Susan A. Brewer is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her new book, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq, is a fascinating history of how successive presidents have conducted what Donald Rumsfeld called “perception management”. In the original post below she looks at the top ten American propaganda messages of the last century.
Propaganda sells wars. Emotionally powerful and instantly recognizable, propaganda messages serve to simplify complex international crises for public consumption. A persuasive blend of fact and fiction, they resonate with what Americans want to believe about themselves. Here are the top ten messages used by the U.S. government over the past century to rally public support for war.
10. WE FIGHT TO STOP ANOTHER HITLER. There was only one Hitler, but he
lives on in wartime propaganda since World War II.
9. WE FIGHT OVER THERE SO WE DON’T HAVE TO FIGHT HERE. In this message, America typically is portrayed as a pastoral land of small towns, not as an urban, industrialized superpower.
8. WE FIGHT CLEAN WARS WITH SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGY. This message suggests that U.S. troops will not be in much danger, nor will innocent civilians be killed in what is projected to be a quick and decisive conflict.
7. WE FIGHT TO PROTECT WOMEN AND CHILDREN. A traditional theme of war propaganda since ancient times, it is accompanied by compelling visuals and heartrending stories.
6. WE FIGHT BRUTISH, FANATICAL ENEMIES. Another classic, it dehumanizes enemy fighters.
5. WE FIGHT TO UNITE THE NATION. Here war is shown to heal old wounds and unify the divisions caused by the Civil War, class conflict, racial and ethnic differences, or past failures such as the Vietnam War.
4. WE FIGHT FOR THE FLAG AND THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS. The trend has been to emphasize the flag over the republic. The more flags on display, the less likely the people’s elected representatives will debate foreign policy or exercise their power to declare war.
3. WE FIGHT TO LIBERATE THE OPPRESSED. When the oppressed resist U.S. help, they appear ungrateful and in need of American guidance especially if they have valuable resources.
2. WE FIGHT TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. During the Philippine War, for example, this message advised that Uncle Sam knew what was best for the little brown brothers.
1. WE FIGHT TO PROTECT THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE. Although the American way of life stands for peace, it requires a lot of fighting.