Friday, May 26, 2006

Information War: Massive Failure of Culture and Policy

I've been reading and digesting a prodigious amount of information on "information warfare" in order to write something intelligent and informative on the subject. As noted in my earlier post, I have been reading Jean Francois Revel's "The Flight From Truth" and found it very interesting, particularly where he talks about the sheer magnitude of information, the struggle between "truth" and "lies", the infiltration and acceptance of ideas that we would or should find repugnant into our society, and finally, the inability for truth and democracy to take advantage of this ever increasing flow and techonology to spread the message about totalitarianism.

At the same time, several interesting programs have been on Discovery Times cable channel. Thursday evening the program was called "Media Jihad" and it discussed Al Qaeda and other extremist groups' increasing use of the internet to organize, recruit, train and spread their "message" via videos, forums, websites and other internet based services.

This program is on Friday May 26, 6 AM, 9 AM, 2 PM and 5 PM. If you're able and have the channel, I highly recomment it. It will be repeated in June and the schedule is at this link where you can click and button and get a reminder emailed to you for future viewing.

In the end, a few things are very apparent: the Islamists are not coy about using all types of media to their advantage. They have no qualms about propagandizing their own supporters, the "tacit appovers", outside neutrals or our own civilization. We, on the otherhand, have taken a rather lacadasical approach. Our information programs into these countries that support, even rudimentally, the terrorists and the Islamist ideology, are rather half-measure. Our VOA does not speak their language. When I say "language", I don't mean the native tongue. I mean, we don't speak to their concerns, their culture or their idealism. We don't know it or understand it. Worse than Communism because at least with them we felt we had some sort of commonality of semi-European Culture and Communists routinely used the language of democracy and equality, so we could piggy back onto those concepts.

Not that the Islamists don't say the same things and use them in the same manner as the Communist and other totalitarian regimes do. They insist that information that comes from our Western Civiliazations, Culture and Ideology is damaging their "cultural identity". The guilt and self flagellation that Jean Francois Revel spoke of in "The Flight From Truth", allows this language and idea, that concepts of democracy, freedom, capitalism and information are actually oppressing people and destroying "ancient cultures" is readily accepted, is regurgitated and espoused by every sort of person as if there is something equal about all of these cultures. How one could equate the repression and depression of Mugabe's regime, or the Sudanese Khartoum genocidal regime or even the repressive, authoritarian Saudi Regime with a culture of freedom and democracy, is one of those "simple lies" that continues to see our inability to press forth the freedom of man.

As noted, last week Osama Bin Laden actually talked about the "freedom" of the Muslim Ummah from Western Oppression (he and his co-horts regularly use this language). How many people in this nation, much less in Middle East, nodded their heads in agreement? What we failed to hear from our representatives is, if not an actual "reply" to the statement (would that imply we are considering the words of the Islamists? as opposed to countering it?), a response that used their own words against them as they attempt to use the concept of "liberty" and "freedom" (all be it, mightily distorted and deranged) against us? Where are the spokespeople who should or would counter that freedom requires the freedom to speak without fear of reprisals, yet any person that speaks about Islam or terrorism or rejects the Islamists are routinely and quite bloodily dispatched (if not tortured before hand)? Freedom of religion that demands every man and woman be able to worship who and how they please, but in areas controlled by Islamists or Islamic governments, minority religions are persecuted, prosecuted, terrorized, often tortured and killed? What of their usual practice of killing or running out of town anyone that does not adhere to their strict ideology even if they share the same faith?

Where is the discussions about freedom of information, intellect and discovery that allows people to dream, imagine and create? Where are the discussions about protection of minorities in politics, law and person? Where are the discussions that point to the very fallibility of these claims of "freedom"?

What about the opposite? Where are the commenters, speakers, representatives, think tanks or other that will look inside these nations where Islamist Jihad has yet to take hold of a significant part of the population, but wriggles its way in, where we have identified parts of their culture or idealism that have similar values (family, trust, faith, etc) that we have pointed to and shown the inconsistency, if not lies, from the Islamists about our relationship with people of these nations? Have we ever talked about individual rights and responsibilities? The ability to maintain cultural identity, how our own immigrants of similar background or from other nations have been able to keep or add their identities to the American Identity?

What I've seen to date of our speaking, our media, our representatives is that they spend a lot of time talking about either nonsense or our "policies" which, to be certain, concern people of other nations that are not as strong as we are economically, politically or militarily, but, when it gets down to the "hearts and minds" of individuals who are the ones, after all, that are supporting (tacit or overt) or deciding to join Islamist movements, talks about nation to nation policies are barely the tip of the iceburg. We should be talking to the people about people and ideas. We should be talking around and over the governments and these other movements.

Instead, we have limited media outlets in these nations. Our radio and television have limited broadcasting and they do not speak the "language" of people.

Why do we not do this? Because, post collapse of the Soviet Union and, in previous years, the Vietnam War which was finally represented as a "lie" by the government and stays that way, not only do our "left" (extreme or otherwise) declare the words of our nation as "propaganda" (even as they themselves indulge in the worst sort of "disinformation" propaganda to our people), but it has become commonly accepted in our culture that politicians, thus the government, lies. So does the media. So does everyone else. We saw, during the cold war, an immense "propganda" campaign against Communism and it's evils. Now, since the Bear died and other "Communist States" are in shambles, we have the luxury to look back on those days and pretend they were not as perilous as we thought. After all, our major nemesis collapsed without firing a direct shot. Never mind those proxy wars to fend off Soviet and general Communist expansion. Because we now know that these nations were a wreck and they collapsed, we can now pretend they were no danger to us. Or, just as bad, some who claimed for decades that there really was no Communist Threat, can pretend they were right as evidenced by it's collapse.

Thus, not only do the proxy wars begin to be redefined as "American Imperialism" (still the language of the Communists and Socialists, even after the Soviet Collapse; which indicates the pervasiveness their propaganda into our culture), but the information war that we fought is now considered "bad propaganda" that, in reality, not only affected the Communists, but had been used against our own people: the US and other Western Democracies. According to the pervasive myth that has now entered our post Cold World consciousness, all of this information about the terribleness of Communism and the Soviet Empire was "fear mongering" and "scare tactics" or, worse, "disinformation" aimed at our own people in order to hide this "shadow governments" real agenda to "take over the world" and spread "economic and military hegemony" in order to "pillage world resources".

This is not something that is simply a product of or believed by extreme leftists [dare I say "Stalinists"] of this nation or other Western democracies. It has literally infiltrated our every thought. Even the most common man on the street who probably knows little about history, has done no research into the era and never watched any documentary or read books on the subject, knows about our "propaganda" (information) war and believes that he has been routinely duped by his own government and politicians. He or she believes that even rhetoric that espouses democracy, equality and freedom, is simply a ruse to convince the rest of the poor schlubs to go along with whatever policy the government is espousing today.

This is why, even if people don't totally buy it, the "Bush lied, people died" meme was able to make it into maintstream politics and, has had a subconscious effect on people's support for the war. It's Vietnam, isn't it? The Islamist terrorists [who, by the way actually attacked and killed 2987 of our people on one day, has killed many hundreds of our people and our allies on many other days and has certainly killed tens of thousands of Muslims] even espouse the same propaganda as the North Vietnamese: freedom and liberty from colonial oppression.

It all sounds too ridiculously familiar.

There is a deep seated fear that governments lie and can make their citizens do things that they would not normally do. We know this because we know what the Nazis did and we know what the Soviets did. We've seen Baghdad Bob. Of course, Vietnam was a lie and, even if we sometimes look fondly back at the media and posters of World War II (Rosie the Riveter, Loose Lips Sink Ships, etc), the "good war", we know that propaganda was part of and parcel of our participation, so we have decided that we must look upon statements or other information from the government or any entity/branch of it (including and particularly the military) as propaganda to effect our opinions and potentially make us do things that "we don't want to".

The problem with this is many fold. The first of which is the assumption that, before the advent of Hitler, no one in Germany was an anti-semite. It was all one big happy, Jazz playing, swing dancing, intellectually diverse, loving culture before Hitler stepped up and took control of the state information apparatus. Most people forget that the post WWI Germany was economically depressed, had a large Communist and Socialist movment, had plenty of people who already blamed the German version of the "military/industrial complex" or, in their world, Jewish Bankers trying to take over Europe and exterminate the pure, ancient, native people. Many people assume that Hitler simply came to power during a time of deep financial and poltical crisis and was then able to use the state apparatus to impose a nationalistic, anti-semitic, violent ideology on an otherwise cosmopolitan and liberal country. As if he had waved a magic wand and turned normal people into racist haters.

I find Revel to have an extremely excellent point in "The Flight From Truth" and that is that information is out there, the truth is out there, but most people don't take the time to know it. They like the sound bite version of information which leaves a lot to be desired when trying to decide important issues.

In the case of Nazi Germany and even the citizens of other nations that actually formed Nazi parties and joined Nazi regiments, the Vichy Government of France, for instance, anti-semitic ultra nationalism was not new or forced on these people. They were not so over inundated with propaganda that they were simply brainwashed. Anti-semitism was rife in those nations for centuries. It had, in fact, experienced a "racist spring" if you will during the turn of the century. Old writers and new had written books on the subject. Eugenics was the new scientific rage in Europe and the United States. There was much more going on than political and economic crisis in Europe or Germany in particular.

Hitler was accepted because people not only wanted a strong leader, he played into their existing biases.

That's what people fear here. They believe that the people of this nation or other Western democratic, free nations are so weak that we would do the same, easily and with little qualms. So, we must protect ourselves from the same possibility by limiting our governments' information activities, lest we become those unsuspecting, duped Germans and French who bought into all that horrible propaganda.

Accept, of course, it was already a predominant theme in Europe long before Hitler was even born. Some of it had even snuck into the American psyche and stayed there until long after the war. But, no one can talk about it because then they would have to admit to their own prejudices and the possibility of evil actions without the control or direction of "the state" or the rise of some purely evil man who can "dupe" them. We're a free nation with equality, multi-cultural acceptance of others: we can't have that.

At the same time, because we are so pre-occupied with the existence of state propaganda and its effect on us, we believe that we can know the "enemy's" propaganda when we see and here it, thus we are immune. Most people are blissfully unaware of how the interconnectivity of our world insures that, even if we think we know blatant propaganda when we see it, the subtle and even direct propaganda of the Islamist enemy is often swallowed "hook, line and sinker". Or, at least, brushes up against our own preconceived ideas about our nation, our freedoms and our past actions (which we have duely negated and redefined as "terrible acts that never should have happened" since the threat that existed then is "gone"), that people who say they are angry with Osama bin Laden and other perpetrators of 9/11, subconsciously, they accept that Osama Bin Laden is right. Somewhere in the past or current geopolitical structure, some action of the United States and other Western nations, was so repressive against Islam that they may have a real grievance and we can "understand" why they want to kill.

People, subconsiously and sometimes consciously, buy the propaganda. Somewhere, in the back of their minds, they think that these people are justified in their actions and our response, while necessary, might not be as clearly justified. Understand, we're not talking about leftist extremists who have embibed too much Chomsky and Cheese during grad school. We're talking about people on the street who have been inundated with the subtle "revised" history of the United States and their own cultures which has so routinely addressed the "ills" of our society that it has some how surpassed the very real and extreme ills in the world today or in history. Not the least of which is the growing strength of Islamist Salafist ideology in nations around the globe. An ideology that is totalitarian by nature and dresses itself in the rhetoric of "freedom" and protection of "identity".

In our own nation, we have become so sensitive to the possibility of our own failings and past that we have become unable and unwilling to promote our virtues and decry the evils of other ideologies and states. It's taboo to speak ill of others when we are not pure as if our actions now or in the past equal the mass murders and total repression of Communist Russia, Ba'athist Iraq, Islamist Iran or the equally repugnant Salafist Islamists who behead, torture and kill for nothing more than not believing as they do, much less dressing as they want, growing beards, playing music, reading books: all of the things that are truly antithetical to the "freedom" they keep talking about. Instead, we spend most of our time talking about our own failings and tying ourselves up in knots about it.

The Islamists and other totalitarian nations love that. It gives them ready made propaganda. They don't even have to say much, just let us do the talking so that we convince ourselves that they are right. Every once in awhile, bin Laden, Zawahiri, Qadawri or some other Islamist will simply pick up on our existing cultural angst and re-enforces something that is already in the public conscious and information net. For instance, a recent commentary emerged from bin Laden regarding the weakness of our army due to increased drug abuse and suicide as well as alleged recruiting problems. These were from reports that had been issued in the US press on these subjects and had gained wide spread coverage. This was not information or intelligence that he gleaned on his own nor is it really indicative of the quality of our forces.

Yet, we know the reason why the reports had gained such interest setting off much self examination here, thus ringing the "media jihad" bells and working its way into bin Laden's speech. Mainly because, since Vietnam, we have had a deep seated fear (and real belief?) that our armed forces who are sent to fight in war are all in danger of becoming addicts and self-destructing because we force them to do terrible things without just cause. Most normal people understand that war is not normal and can affect people deeply on the emotional psyche level, but, along with this knowledge brought to us by the advancement of psychological sciences (almost an oxymoron), has come the concept that no war is worth this cost. It's the Vietnam anti-war cry that has been transposed over and over again to our society and now infiltrates even the common man's ideas on war who would by no means describe himself as a leftist, but has been instructed quite roundly by our new post Vietnam, post Cold War world that all war is futile and is too damaging to ourselves (and many, many innocents) to undertake.

It's brought home by images and words that largely focus death and destruction without true context of the personal or overall struggle. When a soldier is killed or injured, he is simply dead from an attack. No discussion about the efforts to bring freedom and democracy, to stop the spread of extremist ideology or defend the United States. No one talks about whether he (or she) died fighting off three to one odds of jihadists/insurgents on their patrol while trying to defend their wounded friends. No one talks about the living heroes who defend their friends and nation. they are all heroic, but you already know that, according to our culture so instead we must tell you that this heroism is worthless and damaging, thus should not be undertaken.

That is the message. Sometimes its not even that subtle.

And the Islamists love it. At the same time, the media and other information entities (music, movies, etc) want to tell you that the use of this information by Al Qaeda and other Islamists is totally incidental to the purpose of their program, reporting or ideology. Yet it is there and that is what has infected and affected our culture.

This infliction, this failure of culture and ideology, has resulted in our current, massive failure of policy in the information war. It is not simply the government's inability to be creative. They could be very creative if the every creative attempt was not shot down as fascist state propaganda. What we have created is a society that now believes that the free flow of information is so prevalent in our modern world that we should not have to indulge in an information war. As the commenter from my post "Virtual Leader" indicated, we should simply have a clear and consistent message; everything else would some how take care of itself.

After all, we have access to free media, the internet and any number of print, television and satellite capabilities. This message should simply convey itself without actually tailoring it to the specifics of the Islamist rhetoric, the cutlural and political realities of people in the region or any attacks. We should not seek out specific venues like forums and websites of moderates or extremists to discuss the issues or our political objectives. We should not try to engineer the availability of stories or information. We should not use any of the methods we used to fight Communism or Nazism. It's a brave new world and we should simply be able to speak and we will be heard.

We have put laws in place to govern the kinds of information and where it will be available, seen or heard. But, because of the affect of international media where stories in Beijing or Lahore or Baghdad media are on the internet or picked up by other international news agencies around the globe (including our own), this presents a unique problem to information strategies. Laws currently on our books prohibit information from any program aimed outside of our borders, to be reproduced at will by that agency in the United States. Since the fall of the USSR, we have interpreted that very stringently. If there is a coordinated information strategy above and beyond our arabic television and radio (that does not play 24/7; does not provide enough news in some cases, does not reflect the issues of the populace it is aimed at, etc) it is one of the weakest efforts we've put forward in decades. Our own free media is supposed to somehow take up the slack.

Considering the effects of collective, subjective truth on the media, that is down right insane to leave the fate and the future of information warfare to people who believe that their main duty is to be the watchdog of OUR government.

It's a massive failure. Watch "media Jihad" and tell me that I am wrong.


During the story, both Peter Bergen and Former Under Sec. for public diplomacy Charlotte Beers indicated that, in order to combat extremism in the ME, we would need an informatin program on the scale of the Cold War. Charlotte Beers made the most telling comment:

This is something that our government is not comfortable doing.

She's right. Now we need to figure out how we will work through this "uncomfortable" feelings and get on with saving our our country and our people.

1 comment:

TheRaccoon said...

That's the problem - this won't be solved. Unfortunately, Liberal Democracy carry in themselves the seed of their destruction. They are hand-tied by propriety; their will is weakened by diversity; they are castrated by political correctness and guilt. The modern Western motto is "The Strong is Wrong!" - and therefore the stupid, cud-chewing masses WANT to lose, want to be weak, want to be oppressed and subjugated... just so that they will not have to endure the burden of strength anymore.

How can you solve this? How can you explain to the fools that strength is not a weakness and vice versa?

I, for one, this we're buggered.