Spin City

We are on the verge of another vernal equinox. We perch on the knife-edge between winter and spring as the northern half of rock we occupy begins to tilt toward the sun and another sodden spring beckons. Out back, cell trays of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and chard are coaxed by the strengthening sun, the grow lights and our divided attentions. They respond if grudgingly. Without our prodding they’d still be slumbering quietly within their seed-coats brimming with promise and untested by the cold realities of a Maine March.

When I was a child attending the Washington Street School (today a parking lot btw) there were regular “civil defense” drills. We practiced the “Duck and Cover” routine where we quickly “sheltered-in-place”—-diving under our wooden desks as the fire station’s siren blared or the school bell rang urgently. We were to believe that we perched on a knife-edge then too. Half a world away lurked the dark forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Luckily we, cowering under our desks, lived in The Free World. Although our country had incinerated two Japanese cities with nuclear bombs only a few years before, the pesky Soviets had now “caught up” with our doomsday technology. We were instructed that this Cold War between freedom and godless communism might suddenly get really hot and that we might become irradiated road-kill on the turnpike to Liberty&Justice4All.

We did as we were told and then went home to play cowboys and Indians and watch a slightly pudgy Superman in bullet-proof kryptonian textile tights “leap tall buildings in a single bound” and battle for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Those were simpler times however and it appears that The Man of Steel’s (he/him) motto is “evolving.”

NBC culture news reported (10/17/21) that the forelocked fly-boy will now be pursuing “a better tomorrow” rather than the way that is/ was American, according to DC Comic’s Jim Lee. Reportedly the tag line originated in a radio serial during the 1940s “as a way to cheer on American military efforts in World War II.” (NBC) Who knew?

Further updating the franchise, NBC reports, “Most recently, on Oct. 11th, DC announced that Jon Kent—Superman’s son, who also wears the iconic “S’ shield as a superhero— would come out as bisexual.” Stay tuned for pronoun refresh.

The knife-edge we totter upon these days harkens back to those black and white 50s which (unfortunately) few recall. Tweeting gizmos notwithstanding, the level of informed discourse is  remarkably/astonishingly low. But as I’ve learned from personal experience, when the media and the political class want to start slaughtering people, not getting in-line can be…… well….unpleasant. Luckily for at least the American population, the wars of opportunity waged by the US since Vietnam have been against nations that couldn’t really fight back. Grenada, Panama, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria—to name a few, were states famously unequipped with nuclear weapons, submarines, hypersonic missiles and other delivery systems.

This is different. George H.W. Bush’s triumphal proclamation of a New World Order after he blew up Iraq’s sewage treatment plants, electrical generation facilities and everything except the Ministry of Oil was based on the demise of the USSR and the presumption that “What we say goes!”

In a unipolar world without “peer” powers there was nothing to check and balance bipartisan blood-letting abroad. And the scale of that blood-letting has been vast. Former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday pronounced the toll in Iraq a genocide. After resigning his position, he traveled the country with that message, even speaking here in Biddeford at the local university. Nothing  changed.

And now a distracted public is being urged to swallow the new pro-war spin. It appears to be working. As usual it follows a template first worked out by George Creel and his Committee on Public Information. The CPI was “a vast propaganda ministry established by President Woodrow Wilson in April 1917.” (Stewart Ewen, PR! A Social History of Spin) The federal spin factory was very effective at transforming a largely pastoral republic into an interventionist military power.

In Mein Kamf Adolf Hitler doted on the CPI’s effectiveness and closely analyzed it. The lessons learned:

“The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas…”

“The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous….. (A)ll effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans…Always and unflinchingly.”

Years later the Anglo-American “influencer”/ “Theologian to the Establishment,” Reinhold Niebuhr would caution that “rationality belongs to the cool observers” and that the engineering of “necessary illusions,” based on “emotionally potent oversimplifications” was required to control the public mind.

On the knife-edge again.

The more you watch, the less you know.

Duck and Cover.

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