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Necessary Illusions 

Thought Control in Democratic Societies


By Noam Chomsky

Chapter Three

III. The Bounds of the Expressible

While recognizing that there is rarely anything strictly new under the sun, still we can identify some moments when traditional ideas are reshaped, a new consciousness crystallizes, and the opportunities that lie ahead appear in a new light. Fabrication of necessary illusions for social management is as old as history, but the year 1917 might be seen as a transition point in the modern period. The Bolshevik revolution gave concrete expression to the Leninist conception of the radical intelligentsia as the vanguard of social progress, exploiting popular struggles to gain state power and to impose the rule of the "Red bureaucracy" of Bakunin's forebodings. This they proceeded at once to do, dismantling factory councils, Soviets, and other forms of popular organization so that the population could be effectively mobilized into a "labor army" under the control of far-sighted leaders who would drive the society forward -- with the best intentions, of course. To this end, the mechanisms of Agitprop are fundamental; even a totalitarian state of the Hitler or Stalin variety relies on mass mobilization and voluntary submission.

One notable doctrine of Soviet propaganda is that the elimination by Lenin and Trotsky of any vestige of control over production by producers and of popular involvement in determining social policy constitutes a triumph of socialism. The purpose of this exercise in Newspeak is to exploit the moral appeal of the ideals that were being successfully demolished. Western propaganda leaped to the same opportunity, identifying the dismantling of socialist forms as the establishment of socialism, so as to undermine left-libertarian ideals by associating them with the practices of the grim Red bureaucracy. To this day, both systems of propaganda adopt the terminology, for their different purposes. When both major world systems of propaganda are in accord, it is unusually difficult for the individual to escape their tentacles. The blow to freedom and democracy throughout the world has been immense.

In the same year, 1917, John Dewey's circle of liberal pragmatists took credit for guiding a pacifist population to war "under the influence of a moral verdict reached after the utmost deliberation by the more thoughtful members of the community,...a class which must be comprehensively but loosely described as the `intellectuals'," who, they held, had "accomplished...the effective and decisive work on behalf of the war."1 This achievement, or at least the self-perception articulated, had broad consequences. Dewey, the intellectual mentor, explained that this "psychological and educational lesson" had proven "that it is possible for human beings to take hold of human affairs and manage them." The "human beings" who had learned the lesson were "the intelligent men of the community," Lippmann's "specialized class," Niebuhr's "cool observers." They must now apply their talents and understanding "to bring about a better reorganized social order," by planning, persuasion, or force where necessary; but, Dewey insisted, only the "refined, subtle and indirect use of force," not the "coarse, obvious and direct methods" employed prior to the "advance of knowledge." The sophisticated resort to force is justified if it satisfies the requirement of "comparative efficiency and economy in its use." The newly articulated doctrines of "manufacture of consent" were a natural concomitant, and in later years we were to hear much of "technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals" who transcend ideology and will solve the remaining social problems by rational application of scientific principles.2

Since that time, the main body of articulate intellectuals have tended towards one or the other of these poles, avoiding "democratic dogmatisms" about people understanding their own interests and remaining cognizant of the "stupidity of the average man" and his need to be led to the better world that his superiors plan for him. A move from one to the other pole can be quite rapid and painless, since no fundamental change of doctrine or value is at stake, only an assessment of the opportunities for attaining power and privilege: riding a wave of popular struggle, or serving established authority as social or ideological manager. The conventional "God that failed" transition from Leninist enthusiasms to service to state capitalism can, I believe, be explained in substantial measure in these terms. Though there were authentic elements in the early stages, it has long since degenerated to ritualistic farce. Particularly welcome, and a sure ticket to success, is the fabrication of an evil past. Thus, the confessed sinner might describe how he cheered the tanks in the streets of Prague, supported Kim Il Sung, denounced Martin Luther King as a sellout, and so on, so that those who have not seen the light are implicitly tarred with the brush.3 With the transition accomplished, the path to prestige and privilege is open, for the system values highly those who have seen the error of their ways and can now condemn independent minds as Stalinist-style apologists, on the basis of the superior insight gained from their misspent youth. Some may choose to become "experts" in the style candidly articulated by Henry Kissinger, who defined the "expert" as a person skilled in "elaborating and defining [the]...consensus [of]...his constituency," those who "have a vested interest in commonly held opinions: elaborating and defining its consensus at a high level has, after all, made him an expert."4

A generation later, the United States and the Soviet Union had become the superpowers of the first truly global system, realizing the expectations of Alexander Herzen and others a century before, though the dimensions of their power were never comparable and both have been declining in their capacity to influence and coerce for some years. The two models of the role of the intellectuals persist, similar at their root, adapted to the two prevailing systems of hierarchy and domination. Correspondingly, systems of indoctrination vary, depending on the capacity of the state to coerce and the modalities of effective control. The more interesting system is that of capitalist democracy, relying on the free market -- guided by direct intervention where necessary -- to establish conformity and marginalize the "special interests."

The primary targets of the manufacture of consent are those who regard themselves as "the more thoughtful members of the community," the "intellectuals," the "opinion leaders." An official of the Truman administration remarked that "It doesn't make too much difference to the general public what the details of a program are. What counts is how the plan is viewed by the leaders of the community"; he "who mobilizes the elite, mobilizes the public," one scholarly study of public opinion concludes. The "`public opinion' that Truman and his advisers took seriously, and diligently sought to cultivate," was that of the elite of "opinion leaders," the "foreign policy public," diplomatic historian Thomas Paterson observes5; and the same is true consistently, apart from moments when a "crisis of democracy" must be overcome and more vigorous measures are required to relegate the general public to its proper place. At other times they can be satisfied, it is hoped, with diversions and a regular dose of patriotic propaganda, and fulminations against assorted enemies who endanger their lives and homes unless their leaders stand fast against the threat.

In the democratic system, the necessary illusions cannot be imposed by force. Rather, they must be instilled in the public mind by more subtle means. A totalitarian state can be satisfied with lesser degrees of allegiance to required truths. It is sufficient that people obey; what they think is a secondary concern. But in a democratic political order, there is always the danger that independent thought might be translated into political action, so it is important to eliminate the threat at its root.

Debate cannot be stilled, and indeed, in a properly functioning system of propaganda, it should not be, because it has a system-reinforcing character if constrained within proper bounds. What is essential is to set the bounds firmly. Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the consensus of elites, and it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds, thus helping to establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought while reinforcing the belief that freedom reigns.

In short, what is essential is the power to set the agenda. If controversy over the Cold War can be focused on containment of the Soviet Union -- the proper mix of force, diplomacy, and other measures -- then the propaganda system has already won its victory, whatever conclusions are reached. The basic assumption has already been established: the Cold War is a confrontation between two superpowers, one aggressive and expansionist, the other defending the status quo and civilized values. Off the agenda is the problem of containing the United States, and the question whether the issue has been properly formulated at all, whether the Cold War does not rather derive from the efforts of the superpowers to secure for themselves international systems that they can dominate and control -- systems that differ greatly in scale, reflecting enormous differences in wealth and power. Soviet violations of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements are the topic of a large literature and are well established in the general consciousness; we then proceed to debate their scale and importance. But it would require a careful search to find discussion of U.S. violations of the wartime agreements and their consequences, though the judgment of the best current scholarship, years later, is that "In fact, the Soviet pattern of adherence [to Yalta, Potsdam, and other wartime agreements] was not qualitatively different from the American pattern."6 If the agenda can be restricted to the ambiguities of Arafat, the abuses and failures of the Sandinistas, the terrorism of Iran and Libya, and other properly framed issues, then the game is basically over; excluded from discussion is the unambiguous rejectionism of the United States and Israel, and the terrorism and other crimes of the United States and its clients, not only far greater in scale but also incomparably more significant on any moral dimension for American citizens, who are in a position to mitigate or terminate these crimes. The same considerations hold whatever questions we address.

One crucial doctrine, standard throughout history, is that the state is adopting a defensive stance, resisting challenges to order and to its noble principles. Thus, the United States is invariably resisting aggression, sometimes "internal aggression." Leading scholars assure us that the war in Vietnam was "undertaken in defense of a free people resisting communist aggression" as the United States attacked South Vietnam in the early 1960s to defend the client dictatorship against the South Vietnamese aggressors who were about to overthrow it; no justification need be offered to establish such an obvious truth, and none is. Some even refer blandly to "the Eisenhower administration's strategy of deterring aggression by threatening the use of nuclear weapons" in Indochina in 1954, "where French forces found themselves facing defeat" at Dienbienphu "at the hands of the Communist Viet Minh," the aggressors who attacked our French ally defending Indochina (from its population).7 Cultivated opinion generally has internalized this stance. Accordingly, it is a logical impossibility that one should oppose U.S. aggression, a category that cannot exist. Whatever pretense they adopt, the critics must be "partisans of Hanoi" or "apologists for Communism" elsewhere, defending the "aggressors," perhaps attempting to conceal their "hidden agendas."8

A related doctrine is that "the yearning to see American-style democracy duplicated throughout the world has been a persistent theme in American foreign policy," as a New York Times diplomatic correspondent proclaimed after the U.S.-backed military government suppressed the Haitian elections by violence, widely predicted to be the likely consequence of U.S. support for the junta. These sad events, he observed, are "the latest reminder of the difficulty American policy-makers face in trying to work their will, no matter how benevolent, on other nations."9 These doctrines require no argument and resist mountains of counter-evidence. On occasion, the pretense collapses under its manifest absurdity. It is then permissible to recognize that we were not always so benevolent and so profoundly dedicated to democracy as we are today. The regular appeal to this convenient technique of "change of course" over many years elicits not ridicule, but odes to our unfailing benevolence, as we set forth on some new campaign to "defend democracy."

We have no problem in perceiving the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as brutal aggression, though many would balk at describing the Afghan guerrillas as "democratic resistance forces" (New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan).10 But the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam in the early 1960s, when the Latin American-style terror state imposed by U.S. force could no longer control the domestic population by violence, cannot be perceived as what it was. True, U.S. forces were directly engaged in large-scale bombing and defoliation in an effort to drive the population into concentration camps where they could be "protected" from the enemy whom, it was conceded, they willingly supported. True, a huge U.S. expeditionary force later invaded and ravaged the country, and its neighbors, with the explicit aim of destroying what was clearly recognized to be the only mass-based political force and eliminating the danger of political settlement that was sought on all sides. But throughout, the United States was resisting aggression in its yearning for democracy. When the United States established the murderous Diem dictatorship as part of its effort to undermine the Geneva accords and to block the promised elections because the wrong side was expected to win, it was defending democracy. "The country is divided into the Communist regime in the north and a democratic government in the south," the New York Times reported, commenting on the allegation that "the Communist Vietminh was importing guns and soldiers from Red China `in the most blatant fashion,'" threatening "free Vietnam" after having "sold their country to Peiping."11 In later years, as the "defense of democracy" went awry, there was vigorous debate between the hawks, who felt that with sufficient dedication the enemy could be demolished, and the doves, who feared that the resort to violence to attain our noble ends might prove too costly; some preferred to be owls, distancing themselves from the two extremes.

Throughout the war, it was taken for granted within the mainstream that the United States was defending South Vietnam; unwisely, the doves came to believe. Years later, the doctrine remains beyond challenge. This is not only true of those who parodied the most disgraceful commissars as atrocities mounted, seeing nothing more in saturation bombing of densely populated areas than the "unfortunate loss of life incurred by the efforts of American military forces to help the South Vietnamese repel the incursion of North Vietnam and its partisans" -- for example, in the Mekong Delta, where there were no North Vietnamese troops even long after the United States had expanded its aggression to North Vietnam, and where local people resisting the U.S. invaders and their clients evidently do not qualify as "South Vietnamese." It is perhaps not surprising that from such sources we should still read today, with all that is now known, that "the people of South Vietnam desired their freedom from domination by the communist country on their northern border" and that "the United States intervened in Vietnam...to establish the principle that changes in Asia were not to be precipitated by outside force."12 Far more interesting is the fact that, even though many would be repelled by the vulgarity of the apologetics for large-scale atrocities, a great many educated people would find little surprising in this assessment of the history, a most remarkable demonstration of the effectiveness of democratic systems of thought control.

Similarly, in Central America today, the United States is dedicated to the defense of freedom in the "fledgling democracies" and to "restoring democracy" to Nicaragua -- a reference to the Somoza period, if words have meaning. At the extreme of expressible dissent, in a bitter condemnation of the U.S. attack on Nicaragua that went so far as to invoke the judgment of Nuremberg, Atlantic Monthly editor Jack Beatty wrote that "Democracy has been our goal in Nicaragua, and to reach it we have sponsored the killing of thousands of Nicaraguans. But killing for democracy -- even killing by proxy for democracy -- is not a good enough reason to prosecute a war."13 One could hardly find a more consistent critic of the U.S. war in the corporate media than columnist Tom Wicker of the New York Times, who condemned the application of the Reagan Doctrine to Nicaragua because "the United States has no historic or God-given right to bring democracy to other nations."14 Critics adopt without a second thought the assumption that our traditional "yearning for democracy" has indeed guided U.S. policy towards Nicaragua since July 19, 1979, when the U.S. client Somoza was overthrown, though admittedly not before the miraculous and curiously timed transformation took place, by some mysterious process. A diligent search through all the media would unearth an occasional exception to this pattern, but such exceptions are rare, another tribute to the effectiveness of indoctrination.15

"Central America has an evident self-interest in hounding" the Sandinistas "to honor their pledges to democratize"; and "those Americans who have repeatedly urged others `to give peace a chance' now have an obligation to turn their attention and their passion to ensuring democracy a chance as well," the editors of the Washington Post admonished, directly below the masthead that proudly labels theirs "an Independent Newspaper."16 There is no problem of "ensuring democracy" in the U.S.-backed terror states, firmly under military rule behind a thin civilian façade.

The same editorial warned that "from the incursions into Honduras [in March 1988], it is plain what Nicaragua's threats to Honduras are." The reference was to military operations in northern Nicaragua near an unmarked border, in which Nicaraguan forces in hot pursuit of contra invaders penetrated a few kilometers into areas of Honduras that had long been ceded to the U.S. "proxy force" -- as they are described by contra lobbyists in internal documents circulated in the White House, and by their own official spokesman.17 In the United States, these actions elicited renewed outrage over the threat of the Sandinistas to overrun their neighbors in the service of their Soviet master.

This heartfelt concern over the sanctity of borders is most impressive -- even if somewhat tainted by the curious conception of a border as a kind of one-way mirror, so that its sanctity is not violated by CIA supply flights to the proxy forces who invade Nicaragua from their Honduran bases, or by U.S. surveillance flights over Nicaraguan territory to guide and direct them, among other crimes. Putting aside these matters, we can assess the seriousness of the concern by turning to the results of a controlled experiment that history obligingly constructed. Just at the time that the Free Press was consumed with rage over this latest proof of the aggressiveness of the violent Communist totalitarians, with major stories and angry commentary, the U.S. client state of Israel launched another series of its periodic operations in Lebanon. These operations were north of the sector of southern Lebanon that Israel has "virtually annexed" as a "security zone," integrating the area with Israel's economy and "compelling" its 200,000 Lebanese inhabitants "to provide soldiers for the South Lebanon army," an Israeli mercenary force, by means of an array of punishments and inducements.18 The Israeli operations included bombing of Palestinian refugee camps and Lebanese towns and villages with large-scale destruction, dozens killed and many wounded, including many civilians. These operations were barely reported, and there was no noticeable reaction.

The only rational conclusion is that the outrage over the vastly less serious and far more justified Nicaraguan incursion was entirely unprincipled, mere fraud.

The U.S. government is happy to explain why it supports Israeli violence deep inside Lebanon: the grounds are the sacred inherent right of self-defense, which may legitimately be invoked by the United States and its clients, under quite a broad interpretation -- though not, of course, by others, in particular, by victims of U.S. terror. In December 1988, just as Yasser Arafat's every gesture was being closely scrutinized to determine whether he had met the exacting U.S. standards on terrorism, to which we return, Israel launched its twenty-sixth raid of the year on Lebanon, attacking a base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine near Beirut. As is common, there was no attempt to provide a plausible pretext. "The Israelis were not in hot pursuit of terrorists," the London Guardian observed, "nor did they have their usual excuse of instant vengeance: they just went ahead and staged a demo" to prove that "the iron fist is in full working order." "The motive for the demonstration was obviously a show of strength." This "spectacular display," complete with "paratroops, helicopters, and gunboats," was "a militarily unjustifiable (and therefore politically motivated) combined operation." The timing explains the political motivation: the raid was carried out on the first anniversary of the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories, where Israel imposed "a massive military presence, a curfew and strict censorship" to block "a commemorative general strike." In addition to this obvious political motivation, "one may also discern a calculated attempt to undermine Mr Arafat" and his unwelcome moves towards political accommodation, by strengthening the hand of militants within the PLO.19

The Israeli attack was brought to the U.N. Security Council, which voted 14 to 1, with no abstentions, for a resolution that "strongly deplored" it. Ambassador Patricia Byrne justified the U.S. veto on the grounds that the "resolution would deny to Israel its inherent right to defend itself" from "attacks and reprisals that have originated on the other side" of the border. A fortiori, Nicaragua is entitled to carry out massive and regular attacks deep inside Honduras, and indeed to set off bombs in Washington. Note that such actions would be far more justified than those that the United States defends in the case of its client, as is obvious from comparison of the level of the provocation. Needless to say, this truth is inexpressible, indeed unthinkable. We therefore conclude that media commentary concerning Nicaragua is just as hypocritical as the pretense of the state authorities, from whom one expects nothing else.20

The absence of comment on the Israeli actions or even serious reporting is perhaps understandable. These operations were, after all, rather muted by Israeli standards. Thus, they did not compare with the murderous "Iron Fist" operations in Lebanon in 1985; or the bombing of villages in the Bekaa valley in January 1984, with 100 killed and 400 wounded in one raid, mostly civilians, including 150 children in a bombed-out schoolhouse; or the attack on an UNRWA school in Damour in May 1979 by an Israeli F-16 that dropped cluster bombs, leaving forty-one children dead or wounded. These were reported, but without affecting the elevated status of "this tiny nation, symbol of human decency," as the editors of the New York Times described Israel during a peak period of the repression of the Palestinian uprising with beatings, killings, gassing, and collective punishment, "a country that cares for human life," in the admiring words of the Washington Post editors in the wake of the Iron Fist atrocities.21 The fact that Israel maintains a "security zone" in southern Lebanon controlled by a terrorist mercenary army backed by Israeli might also passes without notice, as does Israel's regular hijacking of ships in international waters and other actions that are rarely even reported, and might perhaps arouse a whisper of protest in the case of "worthy victims."22 If Soviet Jews were to suffer the treatment meted out regularly to Arabs, or if some official enemy such as Nicaragua were to impose repressive measures approaching those that are standard in this "symbol of human decency," the outcry would be deafening.

I will return to some further observations on the extraordinary protection the media have provided Israel while depicting its enemies, particularly the PLO, as evil incarnate, committed only to terror and destruction; and to the remarkable feats of "historical engineering" that have been performed, year by year, to maintain the required image.23

During Israel's March 1988 operations, there was no question of hot pursuit, and Israel is not an impoverished country attempting to survive the terrorist attack of a superpower and its lethal economic warfare. But Israel is a U.S. client, and therefore inherits the right of aggression. Nicaragua, in contrast, is denied the right even to drive attacking forces out of its own territory, on the tacit assumption that no state has the right to defend itself from U.S. attack, another crucial doctrine that underlies responsible debate.

It is remarkable to see how deeply the latter doctrine is entrenched. Thus, nothing arouses greater hysteria in the United States than reports that Nicaragua is planning to obtain MiG fighters. When the Reaganites floated such reports as part of the campaign to eliminate the minimal danger of honest reporting of the unwanted Nicaraguan elections in November 1984, even outspoken doves warned that the U.S. would have to bomb Nicaragua to destroy the invented MiGs, because "they're also capable against the United States," a dire threat to our security (Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas).24 In another propaganda coup of December 1987, a Sandinista defector was produced with elaborate accompanying fanfare in the media on his "revelations" about Sandinista intentions, the most stunning of which was that Nicaragua was hoping to obtain jet planes to defend its territory from U.S. attack, an intolerable outrage. It is, of course, well understood that Nicaragua had no other way to prevent the CIA from supplying the forces it directs within Nicaragua, or to interfere with the U.S. surveillance flights to provide these forces with up-to-the-minute intelligence on Nicaraguan troop deployments so that they could safely attack "soft targets" (i.e., barely defended civilian targets) in accordance with Pentagon and State Department directives. But no such reflections disturbed the display of indignation over this latest proof of Communist aggressiveness.25

The logic is clear: Nicaragua has no right of self-defense. It is intolerable, tantamount to aggression, for Nicaragua to interfere with U.S. violence and terror by presuming to protect its airspace, or by defending the population against the U.S. proxy forces, "the democratic resistance" of public rhetoric. For the same reason, the report by the Sandinista defector that Nicaragua intended to reduce its military forces while providing light arms to the population for defense against possible U.S. invasion elicited further outrage as it was transmuted by the Free Press into a threat to conquer the hemisphere.

This doctrine of the elite consensus is, again, highly revealing, as is the fact that its meaning cannot be perceived. We might imagine the reaction if the Soviet Union were to respond in a similar way to the far more serious threat to its security posed by Denmark or Luxembourg.

It is interesting that, in the midst of the furor over the Sandinista plans to obtain means to defend themselves, the United States began shipping advanced F-5 jet planes to Honduras on December 15, 1987, unreported by the New York Times.26 Since only the United States and its allies have security concerns, obviously Nicaragua could have no legitimate objection to this development, and it would be superfluous, surely, to report the protests in the Honduran press over the "debts unfairly imposed upon us by pressure from the United States" that force us to "pay the bill for the F-5 fighters that do nothing to feed our hungry people," though they please the military rulers.27

One might ask why Nicaragua was so intent on obtaining Soviet planes. Why not French Mirage jets instead? In fact, the Sandinistas would have been quite happy to obtain jet interceptors from France, and openly say so. They could not, because U.S. pressure had blocked supply from any non-Communist source. All of this is unreportable, because it would give the game away. Thus Stephen Kinzer and James LeMoyne of the New York Times would never disturb their efforts to fan hysteria over the Sandinista threat by reporting such facts, nor would they dwell on the reasons why the Sandinistas might be attempting to obtain jet interceptors.28 Such inquiry escapes the bounds of propriety, for it would undermine the campaign to portray U.S. aggression and terror as legitimate defense.

The point is more general. Attack against those designated "Communists" will normally compel them to rely on the Soviet Union for defense, particularly when the United States pressures its allies and international lending institutions to refrain from offering assistance, as in the case of contemporary Nicaragua, where it was clear enough in early 1981 that "Nicaragua will sooner or later become another Soviet client, as the U.S. imposes a stranglehold on its reconstruction and development, rebuffs efforts to maintain decent relations, and supports harassment and intervention -- the pattern of China, Cuba, Guatemala's Arbenz, Allende's Chile, Vietnam in the 1940s and the post-1975 period, etc."29 This predictable consequence of policy can then be taken as retrospective proof that we are, indeed, simply engaged in defense against the Kremlin design for world conquest, and well-behaved journalists may refer to the "Soviet-supplied Sandinistas" in properly ominous tones, as they regularly do, carefully avoiding the reasons. An additional benefit is that we now test the sincerity of the Soviet Union in their professions about détente, asking whether they will withhold aid from Nicaragua if we reduce aid to the contras. The idea that U.S. sincerity could be tested by withholding aid from Turkey or El Salvador is too outlandish to merit discussion.

A corollary to the principle that official enemies do not have the right of self-defense is that if Nicaragua attacks contra forces within its territory after they break off negotiations, the United States plainly has the right to provide further military aid to its proxies. The Byrd Amendment on "Assistance for the Nicaraguan Resistance," passed in August 1988 with the effusive support of leading senatorial doves, permitted military aid to the proxy forces within Nicaragua upon "Sandinista initiation of an unprovoked military attack and any other hostile action directed against the forces of the Nicaraguan Resistance" or "a continued unacceptable level of military assistance by Soviet-bloc countries, including Cuba" (all other sources having been barred, and U.S. authorities being accorded the right to determine what is "acceptable").30 The media had taken for granted throughout that it would be outrageous, another display of Communist intransigence, if the army of Nicaragua were to attack terrorist forces within their own country. Months earlier, the press had reported a letter by House Democrats to President Ortega expressing their "grave concern" over the possibility of a military offensive against the contras, which would lead to consideration of "a renewal of military aid to the resistance forces."31 The prohibition against self-defense remained in force after the U.S. clients had undermined negotiations with last-minute demands contrived to this end, to which we return.

The media reaction is understandable, on the conventional assumption that the "resistance" and the political opposition that supports it within Nicaragua are the more legitimate of the "two Nicaraguan factions," as the Times described the contras and the government.32 The bipartisan consensus on these matters, including outspoken congressional doves, reflects the understanding that Nicaragua has no right to resist U.S. terrorist forces implanted in its territory or attacking it from abroad; U.S. clients are immune from such constraints, and may even hijack ships, bomb civilian targets in other countries, and so on, in "legitimate self-defense."

The August 5 Senate debate on the Byrd amendment gains heightened significance from its timing. Three days earlier, the "resistance," after allowing an army patrol boat to pass by, had attacked the crowded passenger vessel Mission of Peace, killing two people and wounding twenty-seven, including a Baptist minister from New Jersey, Rev. Lucius Walker, who headed a U.S. religious delegation. All the victims were civilians. Senators Byrd and Dodd, and other doves, who bitterly condemned the Sandinistas while praising the "courageous leadership" of the "Democratic Presidents" of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, made no mention of this event; perhaps they had missed the tiny notice it received the day before in the New York Times, tacked on to a column reporting their deliberations.33 There was no subsequent commentary. The logic is again clear. If the Sandinistas seek to root out the U.S.-run terrorists who carried out the attack, that proves they are Communist totalitarians, and the United States is entitled to send military as well as "humanitarian" aid to the "resistance" so that it can pursue such tasks more effectively. Given the enthusiastic support for the Senate proceedings by the Senate's leading liberal voices -- Harkin, Kennedy, Kerry, Mitchell, Pell, and others -- we may assume that they accept these principles.

It is frankly recognized that the principal argument for U.S. violence is that "a longer war of attrition will so weaken the regime, provoke such a radical hardening of repression, and win sufficient support from Nicaragua's discontented population that sooner or later the regime will be overthrown by popular revolt, self-destruct by means of internal coups or leadership splits, or simply capitulate to salvage what it can." This formulation by Viron Vaky, Assistant Secretary of State for Interamerican Affairs under the Carter administration, merely reiterates the thrust of the 1981 CIA program outlined by CIA analyst David MacMichael in World Court testimony. As a dove, Vaky regards the scenario as "flawed" and the strategy unworkable, the contras having been unable to gain military successes despite the extraordinary advantages conferred upon them by their sponsor, or "to elicit significant political support within Nicaragua." "However reasonable or idealistic" the U.S. demand that the Sandinistas "turn over power" to U.S. favorites lacking political support, he continues, the goal is beyond our reach. He therefore urges "positive containment" instead of "rollback" to prevent "Nicaragua from posing a military threat to the United States" and to induce it to observe human rights and move towards a "less virulent...internal system." Since force is not feasible, the United States should seek "other strategies" to pursue "the objective of promoting Nicaraguan self-determination" that it has so idealistically pursued. It should seek a diplomatic settlement with "border inspections, neutral observers," and other devices that Nicaragua had been requesting for seven years (a fact unmentioned), though "the United States frankly will have to bear the major share of enforcement." The United States must be prepared to use force if it detects a violation, while assisting "the Central American democracies" that are threatened by Nicaraguan subversion and aggression.34

Recall that these are the thoughts of a leading dove, and that they seem unremarkable to liberal American opinion, important facts about the political culture. These thoughts fall squarely within the conception of U.S. policy outlined by another Carter administration Latin American specialist, Robert Pastor, at the dovish extreme of the political and ideological spectrum -- by now, perhaps well beyond it. Defending U.S. policy over many years, Pastor writes that "the United States did not want to control Nicaragua or other nations in the region, but it also did not want to allow developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely."35 In short, Nicaragua and other countries should be free -- to do what we want them to do -- and should choose their course independently, as long as their choice conforms to our interests. If they use the freedom we accord them unwisely, then naturally we are entitled to respond in self-defense. Note that these ideas are a close counterpart to the domestic conception of democracy as a form of population control.

The basic presuppositions of discourse include those just reviewed: U.S. foreign policy is guided by a "yearning for democracy" and general benevolent intent; history and the secret planning record may tell a rather different story, but they are off the media agenda. It follows that the use of force can only be an exercise in self-defense and that those who try to resist must be aggressors, even in their own lands. What is more, no country has the right of self-defense against U.S. attack, and the United States has the natural right to impose its will, by force if necessary and feasible. These doctrines need not be expressed, apart from periodic odes to our awesome nobility of purpose. Rather, they are simply presupposed, setting the bounds of discourse, and among the properly educated, the bounds of thinkable thought.

In the first chapter, I mentioned some of the ways of approaching the study of the media and evaluating models of media performance. One appropriate method is to consider the spectrum of opinion allowed expression. According to the propaganda model, one would expect the spectrum to be bounded by the consensus of powerful elites while encouraging tactical debate within it. Again, the model is well confirmed.

Consider U.S. policy with regard to Nicaragua, a topic that has probably elicited more controversy and impassioned rhetoric than any other during the past several years. There is debate between the hawks and the doves. The position of the hawks is expressed by a joint declaration of the State and Defense Departments on International Human Rights Day in December 1986: "in the American continent, there is no regime more barbaric and bloody, no regime that violates human rights in a manner more constant and permanent, than the Sandinista regime." Similar sentiments are voiced in the media and political system, and it follows that we should support the "democratic resistance" to Communist terror. At the other extreme, the doves generally agree that we should dismiss the World Court, the United Nations, and other "hostile forums" that pander to Communists and pathological Third World anti-Americanism. They offer their support for the "noble objective" of the Reagan administration -- "to somehow `democratize' Nicaragua" -- but they feel that the contras "are not the instrument that will achieve that objective" (Representative Michael Barnes, one of the most outspoken critics of the contra option).36 A leading Senate dove, Alan Cranston, recognizes that "the Contra effort is woefully inadequate to achieve...democracy in Nicaragua," so we should find other means to "isolate" the "reprehensible" government in Managua and "leave it to fester in its own juices" while blocking Sandinista efforts "to export violent revolution."37

Media doves observe that "Mr. Reagan's policy of supporting [the contras] is a clear failure," so we should "acquiesce in some negotiated regional arrangement that would be enforced by Nicaragua's neighbors" (Tom Wicker).38 Expressing the same thought, the editors of the Washington Post see the contras as "an imperfect instrument," so we must find other means to "fit Nicaragua back into a Central American mode" and impose "reasonable conduct by a regional standard." We must also recognize that "the Sandinistas are communists of the Cuban or Soviet school" and "a serious menace -- to civil peace and democracy in Nicaragua and the stability and security of the region." We must "contain...the Sandinistas' aggressive thrust" and demand "credible evidence of reduced Sandinista support for El Salvador's guerrillas."39 None of this is debatable: it "is a given; it is true," the editors proclaim. It is therefore irrelevant, for example, that Reagan administration efforts to provide evidence for their charges of Nicaraguan support for El Salvador's guerrillas were dismissed as without merit by the World Court, and in fact barely merit derision. At the outer limits of dissent, Nation columnist Jefferson Morley wrote in the New York Times that we should recognize that Nicaragua may be "beyond the reach of our good intentions."40

Other doves feel that we should not too quickly reject the State Department argument that agricultural cooperatives are legitimate targets for contra attacks, because "in a Marxist society geared up for war, there are no clear lines separating officials, soldiers and civilians"; what is required is careful "cost-benefit analysis," a determination of "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end" (New Republic editor Michael Kinsley).41 Neither Kinsley nor the State Department explain why similar arguments do not justify attacks by Abu Nidal on Israeli kibbutzim, far better defended against an incomparably lesser threat. And it is naturally taken to be our right, as rulers of the world, to carry out the cost-benefit analysis and to pour in blood and misery if we determine that the likelihood of "democracy" is sufficiently high.

Notice that for the doves it is obvious without comment that there is no need to impose "regional arrangements" on our Salvadoran and Guatemalan friends, who have slaughtered perhaps 150,000 people during this period, or our clients in Honduras, who kill fewer outright but have left hundreds of thousands to starve to death while the country exports food for the profit of agribusiness. We need not "isolate" these admirable figures or "leave them to fester in their own juices." Their countries already conform to the "Central American mode" of repression, exploitation, and rule by privileged elements that accede to the demands of U.S. power ("democracy"), so even hideous atrocities are of no account; and they merit aid and enthusiastic backing, accompanied by occasional sighs of regret over the violent tendencies in these backward societies if the terror, torture, and mutilation that we organize and support become too visible to ignore or attack the wrong targets (Christian Democrat political figures rather than union and peasant organizers, for example).

By 1986, the contra option was opposed by 80 percent of "leaders," polls report.42 The propaganda model would therefore predict debate over contra aid but near unanimity in opposition to the Sandinistas. To test the hypothesis, consider the period of maximum intensity of debate over Nicaragua policy, the first three months of 1986, when attention was focused on the issue of contra aid. During these months, the New York Times and the Washington Post ran no fewer than eighty-five opinion columns on the matter (including regular columnists). As expected, they were divided over contra aid. But of the eighty-five columns, eighty-five were critical of the Sandinistas, the overwhelming majority harshly so; thus close to 100 percent conformity was achieved on the major issue.

It is not that more sympathetic voices are lacking in the mainstream. There are many who would easily qualify for admission to the forum if they had the right things to say,43 including Latin American scholars whose opinion pieces are regularly rejected, or the charitable development agency Oxfam, with long experience in the region, which found Nicaragua's record to be "exceptional" among the seventy-six developing countries in which it works in the commitment of the political leadership "to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active participation in the development process."

Or consider the founder of Costa Rican democracy, José Figueres, who, just at that time, described himself in an interview as "pro-Sandinista" and "quite friendly toward the Sandinistas," though Costa Rica generally is not, because public opinion is "heavily influenced" by "the Costa Rican oligarchy" which "owns the newspapers and the radio stations." He added that the 2-to-1 margin in favor of the Sandinistas in the 1984 elections, which he witnessed as an observer, "certainly seemed to reflect what you find in the streets." Figueres condemned "Washington's incredible policies of persecuting the Sandinistas" and its efforts "to undo Costa Rica's social institutions" and to "turn our whole economy over to the businesspeople,...to the local oligarchy or to U.S. or European companies," though as a dedicated supporter of the United States, he found these efforts "no doubt well-intentioned." The United States is "turning most Central Americans into mercenaries" for its attack against Nicaragua, he continued. "I've been familiar with Nicaragua all my life," "and never before have I seen as I do now a Nicaraguan government that cares for its people." In another interview, he reiterated that "for the first time, Nicaragua has a government that cares for its people." Commenting on a recent visit, he said that he found "a surprising amount of support for the government" in this "invaded country," adding that the United States should allow the Sandinistas "to finish what they started in peace; they deserve it."44

Such comments lack ideological serviceability, as does Figueres's statement that he "understands why" La Prensa was closed, having censored the press himself when Costa Rica was under attack by Somoza. Hence, Central America's leading democratic figure must be censored out of the media, though his name may still be invoked for the anti-Sandinista crusade. Thus New York Times Central America correspondent James LeMoyne, in one of his anti-Sandinista diatribes, refers to Figueres as "the man who is widely considered the father of Costa Rican democracy," but does not tell us, nor would he or his colleagues ever tell us, what Figueres has to say about the Sandinistas.45

The front pages of the New York Times present a picture of Nicaragua as seen through the eyes of James LeMoyne as he passed through: a brutal and repressive state under "one-party rule" with "crowds of pot-bellied urchins in the streets," state security agents "ubiquitous" and the army "everywhere," growing support for the "peasant army" struggling against Sandinista oppression and the population reduced to "bitterness and apathy," though somehow resisting a foreign attack under which any other state in the region, and most elsewhere, would have quickly crumbled. They do not present the picture seen by Figueres, or by the CIA-appointed press spokesman for the contras, Edgar Chamorro, on a three-week visit just before LeMoyne's. Speaking to "dozens of people" in the streets after a Sandinista rally, Chamorro found them "very aware, very politically educated, very committed. They thought for themselves; they were there because they wanted to be there." "The days are gone when a dictator can get up and harangue people." "What I have seen here is very, very positive, people are walking on their own two feet," regaining the "dignity and nationalism" they had lost under Somoza. The contras are "like the Gurkhas in India," with the "colonial mentality" of those "fighting for the empire." He spoke on radio and television in Managua, saying "whatever I thought," criticizing Marxism-Leninism. He saw "very little militarization" and "a deep sense of equality," "one of the accomplishments of the revolution." "I didn't see people hungry"; "most people look very healthy, strong, alive," and he saw few beggars, unlike Honduras "or even in city streets in the US." The opposition are the old oligarchy, "reliant on the United States." The war has led to a sense of "nationalism, patriotism" on the part of the youth who are drafted. The Sandinistas continue to be a "people's party," with commitments and goals "that inspire so many people." They are "Nicaraguan nationalists, revolutionaries," who "want a more egalitarian model, to improve the lives of the majority." The elections were "good," the government is "legitimate," and we should "try and change from inside." After leaving the contras, Chamorro adds elsewhere, he lost the easy media access of his contra days.46

Readers of the New York Times do not receive a range of perceptions such as these, but only one: the one that accords with the needs of the state.

A year after these visits, severe malnutrition began to appear in Managua and parts of the countryside, as U.S. terror and economic warfare continued to take their bitter toll in a pathetically poor country, which, for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons, is utterly dependent on economic relations with the United States. George Shultz, Elliott Abrams, and their cohorts may not have overthrown the government, but they can take pride in having vanquished the programs of development, preventive medical care, and welfare that had offered hope to the poor majority for the first time. Their achievements can be measured by the significant increase in dying infants, epidemics, and other normal features of the "Central American mode" to which Nicaragua is to be "restored" by U.S. benevolence.47 The propaganda system may cover their tracks today, but history will render a different judgment.

Returning to the eighty-five opinion columns in the Times and the Post, even more interesting than the uniform hostility to the Sandinistas was the choice of topics. There are two very striking differences between the Sandinistas and the U.S. favorites who adhere to "regional standards." The first is that the Sandinistas, whatever their sins, had not conducted campaigns of mass slaughter, torture, mutilation, and general terror to traumatize the population. In the eighty-five columns, there is not a single phrase referring to this matter, an illustration of its importance in American political culture. The second major difference is that the Sandinistas diverted resources to the poor majority and attempted measures of meaningful social reform -- quite successfully, in fact, until U.S. economic and military warfare succeeded in reversing the unwelcome improvement in health and welfare standards, literacy, and development. These facts merit two passing phrases in eighty-five columns, one in a bitter condemnation of the "generally appalling leadership" in this "repressive society." There is no word on the fact that, unlike U.S. clients, the Sandinistas had protected the poor from starvation, eliciting much scorn about their economic mismanagement -- scorn that is withheld from Honduras, which permits peasants to starve en masse while exporting specialty crops and beef to the United States, and from U.S. policymakers, who imposed development policies on Central America that produced statistical growth (eliciting much self-congratulation) and starvation (about which we hear much less). There is also no mention of Sandinista efforts to maintain a neutralist posture -- for example, of the trade figures at the time of the U.S. embargo that virtually wiped out private business and helped reduce the economy to bare survival: Nicaraguan trade with the Soviet bloc was then at the same level as U.S. trade with these countries and well below that of Europe and most of the Third World.48

Such matters are unhelpful for required doctrine, thus better ignored.

More generally, all of the eighty-five columns stay safely within the approved bounds. Even the few contributors who elsewhere have taken an independent stance do not do so here.49

A reader brought the published study of the spectrum of expressible opinion to the attention of Times dove Tom Wicker, who devoted part of a column to denouncing it.50 He gave two reasons for dismissing the study. First, he saw "no reason why I have to praise the Sandinistas," which is quite true, and entirely irrelevant. As was clear and explicit, the individual contributions were not at issue but rather the range of permitted views; the question is not whether Wicker should be granted the opportunity to express his opinion that a "regional arrangement" must be imposed on Nicaragua alone and enforced by the U.S. terror states, but whether, in a free press, the spectrum of opinion should be bounded by this position, as the extreme of permissible dissent from government policy. Wicker's second reason was that "criticism by foot-rule and calculator is often as simplistic as the reportage it purports to measure." Curious to learn whether Wicker had some methodological or other critique to support this judgment, I wrote him a series of letters of inquiry, eliciting no response, from which I can only conclude that his objection is to the very idea of conducting a rational inquiry into the functioning of the media. Note that his reaction, and the general dismissal of the extensive documentation supporting the propaganda model, is quite in accord with its predictions.51

Perhaps, nevertheless, this sample of the major journals at the peak period of debate is misleading. Let us turn then to another sample a year later. In the first six months of 1987, the same two journals ran sixty-one columns and editorials relevant to U.S. policy in Nicaragua. Of these, thirteen favored diplomatic measures over contra aid, saying nothing about the Sandinistas. Of the forty-eight that expressed an opinion, forty-six were anti-Sandinista, again, most of them bitterly so. Of these, eighteen were pro-contra and twenty-eight anti-contra, primarily on the grounds that the contras were inept and could not win, or that the U.S. goal of "forc[ing] the Sandinista revolution into the American democratic mold" might not be worth "the risk" (John Oakes of the New York Times, at the dissident extreme52). Of the two columns that expressed some sympathy for the Sandinistas, one was by Nicaraguan ambassador Carlos Tunnerman, the other by Dr. Kevin Cahill, director of the tropical disease center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, the only non-Nicaraguan commentator who could draw upon personal experience in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the Third World53; his was also the only column that took note of the successful Nicaraguan health and literacy measures and the "struggle against oppression and corruption" waged under conditions of extreme adversity imposed by U.S. terror and economic warfare. Cahill's is one of the two contributions among sixty-one that mention the World Court decision and international law; two others, one by Tunnerman, refer to them obliquely. These facts reflect the attitude towards the rule of law in the dominant intellectual culture. We read that the United States "is working through the contras to restore democracy to Nicaragua and break the Sandinistas' Cuban and Soviet ties" and that Washington's role is "to help contain the spread of the Sandinista revolution beyond Nicaragua" (the editors of the Washington Post, who suggest that the United States test the Latin American consensus that "there is a better chance of reining in the Sandinistas by political envelopment than by military assault"). And we are treated to charges of "genocide" of the Miskito Indians (William Buckley, who concedes that the Sandinistas have not yet reached the level of Pol Pot, though they are plainly heading that way). But apart from Cahill, we read not a word about the constructive policies that were successfully pursued, and that, in the real world, elicited U.S. terror to "rein in the Sandinistas" -- another inexpressible thought.54

Once again, not a single phrase refers to the fact that, unlike the U.S. clients in the "fledgling democracies," the Sandinistas had not launched a campaign of terror and slaughter to traumatize their populations. Rather, as a huge mass of generally ignored documentation demonstrates, this task had been assigned to the U.S. proxy forces; this inconvenient fact is placed in proper perspective by former Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, who writes that "James LeMoyne's carefully reported, sensitive accounts in the Times of rebel troops inside Nicaragua indicate growing self-confidence and skill." The totalitarian Sandinistas are contrasted with the "struggling democracies of Central America": the "imperfect but working" democracies of Guatemala and Honduras, and El Salvador, which, though "under communist guerrilla siege," is "an imperfect democracy but a democracy with an elected government" (Post columnist Stephen Rosenfeld), unlike Nicaragua, where there were no elections, so Washington has decreed.55

The assumptions revealed in these samples of expressible opinion are the very foundations of discourse, beyond challenge.

The effectiveness of the state doctrine that there were no elections in Nicaragua, in contrast to the U.S. terror states, provides useful lessons for future commissars. It confirms the judgment of Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information (the Creel Commission) "that one of the best means of controlling news was flooding news channels with `facts,' or what amounted to official information."56 By dint of endless repetition, combined with media election coverage conforming to Washington dictates, the required doctrine has become established truth. Virtually no deviations are to be found. Even human rights groups that have made a real effort to steer an even course fall prey to these impressive achievements of state-media propaganda. Thus the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch criticizes the Reaganites for inconsistency: they "have been loath to speak out [about]...abuses under elected governments" (he mentions El Salvador and Guatemala), but they condemn "human rights abuses by the hemisphere's left-wing regimes -- Cuba and Nicaragua." On the one hand, we have the "elected governments" of El Salvador and Guatemala, and on the other, Nicaragua, left-wing and therefore lacking an "elected government." At the outer reaches of dissidence in the media, the liberal Boston Globe contrasts El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras ("unstable democratic") with Cuba, Nicaragua, Guyana, and Suriname ("socialist"). The "democratic" governments have "civilian presidents" who were "elected," though they are "battling the army for political control"; but in Nicaragua, we have only a "socialist junta in power since 1979 revolution" -- no elections, no "democracy" as in the U.S. clients.57

To escape the impact of a well-functioning system of propaganda that bars dissent and unwanted fact while fostering lively debate within the permitted bounds is remarkably difficult.

In recognition of the importance of preventing the free flow of ideas, the U.S. government has long sought to impress upon its clients the need to monitor and control travel and published materials. Thus, President Kennedy met with seven Central American presidents in San José, Costa Rica, in March 1963, where the seven agreed to an April meeting in Somoza's Nicaragua "To develop and put into immediate effect common measures to restrict the movement of subversive nationals to and from Cuba, and the flow of materials, propaganda and funds from that country." In secret internal documents, the Kennedy liberals were concerned over the excessive liberalism of Latin American regimes, in particular, "the reluctance of governments to establish bilateral or multilateral arrangements for the control of travelers," such as exist and are extensively applied in the United States.58 For similar reasons, there is no concern here when the independent media are destroyed by violence in U.S. dependencies or are securely in the hands of reliable right-wing elements, or when censorship is imposed by government terror, assassination, or imprisonment of journalists. At home, such measures are obviously inappropriate. More delicate ones are required, more sophisticated procedures of manufacture of consent.

The commitment to block the free flow of ideas reflects deeper concerns. For global planners, much of the Third World has been assigned the role of service to the industrial capitalist centers. Its various regions must "fulfill their functions" as sources of raw materials and markets, and must be "exploited" for the reconstruction and development of Western capitalism, as secret documents frankly explain. It is, of course, understood that such policies leave the United States "politically weak" though "militarily strong," the constant lament of government specialists and other commentators, and a fact recognized by the victims as well, in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Although banning of improper thoughts, free travel, and "subversive nationals" can perhaps compensate in part for the political weakness of the United States and its clients, planners have clearly and explicitly recognized that the United States will ultimately have to rely on force, the local security forces if possible, to contain dissidence and popular movements. The basic commitments explain not only the regular reliance on military and state terror, but also the hostility to democracy (in the sense of popular participation in public affairs) that is such a striking feature of U.S. policy in the Third World -- sometimes becoming a real passion, as under the Reagan administration.

For the same reasons, the Kennedy administration shifted the mission of the Latin American military from "hemispheric defense" to "internal security," and the United States lent support to the National Security States that spread throughout the region in subsequent years. Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz observes that these new forms of "military authoritarianism" developed in response to "increased popular political participation" and aimed "to destroy permanently a perceived threat to the existing structure of socioeconomic privilege by eliminating the political participation of the numerical majority, principally the working or (to use a broader, more accurate term) popular classes."59 It is only when the threat of popular participation is overcome that democratic forms can be safely contemplated.

The same considerations explain why it is necessary to block dangerous ideas and "anti-U.S. subversion," indeed anything that might appeal to the "popular classes" who are to be excluded from the political system. This combination of political weakness and military strength underlies State Department concerns that the government of Guatemala in the early 1950s was too democratic, treating the Communist Party "as an authentic domestic political party and not as part of the world-wide Soviet Communist conspiracy."60 It also explains why, in the early postwar period, the United States undertook a worldwide campaign to undermine the anti-fascist resistance, suppressing unions and other popular organizations and blocking democratic politics in Japan, Europe, and much of the Third World until proper outcomes were assured, while its junior partner in global management established its harsh rule in its own narrower domains.61

One of the bases for maintaining stability in client states of the Latin American variety is a symbiotic relationship between domestic liberalism and political figures in the dependencies who provide a façade for military rule. The conditions of the relationship are that the "democrats" in Central America pursue their task of preserving privilege and U.S. interests, while American liberals laud the encouraging growth of the tender plant of democracy while providing the means for the continuing terrorist assault against the population by the state security services and the death squads closely linked to them.

Well after the 1984 elections that established "democracy" in El Salvador to the applause of the Free Press, the human rights organization Socorro Juridico, operating under the protection of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, observed that the continuing terror is still conducted by

the same members of the armed forces who enjoy official approval and are adequately trained to carry out these acts of collective suffering... Salvadoran society, affected by terror and panic, a result of the persistent violation of basic human rights, shows the following traits: collective intimidation and generalized fear, on the one hand, and on the other the internalized acceptance of the terror because of the daily and frequent use of violent means. In general, society accepts the frequent appearance of tortured bodies, because basic rights, the right to life, has absolutely no overriding value for society.62

The last comment also applies to the supervisors of these operations, as underscored by George Shultz in one of his lamentations on terrorism, a talk delivered just as the United States was carrying out the terror bombing of Libya. In El Salvador, he declared, "the results are something all Americans can be proud of" -- at least, all Americans who enjoy the sight of tortured bodies, starving children, terror and panic, and generalized fear. And James LeMoyne, in one of his "carefully reported, sensitive accounts," concludes that "American support for elected governments [in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras] has been a relative success." No doubt true, by some standards.63

The observations of Socorro Juridico on Salvadoran society under "democracy" were presented at the First International Seminar on Torture in Latin America, held at Buenos Aires in December 1985, a conference devoted to "the repressive system" that "has at its disposal knowledge and a multinational technology of terror, developed in specialized centers whose purpose is to perfect methods of exploitation, oppression and dependence of individuals and entire peoples" by the use of "state terrorism inspired by the Doctrine of National Security." This doctrine can be traced to the historic decision of the Kennedy administration to shift the mission of the Latin American military to "internal security," with consequences that are -- or should be -- well known.

The conference passed without notice in the U.S. media. None of this falls within the canon of terrorism as conceived in the civilized world or has the slightest bearing on the noble efforts of the United States to defend the imperfect but advancing democracies and to "restore democracy" to Nicaragua. Similarly, no celebration of the passionate U.S. commitment to human rights would be sullied by mention of the striking correlation between U.S. aid and torture worldwide documented in several studies, particularly in Latin America, where the leading academic specialist on human rights in the region concludes that U.S. aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,...to the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights." This was prior to the Reagan administration, with its dedicated commitment to terror and torture.64

In one of their commentaries during the period we have been reviewing, the Times editors declared that "the Sandinistas have to understand that their neighbors and Washington rightly see a connection between internal and external behavior."65 It must be, then, that the behavior of "their neighbors and Washington" illustrates this deep commitment to human rights. The editors also asked whether the Reagan administration could "bring itself to take [the calculated risk of a political settlement] and tolerate a Marxist neighbor, if it is boxed in by treaties and commitments to rudimentary human rights," commitments unnecessary for the "fledgling democracies" or their sponsor. They urged that the United States test the possibility of "securing Sandinista agreement to keep Soviet and Cuban bases, advisers and missiles out of Nicaragua" and agree not to "export revolution across Nicaragua's borders." The missiles and Soviet and Cuban bases are presumably added for dramatic effect, and Nicaragua's repeated offers to eliminate foreign advisers and installations are unmentioned, and are regularly unreported, just as no notice is merited when Cuba's foreign minister in early 1988 "reiterated his country's offer to withdraw its military advisers from Nicaragua once the U.S.-backed contra campaign against the Sandinista government ends."66 The perceived problem throughout has been to find some way to "rein in the Sandinistas" and "contain their aggressive thrust" (Washington Post), to compel Nicaragua to "rein in its revolutionary army," as Democratic Senator Terry Sanford demands, an army that is illegitimately rampaging in Nicaragua when it seeks to defend the country from U.S. attack.67 That Nicaragua might face some security problem remains beyond imagining.

Apart from regular unsupported allegations of Sandinista aid to the Salvadoran guerrillas, to which I return, the proclaimed basis for these fears concerning the Sandinista threat to the hemisphere is another coup of the State Department's Operation Truth, based upon a speech by commandante Tomás Borge. In it, he expressed his hopes that Nicaragua would be an example that others would follow, explaining that Nicaragua cannot "export our revolution" but can only "export our example" while "the people themselves of these countries...must make their revolutions"; in this sense, he said, the Nicaraguan revolution "transcends national boundaries." In a conscious and purposeful fraud, State Department Psychological Operations converted these words into the threat of military conquest in pursuit of a "revolution without borders." The phrase was used as the title of the pathetic September 1985 State Department White Paper on alleged Nicaraguan subversion,68 and repeatedly since, sometimes accompanied by the claim that this is a Sandinista Mein Kampf, as George Shultz warned Congress. The same fabrication served as the climax for Reagan's successful effort to obtain $100 million from Congress for the proxy army just as the World Court called upon the United States to terminate its aggression, and it remains a media staple in news columns and commentary, as I have reviewed elsewhere. The hoax was exposed at once by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and even received marginal notice in a review of State Department "public diplomacy" in the Washington Post. But none of this deterred media Agitprop in service of the worthy project "to demonize the Sandinista government" and "to turn it into a real enemy and threat in the minds of the American people," as a Reagan administration official phrased the goal.69 Nor are these exercises of "perception management" deterred by the evident absurdity of the idea that Nicaragua could pose a threat of aggression while the U.S. stands by in helpless impotence. Again, a most impressive demonstration of what can be achieved by a mobilized independent press.

There was, to be sure, a basis for the perception that Nicaragua posed a threat. The real fear was that Borge's hopes might be realized. As Oxfam observed, Nicaragua posed "the threat of a good example." Like Arévalo and Arbenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, and many others, Nicaragua was perceived as a "rotten apple" that might "infect the barrel," a "virus" that might infect others, a "cancer" that might spread, in the terminology constantly used by planners when they contemplate the dread prospect of independent development geared to domestic needs. The real fear was expressed by Secretary of State Shultz in March 1986, when he warned that if the Sandinistas "succeed in consolidating their power," then "all the countries in Latin America, who all face serious internal economic problems, will see radical forces emboldened to exploit these problems."70 It is therefore necessary to destroy the virus and inoculate the surrounding regions by terror, a persistent feature of U.S. foreign policy, based on the same concerns that animated Metternich and the Czar with regard to the threat to civilized order posed by American democracy. But these truths too lie far beyond the bounds of what can be expressed or imagined.

Returning to the range of expressible opinion, the second sample of opinion columns, like the first, confirms the expectations of the propaganda model, as do others. News reporting satisfies the same conditions, as has been documented in many investigations, ensuring that public opinion will not stray from proper bounds, at least among those segments of the population that count.

 


 

1 New Republic, April 7, 1917.

2 For quotes, references, and background, see my Towards a New Cold War, chapter 1, and sources cited.

3 For some examples, see Manufacturing Consent, 343n.

4 American Foreign Policy (Norton, 1969).

5 Thomas Paterson, Meeting the Communist Threat (Oxford, 1988, 82-83), quoting a Truman official and political scientist Gabriel Almond.

6 Melvyn Leffler, "Adherence to Agreements: Yalta and the Experiences of the Early Cold War," International Security, Summer 1986.

7 Robert W. Tucker, "Reagan's Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, "America and the World 1988/89," Winter 1989, featured lead article. John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace (Oxford, 1987, 129). The effort to liberate Indochina from the U.S.-backed French forces was in part a civil war, as is generally true of struggles against foreign occupation and colonial rule -- the American revolution, for example. It should be clear that this fact adds no credibility to the bizarre notion that the U.S. was "deterring aggression" by aiding the French effort to reconquer Indochina, even contemplating the use of nuclear weapons for this purpose.

8 See appendix V, section 8, for an example, though one beyond the norm.

9 Neil Lewis, NYT, Dec. 6, 1987.

10 Daily Telegraph (London), Jan. 28, 1988.

11 NYT, June 2, 1956. The charge was made by Assistant Secretary of State Walter Robertson. We can still read of "the south's memory of democracy" (Clayton Jones, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 19, 1989) -- under the military dictatorships imposed by U.S. violence.

12 Sidney Hook, "Lord Russell and the War Crimes `Trial'," New Leader, Oct. 24, 1966; "Politics Tests Philosophy's Meaning," Review of Alan Ryan, Bertrand Russell: A Political Life, Insight (published by the Washington Times), Oct. 3, 1988. Hook's commentary on Russell will be familiar to anyone acquainted with attacks on dissidents in the Communist Party press in the Stalinist years.

13 Boston Globe, Jan. 15, 1988.

14 NYT, Aug. 6, 1987.

15 For one forthright exception, see "Talk of the Town," New Yorker, Feb. 1, 1988.

16 Editorial, WP Weekly, April 4, 1988.

17 Bruce Cameron and Penn Kemble, "From a Proxy Force to a National Liberation Movement," ms., Feb. 1986, outlining how the U.S. should act to effect this transition. Edgar Chamorro, Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation, Institute for Media Analysis Monograph Series, No. 2 (New York, 1987, 49); Chamorro was the CIA-selected spokesman for the contra directorate from December 1982 until he quit the organization in December 1984.

18 Davar, July 8, 1988. For a detailed record of the reporting of these operations, see appendix III.

19 Manchester Guardian Weekly (London), Dec. 18, 1988. Julie Flint reports from Lebanon in the same issue that this "bizarre and probably bungled operation" left no visible effects except for the remnants of human bodies and "two dead mastiffs strapped with explosives." An Israeli officer was killed, elite commandoes had to be rescued clinging to helicopter skids after they abandoned their equipment and arms (which were proudly exhibited in Lebanon), and there is "no evidence that the Israelis destroyed a single ammunition dump -- and these hills are littered with them -- or inflicted casualties that would justify the size of the attack force." The failure of the raid may reflect the decline in combat effectiveness of the Israeli forces that has been a source of much concern in military circles for some years, and that has probably accelerated as the military forces have been assigned the mission of terrorizing defenseless civilians in the territories.

20 AP, Dec. 14; NYT, Dec. 15, 1988. The brief Times report quotes the Lebanese ambassador as saying that Israel "attaches no concern or importance to non-Israeli peoples." What he actually said is that Israel could hardly be expected to "show any mercy to animals" given that it attaches no importance to non-Israeli people. He had repeated the charge that Israeli forces used dogs strapped with explosives and tear gas canisters to attack people hidden in underground tunnels, then adding the comment of which a few words reached print. Dead Dobermans with explosives strapped to their body had been displayed by guerrillas (William Tuohy, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 10, 1988; see preceding note).

21 NYT, Feb. 19, 1988; WP, June 30, 1985. On the attack on the school in Damour, see Liston Pope, City Sun, June 1-7, 1988; Pope, who was teaching English at the school, writes that the attack, one of many, received 20 words in the New York Times. See my Pirates and Emperors, chapter 2, on the Iron Fist operations and the Bekaa valley bombings.

22 See chapter 5, below, and Pirates and Emperors, chapter 2, for many details.

23 Ibid., chapters 1, 2, and Fateful Triangle, on media protection of Israel. For updates, see my articles in Z Magazine, May, June 1988, and "The U.S. and the Middle East," talk given at Tel Aviv university in April 1988, to appear in Zachary Lockman and Joel Beinin, eds., Intifada: the Palestinian Uprising against Israeli Occupation (South End, 1989).

24 Boston Globe, Nov. 9, 1984.

25 For details, see my article in Z Magazine, March 1988.

26 Ibid., for details, including subsequent reference in quotes from Ortega and Arias buried in articles on other matters.

27 Editorial, El Tiempo, May 5, 1988; reprinted in Hondupress, May 18, 1988.

28 They know, of course, as an occasional throw-away line indicates.

29 Towards a New Cold War, 51.

30 Congressional Record, Senate, Aug. 5, 1988, S 11002; Susan Rasky, NYT, Aug. 11, 1988.

31 Robert Pear, NYT, May 25, 1988.

32 See appendix IV, section 4; and section 5, on public support for the political opposition. On opposition backing for the contras, see appendix V, section 6.

33 Congressional Record, Aug. 5, 1988, S 10969f.; AP, NYT, Aug. 4; Bryna Brennan, AP, WP, Aug. 4, a much fuller account; Barricada (Managua), Aug. 3; Julie Light, Guardian (New York), Aug. 17, 1988. The Boston Globe ran a tiny item featuring a contra denial, Aug. 4.

34 Vaky, Foreign Policy, Fall 1987. On support for the political opposition within Nicaragua, see appendix IV, section 5.

35 Pastor, Condemned to Repetition (Princeton, 1987, 32), his emphasis.

36 See Culture of Terrorism for references on Barnes and many similar examples. Barnes was regarded as "the ring leader" of the congressional opposition to the illegal Reagan administration programs of domestic propaganda and contra terror. He had to be "destroyed" politically as an "object lesson to others," according to memos of one of the "private" affiliates of these operations (run by Carl Channell, who pleaded guilty for serving as a conduit for tax-exempt money for contra weapons). Barnes was defeated after an ad campaign run by Channell depicting him as a Sandinista sympathizer, a message not lost on Congress. See Parry and Kornbluh, op. cit.

37 U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Feb. 27, 1986.

38 NYT, March 14, 1986.

39 Editorial, WP Weekly, March 1, 1986.

40 New York Times Book Review, April 12, 1987. See letters, Z Magazine, January 1989, for Morley's interpretation of the quoted phrase.

41 Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1987.

42 John E. Rielly, ed., American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy 1987, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, March 1987. "Leaders" are defined as "prominent individuals in the United States from government, business, labor, academia, the mass media, religious institutions, private foreign policy organizations and special interest groups."

43 For a sample, see Culture of Terrorism, chapter 11.

44 Andrew Reding, interview with Figueres, World Policy Review, Spring 1986; Culture of Terrorism, 206-7, for longer excerpts from an interview published by COHA, Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Oct. 1, 1986.

45 NYT Magazine, Jan. 10, 1988.

46 James LeMoyne, "Bitterness and Apathy in Nicaragua," NYT, Dec. 29, 1987. Chamorro, Update, Central American Historical Institute, Georgetown University, Nov. 13, 1987; Extra! (FAIR), Oct./Nov. 1987. Having been in Managua at just the time that LeMoyne stopped by briefly, I am personally aware of how distorted his rendition was. Others with personal experience will draw their own conclusions. The point, however, is that it is LeMoyne's version, not other reactions, that can reach the general public. Only certain kinds of responses -- in fact, those that conform to the conditions of the propaganda model -- pass through the media filter, with only occasional exceptions.

47 Mary Speck, "Nicaragua's Economic Decline Takes Toll on Health," Miami Herald, Sept. 15, 1988; William Branigin, "Let Them Eat Fruit Rinds," Washington Post Weekly, Oct. 10-16, 1988. Consistent with the media policy of downplaying the U.S. role in Nicaragua's distress, Branigin alleges that a June 1988 poll shows that only 19 percent of Managua residents regard "U.S. aggression in any of its forms" as "the main cause" of the economic problems. But, relying on a secondary source, he misread the poll results (see appendix IV, section 5). The question asked was to identify "the country's main economic problems." Two-thirds of respondents selected inflation, shortage of goods, low wages, deficient production, and "other"; 8 percent selected "bad government"; and Branigin's 19 percent chose "war," "economic blockade," or "aggression." Plainly, the responses were heterogeneous. Doubtless many of the 67 percent who identified specific economic problems would have agreed that they were attributable to U.S. intervention and economic warfare; even right-wing pro-Somoza businessmen are clear about this matter.

48 Thomas W. Walker, Nicaragua (Westview, 1986, 67).

49 See my introduction to Morris Morley and James Petras, The Reagan Administration and Nicaragua, Institute of Media Analysis, Monograph Series No. 1 (New York, 1987), for a detailed survey, noting some marginal exceptions and nuances and also discussing one of the more outlandish contributions, that of Ronald Radosh, now in his "God that failed" phase and therefore with ready access to the media, previously denied. Also my chapter "U.S. Polity and Society: the Lessons of Nicaragua" in Thomas Walker, ed., Reagan versus the Sandinistas (Westview, 1987).

50 NYT, Dec. 31, 1987.

51 See Appendix I for discussion of these predictions.

52 NYT, Feb. 10.

53 NYT, Feb. 14.

54 Editorials, WP, Jan. 9, March ll; Buckley, WP, May 21, 1987.

55 Rosenthal, NYT, March 8; Rosenfeld, WP, April 24, 1987.

56 Stephen Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines (U. of North Carolina, 1980, 194).

57 Kenneth Roth, letter, NYT, Aug. 17, 1988; BG, Dec. 26, 1988. Advocates of U.S. violence condemn Americas Watch because its careful and judicious reporting does not satisfy their standards of loyalty to state doctrine. Thus New Republic editor Morton Kondracke charges that Americas Watch and State Department propagandists "deserve each other," each exaggerating and distorting in their partisan endeavors, protecting Nicaragua and the U.S. clients, respectively ("Broken Watch", The New Republic, Aug. 22, 1988; for some examples of Kondracke's appreciation for successful violence, and other views, see Culture of Terrorism; also appendix I, section 2). In fact, Americas Watch has bent over backwards to detect and denounce Nicaraguan abuses, devoting far more attention to them than the comparative facts would warrant. It has gone so far as to say that it would oppose support for Nicaragua if that were at issue, because of its abuses, though it has not proposed that the U.S. terminate aid to El Salvador, where the abuses are vastly worse; nor have the Watch groups called for termination of aid to Israel and other major violators of human rights (see Americas Watch, Human Rights in Nicaragua, March 1986). But Americas Watch has kept to the determinable facts, scandalizing assorted commissars.

58 Bernard Diederich, Somoza (E.P. Dutton, 1981, 74). Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to McGeorge Bundy, June 11, 1965; for further details, see On Power and Ideology, 22f. and bibliography.

59 Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy toward Latin America (Princeton, 1981, 7).

60 Cited by F. Parkinson, Latin America, The Cold War, and The World Powers (London, 1974), 40.

61 See my article "Democracy in the Industrial Societies" in Z Magazine, Jan. 1989, for discussion and references.

62 Torture in Latin America, LADOC (Latin American Documentation), Lima, 1987.

63 Secretary Shultz, "Moral Principles and Strategic Interests: The Worldwide Movement Toward Democracy," State Dept. Bureau of Public Affairs, Current Policy no. 820, address at Kansas State University, April 14, 1986; LeMoyne, NYT, Feb. 7, 1988.

64 See The Political Economy of Human Rights, vol. I; Lars Schoultz, Comparative Politics, Jan. 1981. See also his Human Rights and United States Policy toward Latin America.

65 NYT, March 15, 1987.

66 AP, Feb. 1, 1988.

67 Editorial, WP Weekly, March 31, 1986; Pamela Constable, BG, March 15, 1987.

68 For a detailed analysis, see Morley and Petras, op. cit.

69 See my article in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas; Culture of Terrorism, 219f.; WP, Oct. 15, 1985; Peter Kornbluh, Nicaragua (Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, 1987).

70 Ibid.


Table of Contents ] Preface ] I. Democracy and the Media ] II. Containing the Enemy ] [ III. The Bounds of the Expressible ] IV. Adjuncts of Government ] V. The Utility of Interpretations ] Appendix I ] Appendix II ] Appendix III ] Appendix IV ] Appendix V ]


 ] Deterring Democracy ] Necessary Illusions ] The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many ] Keeping the Rabble in Line ] Rethinking Camelot ] Powers and Prospects ] Year 501 ] Secrets, Lies and Democracy ] What Uncle Sam Really Wants ] Interviews, Debates and Talks ] About Noam Chomsky ]


 
 
 

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