Sunday, December 16, 2007

Be Reasonably Afraid. Be Very Reasonably Afraid...

From Ron Silver's blog on Pajamas Media:

In February of 2004, NYU held a conference about fear. The conference was called “Fear: Its Uses and Abuses.” In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, posters with crude caricatures of Japanese and Nazis appeared with “Warning! Our homes are in danger now!” Exclamation points at the beginning and close of the warning, in case the message escaped us. It was called propaganda. As reported in the New York Times, in an article by Edward Rothstein, (propaganda’s) “accepted function was to galvanize, urge, justify, remind and yes, frighten.” (italics mine)

After the Second World War, with Truman’s approval rating in national polls falling more than 50 points, the president and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, called in Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and explained to him how the Communists were establishing a beachhead in Greece that would threaten all of Western Europe. According to Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: “The U.S. was going to have to find a way to save the free world-and Congress would have to pay the bill.” Senator Vandenberg replied ”Mr. President, the only way you are going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.” On March 12, 1947 the president made that speech to a joint session of Congress. He argued that money needed to be sent to Greece, because they “were threatened by the terrorist activities of thousands of armed men.” Thus the president’s decision with Congressional approval led to one of the early battles against Soviet domination. These cold and not so cold wars would last for more than 50 years, culminating in the Soviet Empire’s defeat. Fear was the lubricant. At times there was domestic overreaction as the rise of politicians like McCarthy and Nixon took advantage of the fear. And grievous mistakes were made that scarred many of my generation and I daresay our nation. But our nation survived the excesses and survived the Soviet threat.

After September 11, with the emerging threat of Islamic terrorism becoming more manifest in the public mind (many of us took this threat more seriously than others prior to this atrocity), what sticks out most immediately is how, again according to Edward Rothstein, there were “[s]o few examples of graphic American propaganda and none using ethnic or racial caricatures. Yet beginning with Al Gore, who delivered the keynote address at the Conference, the former vice president asserted again and again that the American government is preoccupied with instilling fear.” The conference was essentially about fear being encouraged by our government and exacerbated by the media. It was compared with the irrational fear of Communism and the perversions of McCarthyism.

Read the whole thing.


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