April 29, 2003
by Maureen Farrell
For months now, the alternative press has been comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. And truly, the questionable circumstances under which both rose to power, used terrorist attacks to restrict civil liberties and tyrannically invaded other countries are unsettling. But, like the oft-recycled Lincoln/Kennedy coincidences, these similarities are fun to ponder, but easily debunked. Bush as Hitler? Paul Krugman's "Mayberry Machiavelli" is more like it. Think about it. Have you ever seen anyone smirk and goose-step at the same time?
Some observations on propaganda techniques resonate nonetheless. One Russian writer, for example, compared "Operation Enduring Freedom," to Joseph Goebbel's "Enduring Freedom of the Thousand-year Reich." Saying that these recycled "fascist propagandist slogans are subjected only to minor editing," Viktor Tiulkin also noted that "George W. Bush altered the infamous neo-Nazi 'God is with us' motto into the modern 'God is not neutral.' http://rkrp-rpk.ru/en/AfghanistanSep2001.html
Back when Iraq was but a gleam in Richard Perle's eye, Tiulkin predicted that the Bush administration would "pursue a policy of military expansionism and forcible interference" remaking countries and lives "according to [US]standard[s]." "One can already hear 'Heil democracy! Freedom is enduring!' he wrote, nearly 18 month before Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Already, Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims agree. "I thought the Americans said they wanted a democracy in Iraq," 41-year-old merchant Kassem al-Sa'adi told London's Independent newspaper. "If it is a democracy, why are they allowed to make the rules?"
Given that Bush's "with us or against us" mentality rubbed many Americans the wrong way, it's easy to see how it riled a former foe and committed Communist. Nevertheless, Mr. Tiulkin's points about language and propaganda are intriguing. With the ABC-aired confession that the White House "emphasized" the perils posed by Saddam's weapons "to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans" historical hype repeated itself. "An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation," Adolph Hitler asserted. "We must take steps to insure our domestic security and protect our homeland."
"We were not lying," a US official told ABC News. "The road to war was paved with lies," http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=400805 the Independent countered. Months before officials admitted that "hundreds of tons of mustard and nerve agents" and "thousands of liters of anthrax and other toxins," might never be found, the administration used Sunday morning shows to encourage hand wringing. "The [aluminum] tubes are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," Condoleeza Rice lied on one occasion. ''[W]e don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," she said on another. ''Imagine, a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction," Donald Rumsfeld added." It's not 3,000; it's tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children."
This unfounded scenario was also evoked by Bush, Cheney and Powell. ("The broad masses of a nation. . . . more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie," Hitler wrote). Other propaganda ploys followed. When Germany's Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin alluded to Hitler/Bush tactics, she was promptly canned. "Bush wants to divert attention from domestic political problems and onto Iraq," she said, (which was true enough). "Hitler also did that," she added (also true). Never mind that her observations were valid. She was outta there.
The latest Nazi-related flogging involves the much maligned entertainment industry. Initially under fire for allegedly coddling the Fuehrer (a charge that baffled producers), CBS' upcoming four-hour biopic Hitler: The Rise of Evil has incited further controversy. "[T]he filmmakers would be well advised to steel themselves for reaction to the message they're hoping to convey" TV Guide reported, "that Hitler's grab for power in Germany in the 1930s is a cautionary tale for contemporary America."
Perhaps executive producer Ed Gernon, who worked for the movie's production company, Alliance Atlantis, for the past 11 years, should have steeled himself, too. "It basically boils down to an entire nation gripped by fear, who ultimately chose to give up their civil rights and plunged the whole world into war," he told TV Guide, "I can't think of a better time to examine this history than right now."
Gernon's statements, immediately decried in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, were enough to get him fired. "The scraping sound you hear next month will be Hollywood's anti-Americanism hitting bottom with the CBS movie 'Hitler: The Rise of Evil,'" the Post reported http://www.pagesix.com/pagesix/33385.htm. (Note to Gernon: You can't just go around saying just any old thing in the land of the free and home of the brave. Following actor Tim Robbins' speech at the National press Club, Rush Limbaugh remarked that Robbins "thinks he can say any thing at any time," adding, "I have a question: How is it that Tim Robbins is still walking free?").
Goose-stepping with McCarthy
America's growing intolerance isn't Nazism either, of course. But even so, Clear-Channel-sponsored CD demolition rallies reek of book burnings, while anti-war celebrity boycott lists are reminiscent of McCarthyism. The folks at various boycott organizing web sites don't see it that way, of course. The Citizens Against Celebrity Pundits web site for example, which is linked from boycott-hollywood.us, features a petition against "wealthy Hollywood celebrities abusing their status to speak for us," which, in some way, "interfere[s] with the defense of our country." What these "patriots" fail to understand is that: 1) the Iraq war wasn't really about national security 2) nobody said these celebrities were speaking for them and 3) there is something fundamentally un-American about trying to hurt fellow citizens for saying things you disagree with.
Those organizing boycotts (which range from targeting Janeane Garafolo's upcoming TV show to clamoring for Michael Moore's Oscar to be revoked), say that they, too, are exercising their right to free speech. That may be so. But their actions expose a narrowly defined "patriotism" based on ignorance and hate, which is characteristic of a vindictiveness that goes straight to the top. "On NBC News, [President Bush] said that, "I suppose people have the right to speak their mind, but they shouldn't get their feelings hurt if they get boycotted," Paul Begala said of the president's reaction to the Dixie Chicks brouhaha. http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0304/25/cf.00.html
Though radio call-in-show listeners have advocated tying Natalie Maines to a bomb and dropping her into Baghdad, when Bruce Springsteen criticized the president earlier this year, nobody made a fuss. "I think the administration took September 11 and used it as a blank check," Springsteen said in a February 2003 Entertainment Weekly interview. "You try not to be cynical, but without the distraction of Iraq [people would notice] that the economy is doing poorly, and the old fashioned Republican tax cuts for the folks that are doin' well will seriously curtail services for people who are struggling out there," he added. "I don't think that's the kind of country Americans really want."
Bruce questioned the timing and reasoning behind the war, accused the Bush administration of playing a "game of shadows and mirrors," and yet all was right with the world. But when the boss defended the Dixie Chicks, he was dissected. Calling their banishment "un-American" and decrying pressure from big business and Bush Inc. "to enforce conformity of thought," Springsteen rightly said such tactics go against "everything that this country is about - namely freedom." Citing the irony of fighting for Iraqi's free speech while trying to "intimidate and punish people for using that same freedom here at home," Springsteen bravely offered the trio his support. "And this from a guy who has stated time and again that he is proud to be an American - - 'Born in the USA' and all?" one person at Boycott Hollywood asked, showing the same ignorance Ronald Reagan did when he also misinterpreted Bruce's message.
Sadly, American history is rife with people boasting of patriotism while missing the point. In the early 1950s, Madison's Capital Times editor John Patrick Hunter took to the streets with a "petition," (which was actually the Declaration of Independence, along with portions of the Bill of Rights) and tried to get people to sign it. Only one in 112 did. The rest found it too subversive. Then, too, a recent VH-1 poll shows that fifty-four percent of US citizens believe it's "inappropriate" for celebrities to make political statements while one-third would boycott an outspoken celebrity. Last fall, a poll indicated that nearly half of all Americans think the First Amendment "goes too far."
Made for Stepford TV
Given the sorry state of the American media (and those who trust it), there's no need for state-sponsored McCarthyism. BBC Director General Greg Dyke, alarmed by the blend of "patriotism and journalism" warned how this distortion of the media poisons democracy. "We are genuinely shocked when we discover that the largest radio group in the United States was using its airwaves to organize pro-war rallies," he exclaimed.
During a recent appearance on Crossfire, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) discussed the disparity between news America sees and the news the rest the world sees. As soon as he mentioned the fact that there are two CNNs, he was bum-rushed to commercial. Perhaps "the most trusted name in news" would rather the public not know that CNN's international service, seen in 200 countries, differs considerably from the US version. When CNN International aired the statue of Saddam being toppled, for example, it did so alongside split screen images of Iraqi casualties. In the U.S., only the statue merited attention.
A couple years ago, Gore Vidal appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the Timothy McVeigh case. As soon as he alluded to governmental abuse of power, Charlie Gibson falsely claimed that ABC was "losing audio" and cut the interview short. When Tim Robbins appeared on Today recently, he was similarly drummed off the stage after saying, "We have a terrible track record." Shhhhhh, Tim, shhhhh.
Thanks to this creative censorship, Americans are not only ill-informed, but believe it's anti-American to seek the truth. Conveniently, deviations from the official story, no matter how verifiable, are labeled "conspiracy theories." Reporting on the underpinnings of the April 9 toppling of Saddam's statue, for example, former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry explained what caused the disparity behind what we saw (large crowds tearing down that statue) and what actually occurred (a couple hundred people cheering as a US tank toppled the statue).
"One CIA veteran told me that such images are never left to chance because of their psychological warfare potential," Parry wrote. "He said that all U.S. battle plans include a "psy-war annex," a kind of public-relations script meant to influence the target population - in this case, the Iraqis - and the larger world public, including the American people. These psy-war strategies have been part of the CIA's bag of tricks for more than a half century." (Was this guy part of "the script," too? http://www.thememoryhole.org/memoryblog.htm)
The press has its own covert strategies. In the April 28 edition
of the Rupert Murdoch-funded Weekly Standard, David Brooks debunked
the statue controversy this way:
By lumping the ridiculous story about Jews feasting upon Muslim blood with the staged toppling of Saddam's statue and then linking it to Iraq's information minister's comical dissembling, the truth about the Saddam statue is discredited. Even the notoriously mainstream Tom Friedman addressed the statue façade, telling NPR's Terry Gross that televised images were misleading. "If you looked at that picture closely, first of all, it was American troops who provided the wherewithal to pull that statue down and there were really only several hundred Iraqis participating in that event."
Sticking Our Heads In Red, White and Blue Colored Sand
"Victim-hood transforms people, Dr. Henry Makow wrote. "A complex world is reduced to black and white: Good against Evil, us against them. Morally and intellectually, they become zombies. They no longer can think in terms of humanity as a whole."
Have you ever talked to a pro-war right winger? Everything comes down to "what about 3,000 dead Americans?" as if the entire Islamic world is responsible, and our reasons for war, no matter how flimsy, are just. "Victims don't care about objective truth," Makow continued. "They feel their suffering gives them the right to manipulate the truth or even deny that it exists."
Best known as the inventor of the board game "Scruples," Dr. Makow is issuing a warning. If bunker governments, indefinite detentions, stealth legislation and proposed plans for secret arrests don't freak you out, perhaps documents calling for advanced biological weapons that "target specific genotypes" as "a politically useful tool" will. (http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf, page 60).
But, thankfully, though John Ashcroft has expressed an affinity for concentration camps, no cattle cars have been loaded; and while some elections may be rigged, none have been suspended. So, no, this brave new vindictive, bullying, finger-pointing, lily-livered world isn't Hitler's Germany. But it certainly isn't America, either.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2003, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original