Friday, April 18, 2008

Lessons from the past

The other day I was looking through the August 25, 1915 edition of Punch, the great English magazine, and I happened across an article, obviously meant to be satirical, entitled Phases of a Year of War (From a Patriot’s notebook). I was immediately struck by the opening entry in this imaginary diary which read as follows: "Aug. 1914 – War declared. Rather startling. Imagine that it will be a tremendous business, involving great changes even in my obscure life. Am, forever, at once agreeably surprised by the reassuring battle-cry, ‘Business as Usual.’ The war is to be won, apparently, by our taking no notice of it, thus causing an immense feeling of depression among the enemy.”

It seems that the contemporary spin on war, which we have so ruthlessly experienced over the past 6 or 7 years, had its start a few generations ago. It seems that the leaders in Britain were already perfecting the art of propaganda in a way that Carl Rove and George Bush would be proud of. Or should we call it the art of ‘un-propaganda?” Because what this notebook from so many years ago really points to is the art of promoting indifference. Already at the beginning of WWI, politicians were encouraging their populations to ignore the war as much as possible and go about their ‘Business as Usual.’ Does everyone remember the days immediately following the events of September 11th the literal way in which the Bush administration applied the very same idea? Bush greeted frightened Americans and told them to go shopping as a response to their troubles. And in the years since then the Western Governments have done everything in their power to compel us to continue on with our business as usual and ignore the devastating conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. Just as this anonymous writer in Punch eighty years ago noticed that the government was encouraging him to ignore the war, our governments, with tremendous help from the media, has done everything in its power to divert our attention from its terrible cause. Of course, nowadays our governments are smart enough not even to declare war, thereby making it even easier to go about our business with little or no concern for the raging conflict.

Anyway, lest we forget how long the rich and powerful have been encouraging our forgetfulness just pick up an eighty year old magazine to remind you that there is little new under the middle-eastern sun.

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