Moulding Minds: Foreign Policy and the Manipulation of Public Opinion

by Josh Watts

This article considers the actions of state agencies in manipulating the opinion of a public to whom they are accountable.  Such manipulation is well documented.  Edward Bernays, considered the father of the public relations industry, opened his well-known study of propaganda (entitled Propaganda) by describing ‘[t]he conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses’ as ‘an important element of democratic society’.  ‘Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society’, Bernays observed, ‘constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.  We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested’.[1] 

The manipulation of public opinion becomes a more pressing issue – to both the manipulated and manipulators – when it is undertaken by agencies whose primary course of action is violence.  ‘The general’, writes one British veteran, ‘wants his war almost as badly as the politician wants to butch up by starting one’.  The consequential death and destruction requires a degree of public support if it is to be exercised for the necessary duration.  Thus, the mechanisms for achieving public support are critical to foreign policy.  For the House of Commons Defence Committee, ‘the disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public’ is ‘[o]ne of the greatest strategic threats to defence’.  ‘Without a proactive communications strategy,’ the Committee notes, ‘there is a serious lack of support for defence amongst the public’.[2]  Giving evidence to the committee in October 2013, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond commented on the ‘rebuild[ing of] public support for – as a last resort – the ability to project expeditionary forces’:

I am sure there are lots of things that we can do.  Public opinion is conditioned by what people hear politicians saying, by what they read in the media and by what they hear commentators saying, so there are plenty of things that we can do.[3]

Keeping the Historical Record from the Public Domain

The control exercised by a state over its historical record can play a role in shaping public attitudes to foreign policy.  The withholding of certain historical documents means that records revealing countless violations of human rights do not clash with the self-serving rhetoric of politicians.  If compared to the historical record, such proclamations (loyally relayed in the media), would appear hypocritical and meaningless, making public support difficult to attain.  This has long been recognised by officials.  In 1949, one diplomat commented with regards to the Middle East:

The trouble here is that reasons of political expediency tie us to the reactionaries of the Middle East at the same time as we preach social progress.  Unless we can change our policy, we cannot hope for our propaganda on this theme to be effective; while the charge that we go ahead socially at home and deliberately keep the Middle East back for purposes of our foreign policy is difficult to answer.[4]

The contradiction between realpolitik (‘political expediency’) and ‘preach[ed]’ rhetoric is stark and this has on occasion led to tensions between different factions of the state.  During the 1950s, for example, the Colonial Office was unsupportive of a campaign conducted by Britain’s primary propaganda agency, the Information Research Department (IRD), which involved publicising defectors’ accounts of forced labour camps (gulags) in the Soviet Union.  This was for the simple reason that Britain was itself operating similar camps in Kenya.[5]

Given the great disparity between documentary fact and ideological fiction, it is no wonder that the British government continues to withhold official records from the public.  In 2011, during court proceedings examining human rights abuses committed by British authorities in Kenya during the Mau Mau Emergency (1950s), it emerged that 63 boxes of documents had been transferred out of Kenya prior to independence and instead of being declassified and placed in a publicly-accessible location, sat in storage at a facility at Hanslope Park, London.  It later transpired that no less than 2,000 boxes existed, containing files from over three dozen of Britain’s former colonies and protectorates.[6] A resultant report into the history of the files pertaining to Kenya, noted that they were ‘not identified at the time of’ two Freedom of Information requests in 2005, and another in 2006.  The report also determined that: ‘A great many documents were destroyed, but others were returned to the UK’, which ‘became the so-called “migrated archives”, eventually totalling around 8,800 files’.

When the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, announced the publication of this report in early-May 2011, he stated: ‘I believe that it is the right thing to do for the information in these files now to be … made available to the public through the National Archives.  This will be taken forward rapidly’.  In fact, the government has since dragged its feet, whilst the number of previously-unknown documents has greatly increased.  ‘On a hot day in late July’, the historian Richard Drayton writes, ‘the Foreign and Commonwealth Office published quietly on its website an admission that it holds an archive of 1.2m files [alleged to fill some 15 miles of floor-to-ceiling shelving], most of them “special collections”, which should have been transferred to the National Archives’.  These ‘revelations dwarf [the earlier Kenya file releases] and challenge the FCO’s narrative of secrecy’.  According to Ian Cobain, these files, dating back to at least the 1850s (and ‘appear[ing] to date back to 1662’ in some cases),

have been kept from public view in breach of the Public Records Act [of 1958], which requires that all government documents become public once they are 30 years old – a term about to be reduced to 20 years – unless the department has received permission from the lord chancellor to hold them for longer.  The secret archive is also beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.[7]

The reluctance to make these files publicly-available is understandable given the likely content.  They are known to contain, for example, a memorandum by Eric Griffith-Jones, the then-Attorney General in Kenya.  ‘If we are going to sin’, he wrote, ‘we must sin quietly’.[8]  ‘Among the first papers transferred to [The National Archives in] Kew’, Ian Cobain notes, ‘are a handful of files that show many of the British empire’s most sensitive and incriminating documentation was not hidden at Hanslope Park but simply destroyed’.[9]

The Ministry of Defence is particularly noteworthy in this respect.  The Ministry itself reportedly holds a further 66,000 files ‘in breach of [the] 30-year rule’, and, the Times reported, recently made a ‘last-minute attempt to block the publication of a book it commissioned one of its officers to write about the military campaign in Helmand’.[10]  The author, Mike Martin, felt compelled to resign from his role as a Captain in the Territorial Army, whilst the book, An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012, ‘soared up the Amazon charts in the wake of the publicity’.[11] ‘A number of books critical of the campaign have faced MoD censorship’, The Times observed.[12]

Given the response to this publication, we may wonder what will be the result of a recommendation by the House of Commons Defence Committee that ‘the Ministry of Defence, in close conjunction with the Cabinet Office and National Security Secretariat, initiate the writing of official histories of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and of other conflicts since the end of the Cold War’.[13]

State control over the dissemination of historical records is just one way of manipulating public opinion.  Precisely how this favours policy makers was noted in a recent report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, entitled Power and Persuasion in the Modern World: ‘Appearing to be benign tends to generate sympathy, trust, credibility and acquiescence’.[14]

The Media as State Agent

As the institution responsible for informing the public, the media undoubtedly plays a role in this process of control.  Bias in the media has been thoroughly examined and documented.  The most significant conclusion is not that there is a right- or left-wing bias, but that there is a bias in favour of power which ‘inculcate[s] and defend[s] the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state’.[15]  In their influential study, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outline a ‘propaganda model’, comprised of ‘filters’ which determine media content.  The result is that a particular impression of the world emerges which serves ‘the political agenda of privileged groups’.  This occurs ‘through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within acceptable premises’.[16]

Whilst some important journalism is conducted in the public interest – on the topics discussed in this piece, for example – and that is to be lauded, the overall evidence supports the propaganda model hypothesis.  Even on matters such as US imperialism in Latin America, for instance, where the UK itself may not appear to have too great a stake, the true, graphic and violent extent of the US record is not fully elucidated (this, for the record, pertains to the BBC and ‘liberal’ media such as the Guardian).  That dissenting reportage is exceptional is demonstrated by a comment in an Information Policy report from the British embassy in Santiago, Chile, in the months following the coup which brought General Augusto Pinochet to power:

On the whole the British press handling of Chile seems to have given less offence to the military than reporting in the US and the rest of Europe.  There has been some private muttering to me about the reports of Richard Gott and Hugh O’Shaughnessy – but no public recriminations.  It would be comforting to believe that the hours of Embassy briefings and the gin and tonics on the patio had achieved the desired steadying effect.[17]

‘An agreed statement of strategic intent between media organisations and the MOD’

Media organisations are generally supportive of foreign policy objectives.  ‘Governments need sympathetic media coverage to legitimise and sustain war,’ Des Freedman notes, ‘while, with very few honourable exceptions, editors and journalists share many of their government’s ideological assumptions about war and are anxious not to undermine the “national interest’’.’ [18]  Indeed, there are both predetermined agreements between journalists and the state, and an infiltration of organisations by state agencies.  Regarding the latter, consider for example the vetting of thousands of BBC staff by MI5.[19]  On the former we have the Ministry of Defence’s Green Book, ‘an agreed statement of strategic intent between media organisations and the MOD’.  This document, currently in its 8th incarnation, is publicly available and presents a clear example of the way in which the media can act in the service of the state.  It outlines ‘MoD working arrangements with the media for use through the full spectrum of conflict’, and, the document states, ‘should be read in conjunction with specific advice that will be discussed with the media and issued by the MOD’.[20]

The desire on the part of the MOD to control information is stark. Indeed, there is a lengthy section entitled ‘Control of Information.’[21]  The role of journalists in this process is expressed in one ‘Embed Caveat’ for war correspondents: ‘Whilst the MOD recognises there is an undeniable interest on the part of the public in the progress of an armed conflict involving UK forces … there may be exceptional circumstances when it is necessary to place limits on [war correspondents’] freedom to communicate this’, and correspondents ‘will have to agree not to cover events from the opposing side at any stage, without the prior agreement of the MOD’.[22]  Prior to this, we read of multiple ‘categories of association with a unit or formation’.  These include ‘PR projects’, which are held ‘in support of wider and for longer term MOD initiatives’, and

Structured Visit.  A formal, deliberate programme, most likely by invitation or grouped for specific events or purposes.  …most likely to be supported once enduring operational status has been achieved… [and] could include Other Government Department (OGD) input.  [23]

The Green Book is itself produced in consultation with the media.[24]  Eleven media organisations were involved in the ‘development of the MOD Green Book’, including the BBC, the National Union of Journalists and Sky News.[25]

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the document is the ‘Briefing Release Caveats’, comprisingg four ‘terms’ under which ‘MoD and military spokesmen’ may offer journalists briefings.[26] The third, ‘Background’, reads:

the information is given to aid greater understanding.  It will be stated at the time whether it may be used but, if used, may not be attributed in any way, except as though from a journalist’s own knowledge.  [27]

This very closely resembles the definition of ‘black’ propaganda, offered by one scholar: ‘material emanating from an undisclosed source, so that the receiver either has no idea where it is coming from or incorrectly identifies the source’.[28]  In one instance in the Green Book, caution is offered:

In the UK, editors should be aware that analysis of events and capabilities by well-informed specialists, such as academics, or retired officers and officials, could be of assistance to an enemy.  They are requested, therefore, to take special care when inviting speculation from such experts.[29]

Similar perspectives appear in the House of Commons Defence Committee’s recently released report, UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework for Future Operations (published 2 April 2014).  ‘The media’, the Committee argues, ‘is an increasingly important player in armed conflicts.  It can and has been exploited by the UK’s adversaries and will increasingly be so in the future’.  Thus, ‘The MoD should ensure that it has an effective media strategy in place to deal with accusations of war crimes and violations of International Humanitarian Law’.[30]

Cyberwarfare as Population Control

The MoD attempts to control public opinion not just by influencing journalists.  A modern, digitalised society immersed in and – arguably – dependent upon advanced technology and multiple modes of instantaneous communication, offers other means of manipulation.  Edward Bernays recognised the significance of new technology for propaganda:

The important point to the propagandist is that the relative value of the various instruments of propaganda, and their relation to the masses, are constantly changing.  If he is to get full reach for his message he must take advantage of these shifts of value the instant they occur. 

‘There is’, Bernays emphasised, ‘no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda, because propaganda is simply the establishing of reciprocal understanding between an individual and a group’.[31]

On 16 March 2014, the Guardian reported that, ‘The Ministry of Defence is developing a secret, multimillion-pound research programme into the future of cyberwarfare, including how emerging technologies such as social media and psychological techniques can be harnessed by the military to influence people’s beliefs.’  Projects with names such as ‘Novel Techniques for Public Sentiment and Perception Elicitation’, among others, ‘are being funded by the MoD in partnership with arms companies, academics, marketing experts and thinktanks’.  ‘The current MoD research drive in the area’, the report explains, ‘is being run by the Defence Human Capability Science and Technology Centre (DHCSTC), which is administered by [arms manufacturer] BAE [Systems]’.  Though ‘a wide range of research’ is commissioned, it is observed, ‘such as studies of alcohol consumption in the armed forces, a substantial stream of research comes under the heading of “information activities and outreach’’.’ The Guardian quotes Dr Tim Stevens of Kings College London, ‘who studies cyberwar and strategy’:

The current furore over inter-state cyberwar is probably not where the game’s at.  What is far more likely is that states will seek to influence their own populations and others through so-called ‘cyber’ methods, which basically means the internet and the device du jour, currently smartphones and tablets.

Stevens specified: ‘Cyberwarfare of the future may be less about hacking electrical power grids and more about hacking minds by shaping the environment in which political debate takes place’.[32]  This was described by Noam Chomsky 25 years ago as ‘the bounds of the expressible’.[33]  He went on to explain why ‘shap[ing] the environment in which political debate takes place’ (to quote Stevens) is necessary: ‘In the democratic system, the necessary illusions cannot be imposed by force’ and thus ‘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’ by ‘set[ting] the bounds [of political debate] firmly’.[34]

Challenging the Consensus

Taken together, the withholding of historical records, a mainstream media that consistently supports foreign policy objectives, and active programmes by state agencies to influence public opinion, constitute a substantial campaign to manipulate the public mind.

Daunting as the struggle to reject and break out of the mainstream consensus may appear though, it is not a futile task.  There is, despite current obstructions, a rich historical record which historians such as Mark Curtis and John Newsinger utilise superbly.[35]  Respected journalists such the filmmaker John Pilger continue to challenge the mainstream[36] and military veterans are speaking out against the forces they once served.[37]  For those interested in the specifics of policymaking in particular historical periods, new studies do emerge,[38] as have others focusing on specific issues such as energy and resources,[39] torture[40] and drone warfare.[41]  Numerous individuals and groupings challenge mainstream reportage on a regular basis,[42] whilst the threat to the status quo posed by the release of classified documents by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden is obvious from the response of the mainstream media and respected officials.[43]  Thus, there are dissident avenues and opportunities for citizens; the task is to avoid succumbing to what US media critic Michael Parenti describes as ‘superpatriotism’ – ‘a highly emotive force used by political leaders and ordinary citizens to muffle discourse’[44] – and to confidently challenge prevailing orthodoxies.  These orthodoxies are not unshakable, and a glance outside acceptable bounds shows us just how catastrophic conformity can be. 

Josh Watts researches and writes on international politics and western foreign policy, and their representation in the mainstream media, at http://www.newsunspun.org/ and http://www.alborada.net/ 



[1] Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Brooklyn, New York: Ig Publishing, 2005 [1928]), p. 37.

[2] Emphasis added. House of Commons Defence Committee, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review: Part One, Volume I, Seventh Report of Session 2013-2014, HC 197 (7 January 2014), para. 24 (pp. 16-7). Members of the committee, it added, ‘are convinced that there is an important role for this Committee, and Parliament as a whole, to play in articulating the case for defence to the public at large’ (para. 24; pp. 16-7).

‘One of the greatest strategic threats to defence the disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public’ is quoted in a recent House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, Power and Persuasion in the Modern World, Report of the Session 2013-2014, HL Paper 150 (28 March 2014), para. 31 (pp. 35-6).

[3] House of Commons Defence Committee, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review: Part One, Volume I, Seventh Report of Session 2013-2014, HC 197 (7 January 2014), Ev 40, Q158 and Q159. This quote was included in the report itself; para 23 (p. 16).

[4] Cited in John Jenks, British Propaganda and News Media in the Cold War (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2006), p. 72; see also chap. 8, more generally.

[5] Reads one document: ‘Our main concern at the moment is the subject of Forced Labour; the Colonial Office in order to defend their nefarious activities in Kenya, are trying to get general adoption of the view that it was a mistake to have launched the Forced Labour [propaganda] operation against the Communist bloc in the first place. This is a complete heresy and should be treated as such’ (cited in Jenks, British Propaganda and News Media in the Cold War, 2006, p. 143). In fact, John Jenks concludes that whilst ‘Defectors had great potential for propaganda … it was a largely unrealised potential. There were not many high ranking defectors, and few of the low-ranking ones came for any sort of ideological reasons thus cutting into their effectiveness’ (Jenks, British Propaganda and News Media in the Cold War, 2006, p. 144). Nevertheless, the clash between governmental departments illuminates the significance policy makers attached to image and the effectiveness of propaganda generally.

[6] Ian Cobain, Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture (London: Portobello Books, 2012), pp. 89-90; Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive’, Guardian, 18 April 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/sins-colonialists-concealed-secret-archive ; Ian Cobain, Owen Bowcott and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes’, Guardian, 18 April 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes

[7] Cobain, ‘Foreign Office hoarding 1m historic files in secret archive’, Guardian, 18 October 2013.

[8] See Cobain, Cruel Britannia, 2012, pp. 88-9, wherein in the Eric Griffith-Jones quote is contained.

[9] Cobain and Norton-Taylor, ‘Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive’, Guardian, 18 April 2012; Cobain, Bowcott and Norton-Taylor, ‘Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes’, Guardian, 18 April 2012.

[10] Tom Coghlan, ‘MoD tries to block its own book on Helmand’, Times, 09.04.14.

[11] Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘MoD fails in attempt to stifle criticism of Afghan conflict’, Guardian, 10 April 2014,

http://www.theguardian.com/world/defence-and-security-blog/2014/apr/10/afghanistan-secrecy-ministry-of-defence

[12] Coghlan, ‘MoD tries to block its own book on Helmand’, Times, 09.04.14.

Ian Cobain opens his history of the British use of torture by recounting the 1954 quashing of a proposed book by ‘a retired colonel who had been commanding officer of a clandestine wartime torture centre that the British military operated in a row of Victorian mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens, one of the capital’s most exclusive addresses. … The manuscript made clear that [the] horrors [carried out] did not end with the cessation of hostilities: the centre continued to operate for more than three years after the end of the war’ (Ian Cobain, Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture, London, Portobello Books, 2012, pp. 1-3).

[13] House of Commons Defence Committee, Towards the Next Defence and Security Review: Part One, Volume I, Seventh Report of Session 2013-2014, HC 197 (7 January 2014), para. 76 (p. 31).

‘This work’, it adds, ‘could usefully call on input and expertise from other Government Departments including the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; since the comprehensive approach became a hallmark of the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, its lessons should be learnt from and shared across Government as a whole’ (para. 76; p. 31).

[14] House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, Power and Persuasion in the Modern World, Report of the Session 2013-2014, HL Paper 150 (28 March 2014), para. 42 (p. 40).

[15] Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (London: Vintage, 1994 [1988]), p. 298.

[16] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1994, p. 298.

[17] Antony Walter, ‘Chile: Information Policy Report, 1973’, 27 November 1973, FCO26/1360, The National Archives. On the British government’s immediate response to the coup, see Josh Watts, ‘Business As Usual: Britain’s Heath Government and Chile’s 9/11’, Alborada, 10 September 2013, http://www.alborada.net/watts-heath-uk-pinochet-chile-0913

[18]Des Freedman, ‘Misreporting war has a long history’, in David Miller (ed.) Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq, London, Pluto Press, 2003, p. 68.

[19]MI5 vetting of BBC staff was originally reported by the Observer in the 1980s. Owen Bowcott, ‘BBC used MI5 to vet pacifist staff’, Guardian, 14 November 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2001/nov/14/bbc.researchChris Hastings, ‘Revealed: how the BBC used MI5 to vet thousands of staff’, Telegraph, 2 July 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1522875/Revealed-how-the-BBC-used-MI5-to-vet-thousands-of-staff.html

[20] Ministry of Defence, Green Book: MoD Working Arrangements with the Media for Use Through the Full Spectrum of Conflict (Version 8), January 31 2013, Joint Service Publication 580, para. 89 (p. 22); also Foreword by the Ministry of Defence Director of Media and Communication, p. 1. ‘MoD working arrangements with the media for use through the full spectrum of conflict’ is the subtitle of the publication. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/70682/greenbook_v8_20130131.pdf

[21] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 43-73 (pp. 13-9).

[22] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 36 (p. 12).

[23] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 30 (p. 11).

[24] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 1 (p. 3); Foreword by the Ministry of Defence Director of Media and Communication, p. 1.

[25] The organisations are: The Newspaper Publishers Association; The Newspaper Society; National Union of Journalists; The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Independent Television News; Sky News; The Scottish Daily Newspaper Society; The International News Safety Institute; The Independent Defence Media Association; The Society of Editors; The Press Association (MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, p. 1).

[26] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 29 (pp. 10-1).

These are ‘Attributable’, ‘Unattributable’, ‘Background’, and ‘Not for Use’.

[27] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 29 (pp. 10-1).

The notion of hiding one’s responsibility is not new. In 1965, a bloody coup led by General Suharto took place in Indonesia, which led to the holocaust of at least 500,000 people. Offering, as it did, a backbone of support to the deposed leader Sukarno, the primary target of the Indonesian army was the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) – the largest Communist party in the world after that of China and the Soviet Union. The CIA drew up lists of communists – which were a ‘big help’, according to a political officer in the US embassy – who were rounded up and killed. The British embassy advised British intelligence headquarters in Singapore on ‘Suitable propaganda themes’, noting that any ‘treatment will need to be subtle, e.g. (a) all activities should be strictly unattributable, (b) British participation or co-operation should be carefully concealed’ (US official and British embassy citations in John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, London and New York, Verso, 2002, pp. 30-2; on the propaganda, see Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, London, Vintage, 2003, pp. 393-5). Turning to the United States, concealment was proposed by Secretary of State William Rogers to Henry Kissinger, in relation to US covert operations in Chile, which eventually led (along with other factors, though Kissinger boasted of the US role) to the overthrowing of its democratically –elected president, Salvador Allende in 11 September, 1973: ‘[w]e want to be sure the paper record doesn’t look bad. No matter what we do [in Chile] it will probably end up dismal. So our paper work should be done carefully’ (Rogers citation and Kissinger boast in Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile & the Inter-American Cold War, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2011, pp. 277, 220).

[28] Philip M. Taylor, Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2003 [third edition; orig. published 1990]), p. 225.

[29] MoD, Green Book, 2013, JSP 580, para. 50 (p. 15).

[30] House of Commons Defence Committee, UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework for Future Operations, Twelfth Report of Session 2013-14, HC 931 (2 April 2014), para. 126 (p. 46).

[31] Bernays, Propaganda, 2005, p. 161.

[32] Emphasis added. Quinn, ‘Revealed: the MoD’s secret cyberwarfare programme’, Guardian, 16 March 2014.

[33] Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (London: Pluto Press, 1989), p. 48.

[34] Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, 1989, p. 48.

[35] John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire was last year updated and republished. Mark Curtis’ books on foreign policy are: The Ambiguities of Power: British Foreign Policy Since 1945 (London & New Jersey: Zed Books, 1995); The Great Deception: Anglo-American Power and World Order (London: Pluto Press, 1998); Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World (London: Vintage, 2003); Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses (London: Vintage, 2004); and Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2012; updated edition [2010]).

[36] John Pilger’s latest film, Utopia (2013) is a heartbreaking and infuriating account of Australian governmental policy towards the Aboriginal population, culminating in what Pilger convincingly labels apartheid.

[37] Joe Glenton, Soldier Box: Why I Won’t Return to the War On Terror (London and New York: Verso, 2013).

[38] Andrew Holt, The Foreign Policy of the Douglas-Home Government: Britain, the United States and the End of Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

[39] Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012).

[40] On the British use of torture, see Ian Cobain’s excellent history, Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture (London: Portobello Books, 2012). On the US record, though now a number of years old, there exists a brilliantly in-depth study by Alfred W. McCoy, entitled A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007 [2006]).

[41] Medea Benjamin, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (New York: OR Books, 2012); republished last year by Verso.

[42] An interesting, helpful text is Des Freedman and Daya Kishan Thussu (eds.) Media & Terrorism: Global Perspectives (London et al.: Sage, 2012). Those conducting media criticism include Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR; www.fair.org), MediaLens (www.medialens.org) and News Unspun (www.newsunspun.org), among others.

[43] On the media reaction, see, for instance: Editors, ‘Wikileaks – The Smear and the Denial – Part 1’, MediaLens, 3 November 2012, http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2010/112-wikileaks-the-smear-and-the-denial-part-1.html ; The Editors, ‘Undermining Dissent: Evan Davis Interviews Glenn Greenwald’, News Unspun, 8 November 2013, http://www.newsunspun.org/article/undermining-dissent-evan-davis-interviews-glenn-greenwald#comments

For the establishment view, consider the first public speech made last October by Andrew Parker, the most-recently appointed head of MI5, in which he describes the ‘margin of advantage’ that Britain’s intelligence services posses - which ‘gives us [the state] the prospect of being able to detect their [terrorists’] plots and stop them’ – being ‘under attack’ by leaks: ‘It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques. Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will’ (Andrew Parker, Address by the Director General of the Security Service, Andrew Parker, to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Whitehall, 8 October 2013, ‘Director of Security Service on MI5 and the Evolving Threat’, Royal United Services Institute, https://www.rusi.org/events/past/ref:E5254359BB8F44#.UlRy-RZsfld).

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First published: 23 April, 2014

Category: Foreign policy, Terror/War, The State

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2 Comments on "Moulding Minds: Foreign Policy and the Manipulation of Public Opinion"

By Michael N Moore, on 25 April 2014 - 12:16 |

American Sociologist C. Wright Mills noted in the middle of the last century:

“The extent of the military publicity, and the absence of opposition to it, also means that it is not merely this proposal or that point of view that is being pushed. In the absence of contrasting views, the very highest form of propaganda warfare can be fought: the propaganda for a definition of reality, within which, only certain limited viewpoints are possible. What is being promulgated and reinforced is the military metaphysics – the case of mind that defines international reality as basically military. The publicists of the military ascendancy need not really work to indoctrinate with this metaphysics those who count: they have already accepted it.”
-Page 222 of The Power Elite – hardcover 1956

No area of decision has been more influenced by the warlords and by their military metaphysics than that of foreign policy and international relations.  In these zones, the military ascendancy has coincided with other forces that have been making for the downfall of civilian diplomacy as an art, and of the civilian diplomatic service as an organized group of competent people.”
-Page 205 of The Power Elite hardcover 1956

“An expensive arms race, under cover of the military metaphysic, and in a paranoid atmosphere of fright, is an economically attractive business. To many utopian capitalists, it has become the Business Way of American Life.”
[The Causes of World War Three (1960)]

 

By ALS, on 08 May 2014 - 19:57 |

This is a well researched piece that could use a mite more critical judgment. Media support does not at all necessarily make for a popular war: a more common pattern is simply that where a conflict is generally considered worthwhile to begin with, this often dissipates the longer the conflict is prolonged (e.g. the Iraq War in US public opinion); and some conflicts are unpopular even before they’ve begun (e.g. the Iraq War in the UK). Indeed, the number of popular wars, at least in the UK and the US, is very few indeed; in recent history, I can only think of Grenada (US) and the Falklands (UK). This realisation is implicit in a number of the sources quoted in this piece: it is not a general question of controlling public perception, but more specifically of encouraging a positive view of a certain conflict among a public more naturally disposed to being critically diplomatic rather than rabidly belligerent. So, yes - we should encourage the John Pilgers of this world, but they are in the majority among the public, even if not in the media

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