Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq
Susan A. Brewer
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On the evening of September 11, 2002, with the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the background, television cameras captured President George W. Bush as he advocated the charge for war against Iraq. This carefully staged performance, writes Susan Brewer, was the culmination of a long tradition of sophisticated wartime propaganda in America.
In Why America Fights, Brewer offers a fascinating history of how successive presidents have conducted what Donald Rumsfeld calls "perception management," from McKinley's war in the Philippines to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her intriguing account ranges from analyses of wartime messages to descriptions of the actual operations, from the dissemination of patriotic ads and posters to the management of newspaper, radio, and TV media. When Woodrow Wilson carried the nation into World War I, he created the Committee on Public Information, led by George Creel, who called his job "the world's greatest adventure in advertising." In World War II, Roosevelt's Office of War Information avowed a "strategy of truth," though government propaganda still depicted Japanese soldiers as buck-toothed savages. After examining the ultimately failed struggle to cast the Vietnam War in a favorable light, Brewer shows how the Bush White House drew explicit lessons from that history as it engaged in an unprecedented effort to sell a preemptive war in Iraq. Yet the thrust of its message was not much different from McKinley's pronouncements about America's civilizing mission.
Impressively researched and argued, filled with surprising details, Why America Fights shows how presidents have consistently drummed up support for foreign wars by appealing to what Americans want to believe about themselves.
supplies to Britain and later to the Soviet Union. At a press conference, the president compared Lend-Lease to the neighborly act of loaning a hose to the man next door when his house is on fi re. Although critics scoffed at such a misleading analogy, the president’s story appealed to the spirit of humanitarianism as well as the desire for self-preservation. In the fall of 1941, FDR, again evading the good war 95 Congress by using his commander-in-chief powers, ordered U.S. naval convoys to
Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the fi lm appeared as Americans were beginning to consider more closely their postwar role. While the administration advocated internationalism, Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio called for maintaining tradition. “We can’t crusade throughout the 112 why america fights The poster series “This Man Is Your Friend . . . He Fights for Freedom” featured British, Dutch, Australian, Ethiopian, Canadian, and Russian soldiers. (National
bonds. Chicago did beat New York by blanketing the city with ads in milk bottles, bank statements, and taxis. Chicagoans bought $17 million in bonds during the eleven-day show star- ring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles at the Carson Pirie Scott department store. All in all, the show, starring 450 celebrities, including Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Ronald Reagan, was seen nationwide by 1.2 million people who bought $133 million in bonds.81 As they toured the nation, Rockwell’s illustrations of
Japanese, but only live U.S. marines, fi lthy and exhausted as they were. The July 5, 1943, cover of Life featured six servicemen carrying a fl ag-draped coffi n; inside it listed the names by state and hometown of the 12,987 troops so far killed in action. 84 Polls showed the public resented and distrusted “sugar coated” war coverage. In August 1943, a fed-up Davis threatened to resign unless the military allowed the OWI to show civilians what was going on. Roosevelt backed Davis. General
would be willing to fi ght Cambodians but refused to fi ght other Vietnamese. 64 The networks reported the offi cial version of progress along with stories from Vietnam in a way that sometimes exposed the credibility gap. On CBS, correspondent Robert Shackne opened a report from Con Thien showing wounded Americans being carried on stretchers. Shackne asked a corporal how many men were left, adding “I’d be scared stiff.” The soldier answered, “I’m not scared stiff, but I’m scared.” A major