Monday, December 28, 2015

The Birth of Propaganda

I had a very interesting exchange on Facebook the other day.  Someone had posted a link to a PBS News Hour story about six US soldiers killed, and two more wounded, by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.  Judy Woodruff reported, "Defense Secretary Carter said the Bagram attack is a 'painful reminder' of the dangers U.S. troops face in Afghanistan."

I regret the deaths, though they're far fewer than the "More than 90 Afghan soldiers [who] were killed in Helmand in two days of fighting" at around the same time, to say nothing of the Afghan civilians we're killing with abandon.  But we could get out of Afghanistan. We have no business being there. There's no good reason for US troops to "face danger" there.

I said so in a comment, and got this reply:
Actually, we did have business there. We were part of a UN assistance mission that the was sent in to help the Afghan government deal with the Taliban. We sent additional troops, with the UN's blessing, at around the same time in order to go after bin Laden. He was in Afghanistan at the time. The operations merged and the UN is still there, according to their website. So is the Taliban and they sound like they're just as bad as they were 20 years ago.
That's quite a nice distortion of history, and it's not even ancient history.  It was written by someone around my age, who's old enough to remember the actual course of events.  Bush's invasion of Afghanistan was his own decision, based on the pretense that the Taliban were responsible for the September 11 attacks because some of the al-Qaeda leadership were based there.  The Taliban had offered to extradite Bin Laden if the US provided evidence of his guilt, an offer the US spurned.  Who did these ragheads think they were, calling for due process?  The United States is above all law.  The UN was brought in to ratify his agenda, though the US' main allies were the Northern Alliance, Islamist fanatics so vicious that the Taliban had at first been welcomed as liberators when they defeated them.  (The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan was founded in March 2002, after the US invasion.) The US installed Hamid Karzai, whose government is the one the other commenter had in mind that needed help "deal[ing] with the Taliban," but he only came to power after the Taliban had been defeated.  At which point the Bush regime lost most interest in Afghanistan and Bin Laden as Bush moved to invade Iraq.  Despite the Obama regime's escalation of the war after his election, the Taliban have gained back much of their territory and their influence.  True, they are as bad as they were twenty years ago, but the takeover of Afghanistan by Islamists in the first place was largely the work of the US, which supported them in overthrowing Afghanistan's Soviet-backed secular government and then fighting against the Soviet forces who really were asked in by the government for help against the jihadists.  Even after Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops, that secular government managed to fight on against the Islamists for some time before it fell.

I pointed out to the other commenter that her fantasy version of history was rather like the distortion involved in the US invasion of Vietnam.  The more I thought about it, I realized that it was virtually cut from the same mold.  The propaganda justification for the US invasion of Vietnam had been that the government of Free South Vietnam, under attack by Communists in the pay of Moscow and "Peiping," had asked for our help to defend Vietnamese freedom.  This was a complete lie: the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem was installed by the US in 1954 to keep an anti-Communist foothold there, and US support including weapons, money, and American "military advisors" had grown steadily ever after, years before North Vietnam got involved after 1960.  Before then, the rebellion against the Saigon regime was almost entirely fought by Southerners, with no external support.  When Diem finally became interested in negotiating with those rebels, the US had him removed -- so much for the claim that we were standing by our allies.

Out of curiosity I looked at the other commenter's own Facebook page.  One of her recent posts claimed that Thanksgiving celebrates "the arrival of a group of people who were fleeing religious persecution. They were refugees, just like the people from Syria who are fleeing violence and oppression, looking for a new lives in new lands."  Thanksgiving isn't about the arrival of the Pilgrims, it's about their survival, celebrating a successful harvest.  But the Pilgrims were not refugees: they were refugees in the Netherlands, where they lived before they decided to try the New World, but they had freedom of religion there.  What they wanted was a place where they could be the persecutors, and they got one -- ironically enough from the same British government that repressed them at home. And there the parallel breaks down totally, for the Syrian refugees have not been granted land in the US by the Assad regime to start their own colony.  I credit the lady for having her heart in the right place and defending the acceptance of refugees in this country, but her distortions of history are not innocent.

It's hard for me to understand how someone who lived through the past fifteen years as an adult could have produced such a garbled version of US involvement in Afghanistan, but I'm not really surprised either.  And maybe "garbled" is the wrong word: her version was coherently written, it was just false.  I'm mostly intrigued that the propaganda narrative she'd absorbed was structured so much like the one used to justify the war in Vietnam, though I suppose most invaders and aggressors have used similar stories.  The United States often has.