War Opposition Made Easy

By David Swanson

The new film “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” makes arguing against wars easy. If you get into a debate about war, just make the points made so clearly in this film, or – better yet – convince a war supporter to watch the film. Best of all would be to persuade every American to read Norman Solomon’s book of the same title, on which the movie is based.

The book has the greatest depth, but the movie has much to add even for those who’ve read the book. It’s simply stunning to watch this brilliantly edited video of numerous past presidents using identical lines to promote equally fraudulent wars, and to watch how the media gives the propaganda the same basic spin for each new war. The quality of the video improves; the callous cruelty and deception remain the same.

We like to think that the media has grown drastically worse in recent years, but Solomon and narrator Sean Penn make a compelling case that the fundamental lies used to sell wars to the American public have not changed over the past 50 years. The Bush Administration’s campaign to take the country to war in Iraq on the basis of lies was remarkably similar to President Lyndon Johnson’s use of the media when he wanted to attack the Dominican Republic and Reagan’s when he was inclined to invade Grenada, not to mention Bush the First’s when Panama was his chosen victim. In fact, Solomon draws disturbing parallels to Johnson’s and Nixon’s lies about Vietnam, Reagan’s about Libya and Lebanon, Bush the First’s about the First Gulf War and about Haiti, Clinton’s about Haiti, Yugoslavia, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and Bush Jr.’s all too recent lies about Afghanistan. There just doesn’t seem to be anything new about a president taking this country to war on the basis of laughably bad lies that anyone who was paying attention never fell for. Those who do not learn to see through these war lies are condemned to fight more wars, and the more such wars we put behind us the more we should be blamed for allowing each new one.

The film gives special attention to the lies that led us into Iraq in the most recent invasion and occupation. We see footage of how the U.S. media reported on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and we see how this parallels reporting on Colin Powell’s United Nations presentation. Solomon makes the important point that war lies are usually widely recognized as such at the time they are used, but that voices of dissent are shut out of the media and subsequently erased from history. Solomon shows us British newspapers mocking Powell’s lies the day after he uttered them. And we see Phil Donahue challenging the war hype with guests on his show including Phyllis Bennis and Jeff Cohen. MSNBC cancelled Donahue’s show because he opposed the war. Now we hear pundits claiming that at the time this war began nobody questioned the White House’s claims. We even have new lies presented as further revisions of history, such as President Bush’s claim that Iraq kicked out the weapons inspectors. (In reality Bush pulled them out in order to begin the bombing). Complicating this picture, of course, is the utter lunacy of Vice President Dick Cheney who still today makes the same claims about Iraq and al Qaeda that he made before the war.

In “War Made Easy” we see highlights of the media’s coverage of the current war, including much glorification of high-tech weaponry. The message we are being fed, Solomon points out, is that bombing from a distance with “precision” weapons is moral, whereas strapping on a bomb and committing suicide is immoral. This distortion of morality, to focus only on the effects of one’s actions on oneself is part of an American view of war at a time when we have shifted from 10% of war deaths being civilian in World War I to 90% being civilian in the current invasion and occupation of Iraq.

As we listen to Solomon’s voice of sanity in between outrageous and disgusting news footage, we begin to better realize that the big story in this war and occupation is not what the media reports on, and not even the American military deaths that the peace movement likes to focus on, but rather the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent non-Americans.

The so called Vietnam Syndrome, Solomon says, is misunderstood as American public resistance to wars with too many U.S. casualties. Solomon points out that the public supported World War II, but rapidly turned against the Vietnam War and even more rapidly turned against the occupation of Iraq. The difference is not the death count, but rather the public belief that the war is based on deception. The U.S. public never came to believe that World War II was based on lies, but as it did reach that belief about these other two wars, its support for the wars dropped off accordingly.

Solomon points out, however, that once a war has been begun, ending it is a lot more difficult than preventing it would have been. All sorts of ready-made propaganda supports keeping any war going. Phrases like “cut and run,” “stay the course,” and “support the troops,” are revived with each new war. And the displace the question of what the war is really being fought for, even after the original justifications for the war have been fully exposed as lies.

Rather than challenging this traditional propaganda, opponents of wars often turn to softer criticisms, such as claiming that the war is not winnable or has been mishandled or has resulted in a quagmire. But those arguments don’t challenge the morality or legality of launching aggressive foreign wars. And that is what we must do. We may not have many more chances.

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