Military: Have You Hugged the Pentagon Today?

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Mr. Beres, a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, was sports information director at Northwestern, and later at the University of Oregon.

When I was in college in the 1950s, the military draft was a reality for most young males in the United States. College enrollment provided a deferment, but only until graduation. Then the army became a reality.

One of my Journalism professors at Northwestern University, Dozier Cade, was commanding officer of a rare kind of army reserves unit in Chicago-- a Psychological Warfare Battalion. He suggested I enlist, and spend one night a week away from campus, attending Psy War reserve training sessions.

"That way," Prof. Cade said,"when you go into the army after graduation, you'll be assigned work that uses your college skills."

I joined in my junior year, and even spent two weeks the following summer on duty at the Psychological Warfare Center of Fort Bragg, N.C. Back then, Psy War used words instead of bullets to influence the enemy.

Now, 50 years later, the task has been turned over to a private firm that is a master at confusing and deluding through the use of words. Soon after the government proclaimed"a war against terrorism," the Rendon Group, a public relations firm on the east coast, was hired to give a positive cast to the war. One of its early tasks was to give the appearance of real war to a police action in which almost all U.S. casualties of the first half year were self-inflicted.

Its challenge was to create acceptance for the unfortunate euphemism,"friendly fire." That's the oxymoron the military insists on using to explain how 13 of the first 15 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan were victimized by U.S. weapons instead of enemy fire.

The job has changed from when my Psy War buddies and I were trained to aim words at the enemy, even though the underlying purpose still is to mislead. Now the role of the Pentagon's private public relations arm is to direct a different kind of"friendly fire," one of words, at a gullible American public, as well as at noncombatant audiences around the world.

In my Psy War days, we did not have to use the truth against the enemy. Similarly, the Rendon Group today isn't concerned about facts. Its role is not to communicate. Like the P.R. profession from where it came, it is in business to convince. Its half-truths often have little resemblance to facts as it manipulates the public.

John Balzar of the Los Angeles Times wrote:"It's shameful to see the government fight on the battlefield of public relations to prevent the country from understanding the battlefield of combat." He fears that places us"in the same league as the world's cheap tyrants, who insist on controlling people by controlling what they know."

Mass media are complicit in this mind control when they accept government handouts that can transform objective journalism into propaganda. Historian Howard Zinn warns that reporters who lack access to events, other than through handouts, sometimes allow horrible acts to be camouflaged with words like"security, peace, freedom, democracy and the national interest."

As propaganda from within succeeds, it allows government to pass partisan domestic legislation under the guise of military necessity. The key is to create paranoia in a citizenry that in fear responds with a presidential approval rating that ignores reality.

Professional journalists are frustrated by the limits placed on them by the government's public relations spin on the news. Few of their bosses-- the CEOs of print and broadcast empires-- complain. Their ambitions are served by partisan legislation that propagandists link to the"war" effort, even as it hamstrings principles of democracy.

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Dozier Cade - 5/16/2003

I remember George Beres well. If he reads this, I hope he will e-mail or write or phone me:; 77 Bird Song Way,Apt. C-306, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926; (843) 689-3656.


Ronald Dale Karr - 2/7/2002

"It is a war, whether or not formally declared by Congress (which should have declared war immediately after 9/11)."

And just who should Congress have declared war on? A nation called "Terrorism"? Afghanistan (whose government the U.S. and most of the rest of the world didn't recognize)?

Details, details!

Howard Mirkin - 2/6/2002

I see what the author is trying to say, but I don't think he says it very well. If the government is not allowing enough coverage of the "police action", just what information does he want the press to get? I spent over 20 years in service after graduation from college in the early 1960s and there is information that must be kept as close hold. Does the author agree? He really is not very clear on this. Why doesn't he just specify the information he wants brought out so his readers know, instead of using a bunch of flaming rhetoric complaints?
I do not agree that this is a police action. It is a war, whether or not formally declared by Congress (which should have declared war immediately after 9/11).
I also do not agree that friendly fire is an oxymoron. An oxymoron is defined as "A rhetorical figure in which an epigrammatic effect is created by the conjunction of incongruous or contradictory terms"
Just how are the words friendly and fire contradictory and incongrous in the author's context?
Further the author fails to ask the opposite questions, such as what would the impact be if the media were allowed to see and report on everything. If he can prove beyond reasonable doubt that there would be no adverse affects to our armed forces, then I'll be happy toi agree with him.