) are the rule rather than the exception, hence the multi-billion foundation—and global reach and impact—of the propaganda business. This in itself is a key reason as to why organisations place so much importance on this aspect of managing their affairs.
At the very least, once corporations saw how the psychology of persuasion could be leveraged to manipulate consumers along with its own workers, and politicians saw they could do same with the citizenry, the growth of the industry was assured. As Riefenstahl noted during her chinwag with Pilger, when asked if those embracing the “submissive void” included the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said. By way of underscoring her point, she added enigmatically: ‘Propaganda always wins…if you allow it’.
The operative word of course is “if”. The grand irony here is that it was one of history’s most infamous, most vilified, and most consequential of propagandists who has bequeathed us such sage advice for posterity. If only a few more of her ilk in the present day would do likewise. If only…🤔👍🙏. GM.
© Greg Maybury, August 19, 2019. Revised and Updated 28 May, 2022
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Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Australia. His main areas of interest are American history and politics in general, with a special focus on economic, national security, military, and geopolitical affairs. For 6+ years he has regularly contributed to a diverse range of news and opinion sites, including OpEd News, The Greanville Post, Consortium News, Dandelion Salad, Information Clearing House, Global Research, Lew Rockwell, Dissident Voice, OffGuardian, Russia Insider, Contra Corner, International Policy Digest, Hampton Institute, and others.