Monday, January 17, 2005

Put On a Happy Face

In an unwelcome attempt to intensify my already dour mood, Defense Tech discusses the military's need for new and better forms of propaganda to replace leafletting campaigns, which really haven't changed much since World War II.

[L]ast year, the U.S. military dropped 9.3 million leaflets into Afghanistan, and another 3.8 million into Iraq, according to Special Operations Technology magazine, trying to convince the locals to play nice with G.I.s.

U.S. Special Operations Command is exploring alternatives to the flyers. In a recent call for research, SOCOM expressed an interest in "air droppable, scatterable electronic media" to spread the good word about American intentions. "Internet-capable devices, entertainment and game devices, greeting cards, and phone and text messaging technologies" are just a few of the suggested options for these so-called "psychological operations," the magazine notes.
Obviously, communication is important when you're occupying a country. But to be effective, the message you're communicating has to have some connection to what people are seeing and hearing every day. Some propagandists make the mistake of treating populations as a blank slate, to be decorated with smiley faces at will, and fail to acknowledge the power of actual events to shape opinions. There's very little we can say to wipe the image of Abu Ghraib out of the Iraqi mind, for instance. The systematic, formalized use of torture and humiliation represented a conscious choice by the Pentagon to portray Americans as implacably evil people; this has had a lasting effect on Iraqi perceptions, just as it was intended to. The response to feel-good propaganda is different in the USA, of course, but that's because people here are comfortable. Comforting lies have a much greater power to compel belief in America than they do in Iraq.

Thus, when you're talking about raining electronic trinkets on the Iraqi population, you're talking about wasting a great deal of money that could be used instead to provide clean water (or what have you), as well as adding a significant new waste stream to a society that doesn't have the infrastructure to deal with the waste it's got.

Sometimes, it almost seems as though winning hearts and minds is not actually our goal.


JMS said...

Well, I hope they don't make these electronic WarBoy devices the same color as the freaking cluster bombs.

Remember kids - Yellow is death, Orange is fun!

Thers said...

Well, mass-dropping electronic gizmos and games onto the US has managed to pretty successfully pacify the American population. So who knows?