The Significance of "Popular Support for the War" in the U.S.

Popular support is measured by pollsters these days, not ascertained by you as you talk with your neighbors, friends, customers in a bar or cafe,  church-goers, those who joined the same club as you, members of your local basketball team, people on the bus, in subways, or  in the mall you frequent. Those who conduct polls like to tell you that our personal experience of a mood, an atmosphere  that perhaps is not as overwhelmingly pro-war as the media claim, is in the end irrelevant and "not scientifically conclusive." They (this is what they are claiming) do the neutral, scientific, trustworthy work. But they are people of flesh and blood, with temptations, not saints. They are employed by institutes, companies, sometimes big corporations; they design questionaires that can well influence answers and lead to biased results. As experts, they are expected to be thorough and exact; as employees, they are exposed to certain pressures by their bosses; and these bosses are not neutral:  they are often what you would call "an interested party," or affiliated to or economically dependent on, "interested parties," "big players" - in the political and economic field of action - who are not neutral.

Popular support is also "built," that is to say, constructed or engineered, to some extent, sometimes to a significant extent, by people with certain material or political interests. Think of the lumber industry in the Northwest.The big logging companies have a material interest to keep costs down and profits stable by large-scale, all-out harvesting. Recent Canadian legislation that forces them to replant mountain slopes harvested by them, is a nuisance to companies because it entails added cost. In the case of  people living in logging communities, for instance the places in the North West that receive tax income from logging and that rely on the logging companies for jobs, the picture is often determined by the material interests of large lumber companies. These corporations know how to influence local media dependent on revenue from advertisement; they build connections with certain regional and local politicians by making campaign contributions; they engender a certain fear or apprehension among their employees that environmentalists threaten their jobs. If a big corporation like Pacific Lumber moved out and left a given area entirely, claiming it was no longer profitable for "harvesting," people would be left with a situation that would be difficult to cope with. So signs in shop windows and the window displays of local bars, saying "We support the lumber industry," reflect a situation where public opinion has been influenced by a "big player." In fact, lumber industry would - and (in the Canadian case) does - survive ecologically more sane use of nature. Regulations foreseeing replanting of harvested areas would provide additional jobs in the area. There is no reason why people in the affected communities cannot come to different conclusions about "ecological issues." But opinions, once rooted in brains, show a certain inertia; it takes time and effort and sometimes, unforeseen events to "learn" that the old assumptions were questionable. This slowness can play in favor of the "big players" in the economy and in politics which are often close buddies; it can play in favor of the  "media infrastructure" controlled by them. In the United States, the material and political interests of just a few large corporations dominate the national press and the major television chains. Independent discussions of issues are not made easier by such control.

We know that in another country, Germany, turned into a fairly liberal, fairly democratic country by its November Revolution of 1918 (when the Emperor was forced into Dutch exile), conservative and anti-democratic forces quickly established control of relevant media. The Hugenberg corporation that controlled a major chunk of the press was the most influential among them. Since about 1928, the Hugenberg-controlled media, in coalition with big business, systematically stepped up their attacks against democracy, supporting, above all, the newly emerging "nationalists" who called themselves NSDAP (Hitler's party), in addition to the DNVP (the old-style, pro-monarchy Conservatives). The material interests of big business coincided with the nostalgia and stupidity of certain middle class strata. The result of the strategies of the media to drive "public opinion" to the right  was that in 1933, in the last free national election before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship, the emerging German dictator, Hitler, was voted into power legally, though only with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

When the war started in 1939, even some Nazis (as the German Fascists were called) were full of apprehension and somber feelings, remembering the terrors of World War I, remembering that Hitler, in the course of his election campaign, had repeatedly promised them he was "the safest guarantor of peace."  That had been only six years before the Nazi regime had triggered the war. At the time,  those who had voted against him, apparently had never believed him; but among his followers and those who were swayed by his promises, not a few may have taken this election campaign slogan quite seriously.

Then, when the war (tellingly described as 'Blitzkrieg') brought rapid initial successes, more and more people were swayed. Most Nazis and many non-Nazies felt it their 'patriotic duty' to support the boys at the front. The propaganda machinery effectively enforced this trend. The fascists had comprehended its importance all too well, making clever use of radio transmissions and the state-supervised movie industry. (TV was still to be invented, in the mid-1930s.) 

It was only in 1944 and 1945 that the (by then, tiny) anti-fascist resistance made new attempts to kill Hitler. Even among Fascists and their fellow-travelers (the so-called 'silent majority'?), support for the regime dwindled or became half-hearted. The doubt that the war could be won could no longer be suppressed.  And the enormous number of victims had the effect that more and more people began to rethink their position. Apparently the war had been a disaster; it had not been a patriotic course of action destined to 'undo' the 'injustice of (the) Versailles (peace treaty)' that the conservatives and monarchists had always rejected.
It became apparent as merely an aggressive, murderous, criminal war.

In the United States, Bush "won" the election with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote as well, not without massive electoral fraud. He is no Fascist, but he too was massively supported by big business, especially Big oil, arms makers and pharmaceutical corporations. As for oil corporations, everyone who is at least slightly informed about the basic facts of today's world, knows they have massive interests abroad - especially in oil-rich regions like the Middle East. That Bush would follow an aggressive course of action in Central Asia and the Middle East, is no consequence of September 11; it was a foregone conclusion long before that date. As for the attack on Iraq, the fact that the belligerent course of action was decided on before Sept. 11 and at least as early as the summer of 2001, has been admitted openly by now.

Today, as the war has started, the anti-war movement seems to be pushed into a "minority position" by manipulative reporting of the media, as well as the "deeply rooted" [as the media say] tendency to "support our boys" once war has started. Whether such pro-war feelings are deeply rooted, can be doubted. The faces of the wifes and mothers of those sent to war seem anguished, worried, full of apprehension, of doubt. Not a few openly support the protests against the war. The biased, one-sided, pro-Government and pro-war media do not necessarily overwhelm a father who can think and who sees the inexperience and naivity of his 19-year-old boy who is about to be sent off to war and who proudly tells him he will have something to "tell his kids about" when he is old. War hysteria engendered by the media  does not influence a mother filled with love for her boy or girl who joined the army because this meant a job and "educational opportunities," "job training," a certain "security" in his or her life. It is easy to be overwhelmed by "patriotic" pro-war sentiments if you don't have to pay personally. If it is you or your loved ones who have to go (and who may even die) for the interests of oil corporations, the inanity of 'nationalism' that fills the statements of politicians is encountered with much more scepticism, if not outright reservations. 

It is often the underprivileged who join armies not made up of draftees -  so-called professional armies. Young men from small towns like, say, White Sulphur Springs in Montana, with few jobs for kids that were not lucky enough to go to college. Those like Timothy McVeigh (now famous for his deadly involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing) who had few chances in life. Mc Veigh, we know today, came from a farm in the East that was auctioned off because his dad could not survive the farm crisis. It's the kids from Newark, from Houston, from Watts who are sent to war, usually boys from blue-collar families,  not the likes of George W. or the the sons of the wealthy law firm partner who plays gulf with him...

The pro-war movement of Bush and his friends (people with ties to Enron, Haliburton, Exxon, etc.), the pro-war policy of the major media (many of them speaking with practically one voice, as if we were living in Stalin's Russia) obviously want to make us believe that they are "dead certain" that war is in the best interest of the United States. No inanity, no forged proof, no absurd allegation is too silly for them. The rockets of a country some 20,000 miles away are painted as a threat to the US, but UN inspectors told us they overstepped the legal limits of their reach, roughly one hundred miles, by merely 18 or 20 miles. Washington politicians like Rumsfeld, when working for another Republican president in the 1980s, sold anthrax to Iraq, for use against what was then officially considered to be America's "biggest foe" in the region, Iran. The biological weapons have apparently been destroyed  by now, as a consequence of the UN inspections. At least, we have reasons to assume that this is so, unless any such weapons can be discovered in Iraq. Is it that the Washington politicians who are arguing for war today think of us as a population by and large so ignorant that we will swallow almost any lie? Goebbels, the Fascist secretary of the propaganda department, once claimed that a lie is turned into what people think is the truth if you repeat it often enough.The lies, the deliberate misinformation, the distorted facts current today in the talks of politicians, in the reports of the media, get wide publicity. All this is a factor that has a material effect on the minds of many people too lazy to think for themselves, too impregnated with school book patriotism learned at an early age and accepted as the "appropriate", though deeply conformist "American attitude." It was George Orwell who had critically anticipated, in the 1940s,  the lesson taught by the effectiveness of Fascist use of the media. Formally democratic states like Britain or America, he had warned, might one day make similar use of them if authoritarian tendencies were to grow stronger. Maybe he was overly fearful because there are always people awake enough and immune against propaganda, whether spread by dictatorial regimes or crooked Washington politicians. But the "publicity effects" of today's propaganda spread by the irresponsible government of a democratic country (and its equally irresponsible allies, anchored in the major media!) cannot be denied. 

It is thinking and compassionate people (not those who brandish their "compassionate" feelings as an election ploy, but those practicing what they believe in, without making a big ballyhoo about it) who are asking themselves today what war will mean for civilians in Baghdad and other Iraqi places. What it will mean to 18- and 19-year-olds from Albany, New York or Tryon, Nebraska who are sent over to "do the job." They represent the alternative to the war-movement, to the politicians and their "experts" who are so involved in a PR campaign that is trying to sell Americans the idea that violence is the answer.  The alternative of the war movement that is occupying the influential political positions in Washington is to be found in the form of the many, many local iniatives, started by concerned citizens. The old and the young. Women and men. WASPS and Polish Catholics and Mexican-Americans, Native Americans and Italian Americans and Black Americans. All of us. Working class people and those out of work, university professors and high school students and those yet in kindergarten. We, the people, those who are concerned. Or just worried.  And this includes quite a few of those materially affected, friends and relatives of those who have to go whether they want to or not. (Of course, they have the 'freedom' to say no and face years of imprisonment;  the freedom to desert - and seek [unlikely?] asylum in states where governments oppose the war.)

Perhaps we are really only a minority now. Not a small minority (30 to 40 percent, the media tell us.) But a minority - if they don't lie. If they don't falsify figures. Perhaps "most people" are still half asleep. Or swayed by slogans. By lies. By disinformation.

But will not cruel facts come to make more people confront this truth about war -  that nobody wins, in the end, none of us common people?  That is its only a few politicians who stand to make (or ruin) their careers by it? And a few corporations, like EXXON -  still filled by the  hope to replace a few foreign competitors (like TOTAL and FINA)?

As we come to recognize the extent of so-called "collateral damage" (an inhuman term for human victims "inadevertently" killed, as the military claims), as we come to see the suffering of GIs returning with the Gulf syndrome or the sadness of families awaiting the remains of their loved ones that are being shipped back in so-called "body bags," will we see more and more people begin to think, and begin to rethink, their support for a President and a political course of action that profits so few and hurts so many?

Perhaps we should be confident.
Time is on our side. The media are not all-powerful. Bush is not all-powerful. 
We shall overcome, as those did who opposed, years ago, the war in Vietnam.

War is not an acceptable solution. The war that is being conducted by US forces in Iraq and that has cost already hundreds of civilian lives cannot be justified. Bring the boys home!

(March 24, 2003)

[The original file was updated when typing mistakes were subsequently corrected by the editors.]


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