FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

American Overkill

by RON JACOBS

A frequent target of antiwar protests when I lived in Frankfurt am Main, Germany was the local Amerika Haus.  These buildings existed in several European cities and were essentially outposts of the United States Information Agency, which was part of the propaganda wing of the United States government and under the aegis of the CIA.   As the US war in Vietnam grew in intensity and scope, their presence became a sore point among leftists and other war opponents in the countries that hosted them.  At the same time, the Frankfurt Amerika Haus was where I heard Kurt Vonnegut give a lecture that did not support the war in Vietnam.

In Justin Hart’s new book Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U. S. Foreign Policy Amerika Haus and many other aspects of Washington’s propaganda machine are addressed.  This history of the origins of the current government propaganda machine in Washington covers the years 1936-1953 and presents the debates, uncertainties and ultimate use of that machine as an important tool in the proliferation and maintenance of US markets overseas.

After watching Michelle Obama’s presentation of the award for Best Picture to a film praising the CIA from the White House, it’s somewhat difficult to believe that there was a time when politicians and government officials questioned the usefulness of propaganda in the battle for US hegemony.  Yet, that is exactly where Hart’s tale begins.  In a rather interesting tale, he presents the beginnings of what is euphemistically called public diplomacy in Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy towards Latin America.  It represented a new understanding that spreading US culture helped open markets overseas while simultaneously justifying the growing US Empire to the domestic audience, an audience which to that point was mostly isolationist in its outlook.

This new approach was not without its detractors.  Most of them came from the extreme right, who saw propaganda as communist-inspired, given its use by the new Soviet government in Russia.  This concern was also related to the fact that cultural diplomacy (another euphemism for propaganda) was championed primarily by liberals and
empireideasprogressives with Henry Wallace leading the charge.  The presence of liberal and elements at the forefront of this movement lends further credence to the argument that it was liberals and progressives who were at the forefront of the US hegemonic endeavor.  It’s obvious from Hart’s telling that the inclusion and acceptance of propaganda as a useful tool for those interested in building the US Empire (pretty much every official in Washington) was not without its ups and downs.  However, by the time Harry Truman was president, it was clear that its role was accepted and certain to expand.

Of course, when propaganda failed, the iron fist became ungloved. By 1950, the US military was engaged in a brutal war in Korea whose aim similar to the efforts of the cultural propaganda committee.  In other words, to keep the Soviets from expanding into markets Washington had defined as its own.  Meanwhile, the Marshall Plan, hyped as bringing democracy, was underway in Europe and part of the same process.    As William Blum makes clear in his latest collection, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else, the folks that truly benefitted from the Marshall Plan were the US corporations that rebuilt Europe.  Just like the so-called reconstruction funds apportioned to Kosovo after its “liberation” and Iraq after the US invasion, the truth about those reconstructions is that they were primarily a means to move taxpayer dollars from the US treasury into the coffers of a few giant corporations.

Blum’s new book is a collection of commentary exposing the true nature of Washington’s ongoing campaign to spread its democracy around the world.  While reading it I was reminded of the t-shirt that shows a photograph of a US bomber plane dropping bombs on some city somewhere on planet earth.  Inscribed above the photograph are the words
“Democracy, We Deliver.”  America’s Deadliest Export explores the lies involved in this campaign and exposes the brutality and associated arrogance.  In his inimitable style, Blum rips into the lie of US propaganda and takes Hart’s academic discussion into the streets, simultaneously pointing out the hypocrisy of US democracy and indicting it for the fraud it is, not only abroad but at home, as well.

While Hart’s text looks primarily at the role of US propaganda overseas, Blum’s tends to focus on how it is utilized to manipulate domestic public opinion.  He takes the concept that Washington and its military act only for the good of the world and traces its history from the “Good War” to the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, and the “liberation” of Iraq.  Along the way, he not only shows the lie behind the concept but how that concept is accepted by most US citizens in the same way Christians accept the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.

These two books provide a complementary narrative on US foreign policy.  While Hart’s examines the development of the US imperial propaganda machine, Blum’s looks at its growth and also the brutality of the military whose operations the propaganda seeks to misconstrue.  As we move into an age where the only victims of US wars are those whom our propaganda claims to be freeing and the assumption of our national goodness is enforced and reinforced to the point of overkill, the understanding these two books provide is more crucial than ever.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail