Manipulating public opinion to wage war: Part 5/5

For Vietnam (1953 – 1975):  In 1965—soon after the so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident (the Vietnam War’s Pearl Harbor that was the propaganda to drum up support for war)—only 25% thought the war was a mistake. Source:

In fact, Anup Shah writing for Global Issues, says it required massive propaganda to create the belief that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was because non-communist South Vietnam was invaded by communist North Vietnam and that the regime in the South was democratic—but there never was a democracy in South Vietnam.

This was all untrue. In addition, many think that the Vietnam War was lost due to the media revealing atrocities but this was also untrue.  Noam Chomsky says the American elite typically regarded Vietnam as a “mistake” or tragedy.

Television news in particular was said to have helped America “lose” the war. Yet, television news coverage was arguably poor, and full of news-bites, rather than detailed documentaries. … The Vietnam experience highlights a multitude of factors that contributed to what can only be termed as propaganda for Cold War ideological battles: a mixture of ideological goals, geopolitical and military goals, and issues to do with the nature of reporting and the structure of the media and how it worked, combined with cultural norms, all impacted the way that things were reported, not reported, portrayed, or misrepresented, and this ultimately provided legitimacy for a war that saw millions killed. Source: Global

Gallup reported that in 1965, soon after the so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident, 61% of American’s polled said that sending U.S. troops to fight in Vietnam was not a mistake. But by 1971, 70% would say yes—it was a mistake—to the same question.

Again, we hear the echo of President Abraham Lincoln’s words: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” In 1965, the majority of the American people were fooled but by 1971, only a few were still fools.

For the Gulf War—also known as Operation Desert Storm (August 1990 – February 1991)—we learn under the first President Bush that short wars with decisive victories provide less time for the public to change its mind. … In addition, President George H. W. Bush (1989 – 1993), remembering the lessons of Vietnam, sought public support … and he got it.  The vast majority of Americans and a narrow majority of the Congress supported the President’s actions. Source: US

But the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, had his Pearl Harbor on 9/11, and he squandered the public support by relying on false reports of Weapons of Mass Destruction to declare war on Iraq. But this false propaganda succeeded leading to Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003 – 2011).

“Being able to exploit the national anguish and anger over 9/11 was a critical ingredient, of course. But the success of the war-selling campaign was testimony to what a determined use of the opinion-molding capabilities of the government of the day, including the bully pulpit of the presidency, can accomplish.” Source: The National Interest

After Powell’s speech at the UN about WMDs in Iraq, a Gallup poll concluded that 79% of Americans thought the war was justified. However, by 2007, 65% would disapprove of the Iraq War thinking it was not worth fighting, and in March 2013, another survey found that 51.9% of the American public felt that the Iraq War had been a mistake—after all, you cannot fool all of the people, all of the time.

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2001 to present): In 2001, Gallup reported that eight of ten Americans (80%) supported a ground war in Afghanistan. But by March 2012—more than a decade later—sixty-nine percent of Americans thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan.

Return to Manipulating public opinion to wage wars: Part 4 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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