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How powerful and controlling is the propaganda that rains upon the American people? Do even the words of a loved one make a difference when they conflict with a perceived reality that has been constructed by Fox News and the rest of the big media?
I recently moved from San Francisco to a small community outside of Nashville, Tennessee. I was born and grew up in this part of the country, and after 18 years living in California this was kind of a homecoming for me. A sad homecoming-my mother had passed away in the intervening years-but a homecoming nonetheless.
The other day I got together with my sister. We went out to a place called Harpeth Hills Cemetery, a scant five miles or so from the house we had grown up in, and laid some flowers upon our mother’s grave. Then we stopped for lunch afterward. Over lunch I mentioned that I am planning to vote for Dennis Kucinich for president.
"Who’s he?" asked my sister.
I wasn’t surprised at the question, given the fact that the media have all but ignored the Kucinich campaign.
"He’s a congressman from Ohio," I said, adding that I was for him because he had opposed the war in Iraq.
Mention of the war opened up a whole new avenue to our conversation. She is a reasonably intelligent, 45-year old woman, my sister. Yet like most of the rest of my relatives, she believes the war has been about fighting terrorism and deposing an evil dictator. Nothing I could say could convince her otherwise-although I did try.
I mentioned Saddam Hussein had actually once been an ally of the United States and that this had been back in the days when Ronald Reagan was president. This fact she had never heard of. I pressed harder on the issue.
"You remember when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds?"
Yes, she remembered this.
"Where do you think he got his chemical weapons?" I asked.
She didn’t know. When I told her it was from the United States it was almost as if a wall went up immediately between us. This was so contrary to-and so alien from-everything she had been told that I could see she simply wasn’t buying it or accepting it.
I tried a different tact.
"You remember the war between Iran and Iraq?"
"Who do you think the United States supported in that war?"
"I don’t know-Iraq?"
I replied that this was the case, but then I had to explain how and why this had come about which meant going into the Iranian revolution, the U.S. support for the shah, the shah’s secret police, the Savak, the emergence of radical Islam, and so on-and by this time the conversation had gone pretty far afield.
How do you overcome years of conditioning to think in a certain way? I asked myself. What words do you choose?
I tried citing examples of "evil dictators" the U.S. had supported-the shah being a case in point. I also mentioned Suharto of Indonesia. The shah she rememberd; Suharto she had never heard of. I then told her about East Timor, and how 200,000 people had died there, and that all this had taken place with the blessings of Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger.
She listened, absorbing all this, without saying too much in reply. Did she believe what I was telling her? Did she believe even half of it? I have no idea. Somehow, even though she didn’t say as much, I doubt it.
A few days earlier I had emailed to my sister, as well as to a couple of other close relatives, several articles on the Mad Cow story which I had gleaned from the Internet. I was hoping to get them to become vegetarian-as I have been for the past 14 years. I also figured what better way to illustrate the baseness and venality of those currently running the government? For what other story shows the lengths to which those we have entrusted will go to protect big business, even when it means deliberately exposing the public to an ominous health danger? Could any story currently in the news be more revealing of the utter callousness and indifference that exists within our "leaders" vis-à-vis ourselves, the people they are sworn to protect?
"Did you get the emails I sent you about mad cow disease?" I asked now.
She had, she replied, but she hadn’t had time to read them yet.
I was stumped.