Nonviolent Activist, January-February 2006
By G. Simon Harak
War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death
By Norman Solomon
2005, John Wiley & Sons; 314 pages; $24.95, hardcover
In his latest work, Norman Solomon continues his mission of myth-busting. He shows how mainstream media accede to, or actively cooperate in, constructing a noble narrative of the government’s pure intentions, infallible leaders, and altruistic foreign policy. For example, he points out that of 878 sources cited on newscasts during the first two weeks of the most recent Gulf War, just one was a leader of a U.S. peace organization.
Chapter by chapter, Solomon uncovers corporate media’s cooperation with the government, especially in times of war. In Chapter 2, “Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War,” Solomon writes about the Rambouillet “peace” proposal, which the United States offered to Milosevic before the March 1999 attacks on Yugoslavia. “Appendix B” of that proposal granted complete legal immunity to all NATO personnel; free access to all airports, roads, rails, and ports without payment; and use of the whole electromagnetic spectrum. Such a proposal would have been rejected by any leader of any country. Yet Solomon succinctly points out, “The big U.S. media outlets did not cover appendix B—before or during the war.”
In “This Guy is a Modern-Day Hitler,” Solomon’s research shows how often Milosevic, in the lead-up to the attacks on Yugoslavia, was compared to Hitler. Yet earlier, while still exercising a brutal dictatorship, Milosevic was characterized by Madeleine Albright as a leader who “wants to, at some stage, re-enter the international community.”
Before the 1991 attacks on Iraq, Solomon notes that “major American news outlets printed and aired comparisons between Saddam and Hitler at an average rate of several times each day during the five-and-a-half months that led up to the Gulf War in mid-January 1991.” Yet Hussein’s dictatorship had been known and supported by the United States for many years. Despite some warnings that the Hitler comparison would only feed hysteria and confusion, the strategy was used because “for war planners in Washington [in August, 1990], some hysteria and confusion were already proving to be quite helpful.” Solomon exposes another PR trick in the lead-up to the 1991 attacks on Iraq, perpetrated by Tom Lantos (D-CA), who brought in “Nayirah” to tell the tale of how Iraqi soldiers had thrown Kuwaiti babies out of incubators. The story was false and Tom Lantos knew it. As media analyst John Stauber noted, “It was a propaganda exercise for the national media, and it succeeded wildly in mobilizing U.S. support for the war.”
Looking back at Vietnam, Solomon notes how the story of attacks by North Vietnam against U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin was false, yet led directly to escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He quotes Murrey Marder of the Washington Post: “If the American press had been doing its job, and Congress had been doing its job, we would never have been involved in the Vietnam War.”
The book is replete with similar well-documented (Solomon has over 50 pages of endnotes) and sometimes head-shaking revelations. In Chapter 6, “This is Not at all about Oil or Corporate Profits,” he reveals how corporations like Orbit International, Engineered Support Systems, Northrop Grumman, et al., use their power to promote war and then profit from the devastation. In particular, we might recall how Senator Dianne Feinstein was originally leaning against the war, but “Perini Corp., a Massachusetts construction company partially owned by the investment firm of … Feinstein’s husband, landed a $500 million contract … to repair southern Iraq’s electricity grid,” dissolving her potential opposition.
Sometime during the course of Solomon’s artful deconstruction, we find that we are also instructed by his constructive critique. He reminds us that “fear is not a long-term foundation for building democratic structures or finding alternatives to future wars.” A trove of invaluable and extensively referenced information, War Made Easy is a book that media analysts, peacemakers, and anyone concerned with the First Amendment should be referring to often and for a long time to come.
G. Simon Harak is the War Resisters League’s Anti-militarism Coordinator; (212) 228-0450; amc [at] warresisters.org