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Shooting Back as War Propaganda

The Enlightenment hoped that there would be fewer wars and less disastrous wars when the people decided over warfare. That the propaganda machine would destroy this hope with the development of mass communication was not foreseeable in the 18th century.

No one starts a war. Anne Morelli on the principles of war propaganda.

By Hans Rudolph

[This book review of: Anne Morelli, The Principles of War Propaganda, originally published in French, was printed in the Berlin junge Welt, November 6, 2004 and is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.jungewelt.de/2004/11-06/024.php.]

In times of absolutism, the decision for war or peace was a private affair of the princes. The territorial rulers alone decided over battles against competing bands. However the public consequences of decisions of private princes were disastrous. Hosts of disabled persons had to spend their lives begging at church doors as a price for the enhanced princely splendor.

For the Enlightenment, the crass contradiction of private sovereignty over decisions about war and its public consequences was a scandal denounced untiringly by Voltaire, Kant and the whole 18th century. Whatever involves serious consequences like war should be subject to public control. That parliaments must agree to entrance in war was fought for in the middle-class revolutions.

Are there fewer wars since the 18th century? Astonishingly not. In her perceptive and readable book on "The Principles of War Propaganda". The Belgian professor of history Anne Morelli explains why wars continue. Since the general public can add a little word in questions of war, the battle for minds breaks out on the home front. While strategic principles govern on the battlefront, the principles of war propaganda take over on the home front.

This insight is not surprising. We heard massive war propaganda again in the last years. The knowledge that all war parties apply the same principles - Morelli even speaks of "universal principles" - is a shocking conclusion of the book. The examples from the great conflicts of the past hundred years to the recent Afghanistan- and Iraq wars can often leave readers helpless. Why do people believe the old familiar lies again and again?

Principle Nr. 1: "We didn't want war." Hitler claimed this just like the allies! Principle Nr. 2: "The enemy camp alone is responsible for war." Therefore the surprise attack on Poland in 1939 was a defensive act. Principle Nr. 4: "We fight for a good cause and not for selfish goals." Why do only the victors receive reparations, territories, new bases and spheres of influence? Principle Nr. 10: "Whoever doubts our reporting is a traitor." In the Yugoslavian war whoever called into question the reports about Serbian concentration camps was put on a level with Auschwitz deniers!

The Enlightenment hoped that there would be fewer wars and less disastrous wars when the people decided over warfare. That the propaganda machine could destroy this hope with the brilliant development of means of mass communication since the end of the 19th century was not foreseeable in the 18th century. In view of the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, present-day enlightenment must enable people to make independent and rational decisions. Morelli's book contributes to that transformation.

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