The past 40 years have seen a number of U.S. military actions in nations from the Dominican Republic to Panama, Vietnam, Grenada and Iraq. According to the law of averages, at least some of those wars were not based on lies.
But in his new book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, nationally syndicated columnist, media critic and author Norman Solomon shows how every single U.S. military action since 1965 has been based on a pattern of deception by the White House, aided and abetted by the news media.
Solomon’s book unmasks the “perception management” techniques American presidents have used to lead the nation to war since LBJ ordered troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965. Ever since, presidents of both parties have perfected the machinery of propaganda to gain public consent for war.
I met Solomon while attending a residency at a writers’ retreat in Point Reyes, Calif., last month. As founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, he’s a gentle warrior on a crusade to bring out the truth about war. He says his latest book resulted from an effort to identify common threads of modern U.S. conflicts. As he surveyed our recent military past, parallels kept hitting him over the head. He boiled those similarities down to 17 lies, which make up the titles of his chapters. First is the assumption that “America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower,” followed by “Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War” and “Our Leaders Would Never Tell Outright Lies.” Also on the list are “This Guy (Noriega, Hussein, just fill in the blank) is a Modern Day Hitler,” “This is About Human Rights,” “They’re the Aggressors Not Us,” “If This War is Wrong, Congress Will Stop It,” “If This War is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us,” “Opposing the War Means Siding With the Enemy,” “The Pentagon Fights Wars as Humanely as Possible.” You get the idea. Solomon shows how these lies have been trotted out to justify military intervention over the past four decades.
An impassioned media critic, Solomon says the news media is as essential to waging war as are bombers, tankers and missiles. Whereas dictators can start wars at will, a democracy requires the consent of the governed, making the news propaganda machine even more essential. Facts must be spun, disinformation dispersed and messages massaged. The media’s role in creating and maintaining public support for war is simple: remain passive and simply report what the government says without questioning its veracity. When advertising dollars are the bottom line, when corporations that are part of the “military, industrial, media-complex owned news outlets,” reporters know which stories to steer clear of. To paraphrase George Orwell, a circus dog does somersaults at the crack of a whip, but a really well-trained dog doesn’t need a whip.
Of course, it helps to have an equally passive and easily pacified public. America’s favorite wars, as Solomon points out, are the quick ones. Apart from Vietnam and the Iraq war, modern wars haven’t been particularly politically divisive. “Unless the president bites off more than the Pentagon can effectively chew, most Americans have found Uncle Sam’s military ventures to be suitable for acceptance, if only in the form of passivity,” he says.
Solomon’s book is a real eye-opener and a great crash course in identifying government misinformation. More importantly, if heeded, it could prevent yet another unnecessary war.
Mary Dickson is a freelance writer who lives in Salt Lake City.