So, balls-deep in On the Road
, listening to Dylan
as if I've never heard him before on an iPod
in a Starbucks
better known to Us as Ourbucks
, life is good.
Shot through, though, with conflicted thoughts these days, forced by circumstance to be SERIOUSLY political at a time when I'd rather be "laid-back," I've come, I believe, to an important conclusion: I'm with Dylan, Gandhi and Jesus. Fuck The Masters of War.
It really is that simple, and I don't know why I've taken so long to clear my mind of the matter.
I'm compelled to remind you this day that—not to put too fine a point on it—I SELL SHIT FOR A LIVING.
For much of my adult life I've made movies for television, and television in America exists, basically, to sell you shit. You don't need it; before you saw the commercial you didn't even know it existed; and after you've bought it you spend a lot of your time wondering "Why? What was I thinking?"
As a professional purveyor of poop, a seasoned slinger of scheiss, a veritable wholesaler of ordure, I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT, and I don't even need to see it to smell it.
This administration stinks. We've been sold—expertly, professionally, SHOCKINGLY AND AWESOMELY—a whole crapload of bung.
No wonder we must take refuge in "reality" television.
The Bush Whitehouse retains the services of the most expert public relations team ever assembled on the planet. Surpassing the marketing expertise of Richard Nixon and even Ronald Reagan, every MOMENT of everything you SEE on Bush-controlled TV is managed by the same sorts of people I work with—experts in the removal of the unpleasant, geniuses in the art of obfuscation, adepts in the science of mind control.
We're not just talking Wag the Dog, here. We're wagging the whole goddamn world, and, in case you haven't noticed, the world isn't liking it all that much. The world is pretty fucking tired of it, as a matter of fact. The world has whiplash and the world wants to know "Why?"
THERE WERE NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, OK? We shudda stood in bed, alright? Let's get that one over with right away, though I seriously doubt the issue will go away before the history books are finally re-written.
From the carefully-orchestrated perambulations of Colin Powell (He's the guy the Army put in charge of the My Lai massacre investigation, remember? They made him a General for that one. Or maybe it was for services rendered during Iran-Contra, I forget.), from Colin's lying mouth-in service-to-his-makers, to the ears of the money-grubbing networks who carried all the "embedded" "heroic" stories, to the tape-recorded perfectly-rendered Taps performed solemnly at the funerals of over 660 Americans (so far), we can draw the straightest of bullshit lines. This is jet-propelled, faster than sound, thoroughly modern crap we're…eating, dontcha know. The world has never seen anything like it.
I am not so naïve as to suggest here that George W. Bush, on behalf of his right-wing puppeteers, is the first American President to employ sophisticated marketing techniques to get his/their "job" done. The particular sort of lie we term Propaganda is a way of modern life, a subset of advertising. It was not an accident, parenthetically, that James Joyce made Leopold Bloom, the "Everyman" hero of his titanic novel Ulysses, an advertising canvasser for a Dublin newspaper.
Even Lincoln had Matthew Brady, rearranging bodies on the battlefield to suit his camera and the audience. The famous photo of the U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima—a veritable symbol, by now, of American might and right—is a take-two, remember. The actual flag-raising was not nearly so dramatic nor labor-intensive. Nor did it make such a pretty picture. So they did it again, for the camera.
War, it can be said, is sell. And reelection? Well, with almost two hundred million in the kitty, is there any question what the GOP will be feeding the medium we can only call "narrowcasting" these days?
Nixon had his Checkers and Pat's respectable Republican Cloth Coat. Reagan had his genius way with the TelePrompter and Peggy Noonan. But Dubyah, being…leadership and idea-challenged…the way he always has been, Dubyah needs MUCH MORE help than his predecessors. Perhaps it's because the stakes have become so large. We're talking about creating a New American Empire here, and this is stuff best not left to amateurs.
Since assuming the role of White House Talking Head, George W. Bush has enlisted, among many others, the following professional soldiers in his War on Truth:
- Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, one of the world's largest public relations firms, who suggested that the United States adopt a PR version of the "Powell Doctrine" of using "overwhelming force" as its communications strategy, sort of a "shock and awe" campaign for the coach potato set.
- William Kristol, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and editor of the Weekly Standard, one of Rupert Murdoch's right wing political screeds.
Kristol is a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, basically a group of arms lobbyists and proponents of war in Iraq that predates the second Bush Administration. Other members of the PNAC included Elliot Abrams, Convicted Congressional Liar during Iran-Contra, pardoned by Bush I, Jeb Bush, the President's brother, campaign aide (ahem), and Governor of Florida, Dick Cheney, Vice President and Puppeteer, former CIA Director James Woolsey, whose law firm, Shea & Gardner represents the Iraqi National Congress (more on them later), Richard Perle, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Newt Gingrich…well, you get the picture.
The Project for a New American Century successfully lobbied Congress in 1998 to approve the Iraqi Liberation Act, which made "regime change" an official U.S. policy and authorized $97 million in aid for Iraqi opposition groups.
Nine days after 9/11, PNAC wrote an "open letter" to President Bush, calling for the destruction of Al Queda and waging war on Iraq as well as taking measures against iran, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
- Eleana Benador, founder of Benador Associates, a media relations company that functions as a sort of booking agent for experts on the Middle East and, especially, terrorism. Ms. Benador assures her clients maximum exposure on television programs and in speaking engagements, as well as arranging for op-ed pieces in leading newspapers. Her clients include: Max Boot, "fire-breathing polemicist and unabashed imperialist," Michael Ledeen, prominent Iran-Contra figure, Richard N. Perle, Bush's hawk-in-hand, and Laurie Mylroie, author and outspoken advocate of war with Iraq who claimed Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Benador's clients were all over the airwaves during the build-up to Iraq. ABC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News. They also published books and articles, testified before congressional committees, and worked the Beltway cocktail party circuit assiduously.
- Victoria "Torie" Clarke, the Pentagon kinda-hottie you may remember from the Iraq war's daily briefings, who had previously run the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm. Torie is reported to have assembled the "Rumsfeld Group," Republican PR executive and lobbyist Sheila Tate, beltway lobbyists Charlie Black and Tommy Boggs (also a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia), and columnist Rich Galen.
One of the Rumsfeld group's projects was linking in the public's mind anti-terrorism with the "need to engage 'rogue states'—including Iraq—that are likely to harbor terrorists."
- John W. Rendon, public-relations consultant for the Pentagon and the CIA since Dubyah's dad was in office, and the man who admits "I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact I am an information warrior and a perception manager."
"Did you ever stop to wonder how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American flags? That was one of my jobs."
Rendon, a former campaign consultant to Michael Dukakis and Jimmy Carter, it should be noted, was hired in October, 2001, to assist the OSI, the Office of Strategic Influence, the Pentagon's new propaganda agency.
The agency was formally abandoned after the New York Times reported that it would "provide foreign reporters with news items, possibly false ones." The operative word here, of course, is "formally." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed never to have seen the OSI charter, remarked: "And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And 'Oh, my goodness gracious, isn't that terrible, Henny Penny, the sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine, I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm going to keep doing every single thing that needs to be done, and I have."
When pressed on an update, a Rendon spokeswoman remarked, "Let me just say we have a confidentiality/nondisclosure agreement in place" with the Department of Defense.
Most significantly, I believe, it was the Rendon Group that created the Iraqi National Congress out of whole cloth in 1992 with twelve million dollars of covert CIA money, according to ABC's Peter Jennings. The INC was the first major attempt of the multitudes of groups opposed to the government of Saddam Hussein to act in concert for his removal. Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites, secularists and Islamists, liberal Democrats and retired military—anybody who was somebody on the anti-Saddam bandwagon got to join this outfit.
Ahmed Chalabi, convicted Shiite felon whose family was close to the monarchy that Lawrence of Arabia installed after World War I, exiled from Baghdad since 1958, Rendon's hand-picked protégé, was appointed to head the INC.
Chalabi is the Bush Administration's first choice for New President of the United State of Iraq, or whatever they decide to call it that day. He is reviled by the majority of Iraqis.
We're selling him as "The George Washington of Iraq."
- Charlotte Beers, the legendary "Queen of Madison Avenue" who had been Chairman and CEO of both J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, two of the world's best-known ad agencies. She sold us Uncle Ben's Rice and Head and Shoulders Shampoo before that.
Ms. Beers, in her cups, perhaps, proposed "a television and advertising campaign to try to influence Islamic opinion; one segment could feature American celebrities, "a great athlete, celebrity or singer" to convey a more emotional message, to sell America, "an elegant brand."
"Can a woman stop terrorism?" "Muslim Life in America" and "Mosques of America" were full-blown advertising campaigns devised during the war in Afghanistan.
"You'll find," she says, "that in any great brand, the leverageable asset is the emotional underpinning of the brand."
The irony here, of course, is that bullets and bombs speak loudest to the people they're pointed at. Who, one wonders, was Ms. Beers trying to influence?
Two weeks before Dubyah attacked Iraq, Charlotte Beers resigned, admitting the worst failure in her long career. "The United States lost the public relations war in the Muslim world a long time ago," wrote Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News. "They could have the prophet Muhammad doing public relations and it wouldn't help."
The dumb-dog earnestness with which the Bush Whitehouse seeks to sell America and the world on its reactionary, divisive, racist, one might say fascistic view of the future of the United World of America would be comedic if it were not so pathetic. And dangerous.
Interestingly, Dubyah's public relations failures (numerous) are in a way more interesting and more informative than his successes (obvious), since they give us a better measure of the man he wishes he could be.
I need not mention the bantam-rooster strut in a too-tight flight suit across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of the sign that screamed "Mission Accomplished." Gracious, Henny Penny, that was just stupid. A freshman at Art Center School of Design in Pasadena would've barely received a passing grade for that one. Let's look at something slightly more subtle.
Take for example the famous video of the "Iraqis" tearing down the statue of Saddam Hussein with the help of an American GI and an armored engineering crane to do the heavy work. That lovely piece of propaganda was played and replayed ad infinitum for days. The talking heads waxed rhapsodic: Brokaw compared the event to "all the statues of Lenin (that) came down all across the Soviet Union." "If you don't have goose bumps now you will never have them in your life," gushed David Asman (hmmm), Fox News anchor.
But European news agencies carried a different view of the event: Reuters tape showed a tiny crowd of no more than 200 people, surrounded by US Marines and tanks who had sealed off Firdos Square before even admitting those "spontaneous" "celebratory" “Iraqis.” Los Angeles Times reporter John Daniszewski, too, saw the episode from quite a different perspective than, say, the New York Times which crowed, from thousands of miles away, "Jubilant Iraqis Swarm the Streets of Capitol."
An Iraqi businessman Daniszewski interviewed on the scene warned Americans not to be deceived: "A lot of people are angry at America," he said. "Look at how many people they killed. Today I saw some people breaking this monument, but there were people—men and women—who stood there and said in Arabic: Screw America, screw Bush. So all this is not a simple situation."
Oh, it is so not a simple situation. The problem, it seems to me, is not the way this product we insist on calling "America" is being sold. Rather, the problem is with the "product" itself: Bereft of morality, shot-through with greed, led by a coalition of the willful and the wily, America these days reminds me of one of those cars we developed to counter the German/Japanese invasion—definitely not a "Best Buy," certainly "Not Recommended."
Easter Week 2004 brought us what may prove to be the biggest miscalculation in George W. Bush's quagmire of a War in Iraq.
The Administration's Man on the Scene, Paul Bremer, in a fit of hubris and unmindful of "freedom of the press," closed down the newspaper, al-Hawza, voice of radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for having "published articles that prove an intention to disturb general security and incite violence against the coalition and its employees."
The cleric's followers descended upon the offices of the paper as American troops raided the city in retaliation for the murder and mutilation of four American civilians the week before.
Like an irresistible force encountering an immovable body, the concurrent incidents have led to the deadliest fighting since Bush's war was declared "ended" last May. Five hundred Iraqis have been reported killed, along with 50 American soldiers and Marines.
For those of us blessed with long memories, the week's events seemed very much like Tet '68. That was the turning point, you should know, of the Vietnam War. America never recovered.
The emperor has no clothes. It's all, at best, pornography, though who would want to watch is the real question of the New American Century.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
Peace will not come out of a clash of arms
but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.
Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will.
Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.
It is good to see ourselves as others see us.
Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are,
especially the evil side of us.
This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics
but will take in good heart whatever they might have to say.
Weapons of Mass Deception, Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber,
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2003.
A Collection of Essays, George Orwell, Harvest Books, Orlando, 1970.
Doublespeak, William Lutz, HarperPerennial, New York, 1990.
Raw, Painful, Devastating War, Robert Fisk, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 28, 2003.
(See also mr100percent's excellent writeup on Al hurra, the "Voice" of "America" in the Middle East these days.)