From the February 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
Shouting has turned into shooting and war fever is being whipped up into a national delirium. The producers of the poisonous propaganda are out to infect the minds of the millions with the required hatred. War thrives on hatred: it does not just kill young men and tear off their skins with ever more disgusting weapons; war attacks the minds of those who remain alive and the warmongers seek to convert us into murder-loving monsters.
The propaganda of war calls upon humans to sacrifice that which is at the centre of our humanity: our ability to think critically and intelligently, to co-operate, to be social. In war the sight of a dead enemy must inspire pleasure; the ruins of a devastated Dresden or an annihilated Nagasaki are propaganda coups. We hear pathetic little men in dirty raincoats talking about “nuking Baghdad" and office boys in suits munching their sandwiches and speaking of “taking out Saddam". What has happened to them?
It was Churchill who said that in war truth is the first casualty. And so the deadly deceits are blasted from the BBC, oozing out of every obscene headline of the tabloids. Remember the story of the six Iraqi helicopter crews who defected just before 15 January? Front-page headlines, first item on the news—a complete fabrication invented by Saudi propaganda agents and now admitted. The weekend before the UN “deadline" (handy term that, dead-line) the British press, radio and TV signed a censorship agreement to suppress war news when so required by the government. Days before that the government issued its first D-Notice of the war (later exposed by the Irish Times) to suppress news about the computer with military secrets which had been stolen. In wartime we will be told what they want us to hear, and told again and again what they want us to repeat.
On Christmas day the Queen came on to disrupt whatever retreat from hard times we might have enjoyed. After the mince pies it was time for some warmongering, so she droned on about the awfulness of big nations invading small ones. So now we knew: imperial conquest is a bad thing and that, unlike Ceaucescu, there will be no knighthood for Saddam Hussein. But— well, excuse me your Royal Highness— how exactly was it that the British Empire came about?
With a straight face the leaders of Western imperial conquest shed crocodile tears in response to a leader who has had the temerity to ape them. When East Timor was invaded and annexed by Indonesia there was not a murmur of disapproval from the US government because, as its former UN ambassador, Daniel Moynihan, explains in his memoirs “the United States wished things to turn out as they did and worked to bring this about”.
The Hitleresque proportions of Saddam Hussein have been built up to the point where his name makes workers spit. To be sure, Saddam is a lout and those who armed him (including Britain) have created a super thug in the Middle East. But Hitler caricatures are facile—that is why they make good propaganda. What is the difference between Saddam of Iraq and Assad of Syria? Answer: the latter is now a Western ally and so must be courted, even to the extent of dropping the claim that Syrian-backed killers brought down the plane at Lockerbie—the new culprit is Iraq-backing Libya.
Saddam is presented as the personification of evil, and now that evil has a face and voice it can be shown in the media as the personal enemy of each and every worker. Reds under the beds? No. no. Gorby is “our ally” (even if he does preside over his very own Saddam Hussein game in Lithuania); these days you must watch out for Ba’aths in the bathroom. And if Saddam is Evil made flesh, those who even talk to him are devil-worshippers. So, when Heath went there the London Evening Standard joined the screams of abuse against him with a cartoon in which he carried a placard with a picture of Saddam.
For legalised murder to be supported every card must be played, including the religious joker. God has expressed his support for the West. On 11 January the Archbishop of Canterbury told the BBC that in Christian terms a war to free Kuwait from Iraqi control was justifiable. Asked whether god favoured “our boys” going into Iraq and finishing the job, the man of cant was less certain. God afraid to take a stand? He must have joined the Labour Party. As the mad Christian bishops bless Western bombs, the mad mullahs bless the lethal killing devices of the other side. At a Muslim Congress a lunatic jumped up and told Saddam that he was the new prophet. In the Pentagon there is much talk of profits too, as they look at the map of the oil wells for which men will die to ensure supplies of cheap oil.
Over a third of the US forces in the Gulf are black. They are drawn from the poorest American wage slaves. They have no profits to look forward to if they come home with a limb missing. They are being fed with a sickly diet of propaganda about how they are defending what is morally good. If they were asked to die to make oil billionaires safer in their class affluence and privilege how many of them would fight? Iraqi radio is aiming a propaganda service at the Western troops, telling them that their wives at home are being screwed by film stars. In Aldershot there are several army wives who wish you could believe what you hear on the wireless. A Western propaganda effort against Iraq is also under way. The workers are being urged to overthrow Saddam. Overthrow the tyrant they should, but not in order to install a Western puppet dictator in Iraq of the sort they have in Saudi Arabia and had in Kuwait.
Propaganda of hate
The good news is that it is getting tougher for the con-men. The workers are not so easily duped. In 1914 workers were demonstrating in the streets calling for war. In 1939 the myth that Churchill was a defender of world democracy—later aided by the “democrat” Stalin—was all too easily believed. In 1991 the poison is swallowed less willingly. Even on the eve of war a poll showed that less than half of the British people favoured a war after the UN deadline expired and 43 percent were positively against war. In the USA a population exhausted by post-Vietnam angst are not the same suckers who rallied behind the invasion of Vietnam in the belief that war is an extension of a John Wayne movie. Vast numbers of Americans are opposed to dying for oil and profits.
The propaganda of division and hate is only as loud as the case for working-class solidarity and the unity of the human family is unheard. In the USA there were 23,000 murders last year—more people than have been killed in Ireland over the last twenty years. In the first day of 1991 there were eight murders in New York City alone. The poverty of material conditions and lifestyle which give rise to this are the real enemy for American workers to fight rather than conscripted Iraqi kids who do not know what they are doing. The British wage slaves in uniform should think of their grandparents living on the pittance of a pension, think of the slum-like council estates on which their families are forced to dwell, think of the one in four British people living below the poverty line, amongst which are probably some of their friends, and ask themselves who their real enemies are: a selected foreign dictator or the capitalists who live well by trampling on their needs?
Beyond the sound of desert battles and the deranged screeching of a trigger-happy media there is a bigger war to be fought—a war which begins in mental realisation and develops into mass, democratic organisation. It is a war between Profit and Need in which the only victory can be for the freedom of humankind to live in peace and dignity and the first casualty must be the lies that make weak men strong and the many weak.