Dots Com

My grandfather died when I was just starting high school. At his request, I had cut his hair only days  before his sudden passing and my grotesque lack of tonsorial skill was on display as he lay inert in his casket. It was all-too real for my youthful self and I had to bolt.  His lungs permanently damaged by the Cytokine Storm that ravaged many 1918 pandemic victims’ organs, Gramp had been frail and on a  small disability pension since he was plucked out of rural Maine by the army and stricken with the so-called “Spanish Flu” at “Camp Devens” during World War One.

That species-jumping flu was Spanish in name only. (Kansas was more likely its ground-zero origination site.) Spain was neutral in WWI and so not subject to wartime censorship. When folks started sickening and dying there the Spanish press found it newsworthy. Reporting on an invisible virus that was as lethal as the bullets, bombs, and poison gas in and out of the trenches was judged to be bad for “morale” as the US sought to consolidate its position as an imperial power. Hence, news was limited here.

WWI featured the first concerted efforts at government propaganda, “news management,” or  “manufacturing consent” among a population which, left to its own devices might not be all that eager to set about “killing other people and taking their stuff.”  Continuous war and subversion on a global scale’ was not yet an accepted part of domestic culture in the evolving American Century.

A week after the US entered WWI Woodrow Wilson “created the Committee on Public Information, a propaganda agency acting to release government news, to sustain morale in the US, to administer voluntary press censorship, and develop propaganda abroad.” (Wikipedia) Heading up the new outfit was one George Creel. He brought in other practitioners of this new dark art including deep thinker Edward Bernays (1891-1995) whose obit dubbed  him “the father of public relations.” Bernays’ post-war campaign successes included getting women hooked on tobacco (cigarettes recast as “Torches of Freedom”) and helping the United Fruit Company and CIA  stage a coup against the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954.

In 1928 Bernays laid out the mission: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society….. It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically.” Bernays held that corporations and the corporate state’s having this “freedom to persuade and suggest” was “the very  essence of the democratic process” It was simply the “engineering of consent.”

Yup.  Just take a gander at your newspaper or anesthetize yourself via mainstream (“authoritative”) electronic media. The United States military has a bigger climate footprint than as many as 140 countries and spends over a trillion dollars annually on the military. But when the jets scream overhead at NFL football games, that inconvenient fact is as welcome as a skunk at the picnic. When the Blue Angels (of death) routinely stage their recruitment  pageants in the skies of Bath, Maine as they regularly do, the martial carbon-spew-a-thon is reported as wholesome family fun. The F/A -18 Hornets’ role in bombing sitting-duck Iraq, Afghanistan, and other mineral-rich targets of opportunity isn’t worth the ink. Apparently.

Death from above or kiddie war porn? You decide.  Or not.

Despite the trillions sluiced to the military year over year, when the Biden administration proposes investing $3.5 trillion in a program of societal uplift and small efforts at combatting climate catastrophe the “spending” is controversial. We’re told.

Lately the distractive media have noted the official milestone of US Covid deaths surpassing the “Spanish Flu” pandemic’s grim toll. Of course the Covid numbers are likely a vast undercount if one factors in the “excess death” spike in the last couple years———but I digress. And so does the distractive media apparently—— hot on the trail of “Dirty Laundrie” and the Gabby-selfie drama.

Given soaring US Covid infections brought on by the reopening of super-spreadier schools, sporting events, and such, the almost total abandonment of basic public health disease-eradication strategies and a heavy dollop of magical thinking/“freedom” questing,’ one might think that some comparisons with other (more civilized?) countries might be in order. But one would be wrong.

At the risk of getting-off-the-propaganda-reservation I’d suggest the example of New Zealand.  Reuters reports (9/21/21), “New Zealand eliminated Covid -19 last year and has been largely virus-free, barring a small number of cases in February, until the latest outbreak of the Delta variant erupted in August.” A nationwide lockdown followed. Cases plummeted.

New Zealand of course, also has a Single-Payer national health program, like most civilized nations. Maybe that plays a role too. Just saying.

My grandfather’s long gone. When I was younger I never really connected the dots of his lifelong infirmity to America’s pursuit of hegemony and our propagandized acceptance of imperial conquest. But the dots are there and while it’s not “news” the dots are going viral.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: