||8. Control of information||5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state|
The History of the Culture of War
The most significant development in the culture of war over the course of history has been the increasing importance of the control of information. In parallel with the developments of the printing press, the telephone and radio, television and now internet, the control of these media has been crucial for the maintenance or changing of political power, no less for bourgeois democracy than for authoritarian regimes. We have already mentioned one example: the important role of television in electoral campaigns, and how it provides an ever-increasing advantage to those who are wealthy or have access to wealth.
In recent years control of the media has greatly reinforced the culture of war of the state and military-industrial complex. Never before in history has there been such a concentration of communication power in the hands of a few multi-national corporations, Most media in the United States, for example, are now in the hands of five multi-national corporations. There was popular resistance to this a few years ago, but the media monopolies were supported by the responsible government agency, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The FCC was stocked with appointments of the Bush administration and headed by the son of General Colin Powell, the Secretary of State in the Bush administration who initiated the war in Iraq.
At the international level, a particularly revealing moment occurred when UNESCO considered implementation of the proposals of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (UNESCO 1980). This is usually called the MacBride report after its chairman, the Nobel Peace Laureate Sean MacBride. The MacBride report recognized the dominance of Northern media and called for the "democratization of communication at national and international levels":
[page 111]: "We can sum up by saying that in the communication industry there are a relatively small number of predominant corporations which integrate all aspects of production and distribution, which are based in the leading developed countries and which have become transnational in their operations. Concentration of resources and infrastructures is not only a growing trend, but also a worrying phenomenon which may adversely affect the freedom and democratization of communication . . "
When it looked like they could not block implementation of the MacBride Report, the United States and the United Kingdom withdrew from UNESCO, effectively removing a majority of its operational budget and putting enormous pressure on their allies that remained in the organization. When I was at UNESCO in the 1990s there was no question but that this topic had become taboo for the organization. And meanwhile the concentration of the power of media in the hands of the wealthy continues to grow. As A. J. Liebling once wrote, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one".
And perhaps never before in history has there been so much secrecy in government. Even though the functions of secrecy are often to hide incompetence and corruption, it is usually justified by the state in terms of "national security" - i.e. the culture of war. To illustrate the extent of secrecy, here is a small article clipped from the May 14 1997 issue of the International Herald Tribune:
"Washington - Representative David Skaggs, Democrat of Colorado, was quizzing the head of administrative services at the CIA about classified material a while ago. How much, he asked, did the agency spend each year on classification?
As the article points out, it is difficult to know how much secrecy there is, because "you don't know what you don't know." However, there is every indication that the amount of secrecy in the U.S. government has increased since 1994. We have already indicated how secrecy was used by the U.S. government to avoid being implicated in the guns for drugs trade during the Contra War, and we can only assume that many other illegal actions related to the culture of war have similarly been hidden from the general public. Nor is the problem confined to the United States. Recent revelations about the secret complicity of European governments with illegal CIA rendition and torture show that other countries keep extensive "national security" secrets as well.
The control of the mass media by a few major multinational corporations plays into the hands of governmental secrecy and propaganda. To some extent media propaganda supports militarism because of a community of interest between the media executives and the government. This seems to have been the case to a great extent in the extraordinary support given by the American mass media to the war in Iraq during its initial years. This support has been documented by the journalist Bill Moyers, as in the following excerpt from interviews he did with other journalists for his television program, "Buying the War" which was broadcast on PBS April 25, 2007:
"Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster. The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on . . As the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war."
"The Spanish-American War is often seen as a conflict almost initiated and fed by propaganda. Publisher of THE NEW YORK JOURNAL Randolph Hearst is commonly believed to have told a reporter in Cuba, "You furnish the pictures, I'll provide the war." Regardless of the veracity of that tale, Hearst's claim in the press that Spanish mines had sunk the Maine, pushed the nation toward war. His paper's notorious and ugly characterization of the Spanish and generous helpings of melodrama and sentiment became known as 'Yellow Journalism.'
World Peace through the Town Hall