27 January 2010

Public Relations of War, part 1

Propaganda and Iraqi War

For most people the thought of going to war is something horrible, something that should be avoided at all costs. It brings pain, death and destruction; and civilians are always the ones who suffer the most. Yet, despite all of this many people either support or accept the fact that their country goes to a war against someone else (there are of course those who oppose such conflicts, yet often they are minority). But why? 

The answer that keeps coming to my mind is: PR and government propaganda. I checked a few pages with information about public support to the Iraqi war. It appears that just before the American-British invasion only 27% of UN citizens opposed to military action in Iraq. The majority of the public believed that Iraq was responsible for the terrorist attacks in America, and after the war began more than 70% of the population within UN supported the invasion (even though the weapon of mass destruction supposedly hidden by Saddam Hussein has never been found).

Only some time later the statistics in public support to the military action in Iraq changed and most people thought that the war was a mistake (they still do). Today I read in a newspaper that the Iraqi war might be illegal! (And if the court decides that it is, I hope that Blair and Bush will be punished for it). But how did the governments planning the invasion “convinced” the public to support them?

As Norman Solomon (politics columnist) wrote: “For some people, war is terror, disaster and death. For others, it's a PR problem.” Spin doctors working for the governments do whatever it takes to help sustain or create necessary images of those governments (or the enemy) to keep public support not only in times of war but also in other matters, such as for example economy or environmental issues (but about this in another post).

The most effective strategy that country leaders use in gaining public approval to a war seems to be some sort of a threat, “appeal to fear”. Josef Goebbels (German Minister of Propaganda in years 1933 -1945) used such technique to scare his nationals by convincing them that Allies wanted their extermination. Also at the time of cold war US government claimed that there was the threat of Russians firing atomic bomb rockets into America. In most recent war in Iraq (a war that I can actually say I “experienced” by living in the time when it is happening) British government provided misleading information to the community and to UN Security Council saying that Iraq had WMD (weapons of mass destruction) ready to be used against Britain in order to gain national support.

Maybe it’s not news to read about government propaganda, in fact it’s very old truth that authorities use propaganda most of the time and not only at war, but if it’s so, how come we are constantly fooled by this?  

One of the principles of propaganda is to appeal to human emotions: empathy, injustice, hate and so on. Fear, of course, is one of them (often leading to hatred to the enemy/the other side). It’s very difficult not to pay attention and listen to what is being said to you when there is that danger hanging over your head. Maybe that’s why most of us tend to believe in what is shown and said to us by authorities. After all, they are the people who are supposed to be smart and take care of us. 

Read on part 2 - media control.
Poster taken from


Post a Comment