On Monday night, ETV aired John Pilger‘s documentary The War You Dont See. I usually do not watch TV, but incidentally I was in front of a screen just when it started. For quite some time I had wanted to do a scientific analysis of the war, Pilger provided me the stimulus.
But before I say more about the film, I would like to state the following:
Thank You John Pilger for letting me know there is at least one decent man alive who has the moral courage to stand up and speak the truth!
I would not go into the details of the film and spoil it for you. If you have not seen it yet, you must! No, seriously, go watch this film! Why? Because, if you live in the UK or USA and pay taxes, you have to see with your own eyes what has been done with your money, in your name!
There is one thing about this documentary though, which I feel compelled to point out. Do not be fooled by its title. This is not just another anti-war documentary trying to show you some footage or images which were perhaps not aired on mainstream media. Neither is it propagating another one of those fringe conspiracy theories.
The issue Pilger is bringing to light in this documentary, in the highest traditions of investigative reporting, is how journalists and news organisations were lied-to and blatantly manipulated by our elected governments and, as a consequence, failed to report the truth to the general public. More and more senior journalists in the US and UK are now speaking out and accepting this.
“I didn’t really do my job properly”, admits Rageh Omaar who was covering the Iraq war for BBC. “I’d hold my hand up and say that one didn’t press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough.”
He describes how British military propaganda successfully manipulated coverage of the fall of Basra, which BBC News 24 reported as having fallen “17 times”. This coverage, he says, was “a giant echo chamber”.
The issue Pilger is raising quite subtly here, is the way in which modern democratic governments, despite all their rhetoric about freedom of press and speech, seem to have turned into repressive regimes exerting fatal control over the voices and words of the media to manipulate public opinion.
To help you fully realize the magnitude of this, let me ask you a theoretical question:
Would you happily and willingly support, with your vote and your money, killing of one million helpless innocent people including woman and innocent little children? Surely not, You’d say. What kind of monster would do that?
And yet, that is exactly what we all ended up doing. Why? Because we were deceived by the very media and the very governments that we placed our trust in.
Yes, to be very clear and 100% factually correct: You, me and almost every citizen of Europe and the USA willingly supported and contributed our money to build weapons of mass destruction which were used to murder innocent helpless civilians including old people, women and small children.
ONE MILLION PEOPLE were brutally murdered by us in the Iraq war alone!
How did this happen in this day and age? Surely this was not our intention, we’d say.
Can we really shrug off the responsibility?
Unfortunately, not! Because we live in the free world, in a democracy, and with freedom comes responsibility.
When we vote, when we pay taxes, we become responsible for what has been done with the power we give to our governments and how the tax money we pay is being used! There is no escaping this responsibility.
So as much as you might hate this thought, there was a bullet or a bomb or a missile which was made using exactly your money and which killed one or more of those one million innocent persons in Iraq.
They were not just a number, casualties as the government-manipulated statement would say. They were mothers, fathers, adorable little children, loving parents, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, husbands and wives.
Can we even begin to comprehend the enormity of what we have done?
Where did we really go wrong?
The answer is, we didn’t! We were manipulated by the most sophisticated mind-control machine in the history of mankind, the US government!
21st Century Psychological Warfare
On his website Pilger states:
In the US Army manual on counterinsurgency, the American commander General David Petraeus describes Afghanistan as a “war of perception . . . conducted continuously using the news media”…. “the media directly influence the attitude of key audiences”.
Reading this, says Pilger, I was reminded of the Venezuelan general who led a coup against the democratic government in 2002. “We had a secret weapon,” he boasted. “We had the media, especially TV. You got to have the media.”
At Chicksands in Bedfordshire, the Ministry of Defence’s psychological warfare (Psyops) establishment, media trainers devote themselves to the task, immersed in a jargon world of “information dominance”, “asymmetric threats” and “cyberthreats”.
Of course, this is not the first time governments have manipulated the media.
In the wake of first world war, Edward Bernays, a confidante of US President Woodrow Wilson, coined the term “public relations” as a euphemism for propaganda.
In his book, Propaganda (1928), Bernays described PR as “an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country” thanks to “the intelligent manipulation of the masses“. This was achieved by “false realities” and their adoption by the media. One of Bernays’ early successes was persuading women to smoke in public. By associating smoking with women’s liberation, he achieved headlines that lauded cigarettes as “torches of freedom”.
In the opening sequence of The War You Don’t See, there is a reference to a private conversation in December 1917 between David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister during much of the first world war, and CP Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian. “If people really knew the truth,” the prime minister said, “the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.”
What is new today, is the sheer magnitude of the budgets being spent on information manipulation and the technology available to todays governments.
The question we must ask is, when our elected democratic government undertakes this level of information manipulation and media-control, can it be said that the government is deceiving us? It’s own people? The very people it was supposed to represent?
If yes, and if our elected democratic governments were exercising this level of information and media manipulation at the start of 20th century, what might they be doing with the tools available to them in the 21st century?
But is it really true, scientifically speaking, that our choices and our whole view of the world around us can be controlled and manipulated by our governments in this manner? To find the answer, we must turn to science.
Believing is Seeing
British scientist Stephen Hawking is widely regarded as one the greatest minds of our times. In his 2010 book The Grand Design written together with mathematician and science writer Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking talks of model-dependent realism. To quote directly from the book,
Model-dependent realism “is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth.”
American neuroscience professor Michael Shermer, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, writing in his recent book The Believing Brain states:
Belief-dependent realism is a higher-order form of model-dependent realism.
Shermer explains that our brains first create a belief, and only afterwards find selective facts and figures that fit the belief we have already formed to justify and reinforce it.
This sounds opposite to common wisdom. We all like to think that our believes are based on confirmed facts and solid evidence passed on to us by reliable and reputable objective sources. But from where really do we obtain our facts and figures? A reliable news network? A reputable newspaper? A friend, colleague, teacher or parent? The society at large?
These, unfortunately, are the very sources the government information machine is able to exploit and manipulate, thereby establishing false believes in our brains in the first place. We, ourselves, do the rest.
We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large, says Shermer.
After forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations.
Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism
The problem is once a belief takes hold in our brians, right or wrong, we cling to it with all our might.
But could it really be the case, I ask, that millions upon millions of educated citizens of the developed and civilized world be influenced through information manipulation to form beliefs that otherwise clearly contradict factual evidence or for which no evidence exist at all?
Once beliefs are formed, the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which adds an emotional boost of further confidence in the beliefs and thereby accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive feedback loop of belief confirmation, replies Shermer.
Still, while this may apply to general public, what about experts? Could journalists, whose job it is to spot discripancies in the news and information they deal with for a living, be tricked in such a way through information manipulation? Could other experts and scientists whom we all trust to provide us with unbiased fully tested and confirmed scientific information, be themselves manipulated?
“scientists are people too“, says Shermer, “no less subject to the whims of emotion and the pull of cognitive biases to shape and reinforce beliefs“.
Shermer narrates a paper published in the prestigious journal “Science” entitled “On Being Sane in Insane Places” by Stanford University psychologist David Rosenhan.
The article, now one of the most famous ever published in the annals of psychology, recounted an experiment by Rosenhan and his associates in which they entered a dozen mental hospitals as fake patients in five different states on the East and West coasts in the US, reporting to be having auditory hallucinations. (That they were hearing voices!)
All eight were admitted to mental hospitals, seven of them diagnosed as schizophrenic and one as manic-depressive.
They were, in fact, a psychology graduate student, three professional psychologists, a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, a housewife, and a painter (three women, five men), none of whom had any history of mental illness ever. They were also instructed to tell the truth after admission, act normally, and claim that the hallucinations had stopped and that they now felt perfectly fine.
Despite the fact that the nurses reported the patients as “friendly” and “cooperative” and said they “exhibited no abnormal indications,” none of the hospital psychiatrists or staff caught on to the experiment, consistently treating these normal people as abnormals. After an average stay of nineteen days (ranging from seven to fifty-two days—they had to get out by their own devices), all of Rosenhan’s shills were discharged with a diagnosis of schizophrenia “in remission.”
The power of the diagnostic belief engine was striking. In the recorded radio conversation, Rosenhan recounted that in his admission interview the psychiatrist asked about his relationship with his parents and wife, and inquired if he ever spanked his children. Rosenhan answered that before adolescence he got on well with his parents but during his teen years he experienced some tension with them, that he and his wife got along fairly well but had occasional fights, and that he “almost never” spanked his kids, the exception being when he spanked his daughter for getting into a medicine cabinet and his son once for running across a busy street, adding that the psychiatrist never inquired into the context of either the spousal fights or the spankings. Instead, Rosenhan explained, this was all “interpreted as reflecting my enormous ambivalence in interpersonal relationships and a great deal of difficulty in impulse control, because in the main I don’t spank my kids, but boy I get angry and I then spank them.”
The psychiatrist, Rosenhan concluded, “having decided that I was crazy, looked into my case history to find things that would support that view, and so ambivalence in interpersonal relationships was a damn good example.”
But this was not all.
Because the fake patients were bored out of their skulls in these institutions, to pass the time they kept detailed notes of their experiences. In the case of one, the staff reported that “patient engages in writing behavior” on a list of signs of pathology.
How does the belief system of trained and experinced specialists transform normal into abnormal behavior?
“Given that the patient is in the hospital, he must be psychologically disturbed,” Rosenhan explains.
“And given that he is disturbed, continuous writing must be behavioral manifestation of that disturbance, perhaps a subset of the compulsive behaviors that are sometimes correlated with schizophrenia.”
Another fake patient overheard a psychiatrist explaining to some interns that the line of patients queued up for lunch thirty minutes early because it “was characteristic of the oral-acquisitive nature of the syndrome.” Nah, it couldn’t be that they were just bored and hungry!
“What you believe is what you see.” says Shermer. “The label is the behavior. Theory molds data. Concepts determine percepts. Belief-dependent realism.“
And this same beleif-dependent realism takes on a far more sinister form when the beliefs are those of a political nature.
Not counting the brutality displayed in 1st and 2nd world wars, and not counting Vietnam, here is a recount of the results of our false beliefs in recent years.
Afghanistan: A man sitting in a cave under some unknown mountain in Afghanistan master-minded and executed the most brilliant operation of its kind in history attacking the world’s largest super(destructive)-power and completely fooling its vastly bigger, better trained, better equipped and infinitely more resourceful intelligence agencies, we are told. The man in question, having subsequently been illegally abducted and murdered by US special forces, is now conveniently “buried” at sea. No one will ever be able to gain access to him to find out what really happened, to hear his side of the story. Case closed!
Result: Between 40,000 to 60,000 killed as a consequnce and counting. Illegal and brutal torture techniques used by NATO soldiers including attacks by unmanned drones over civilian populations. Extensive war crimes committed.
Iraq: Saddam Hussain is pilling up weapons of mass destruction and must be “dealt with” before the mad-man hits the West and Israel with those alleged weapons. Subsequently, the biggest dis-information campaign in history was launched by governments of UK and USA depicting Saddam as a dictator and a fundamentalist. The fact that even at that time it was well-known that Saddam Hussain was the only Arab and muslim leader deeply hated by Islamic fundamentalists for being, ironically, the most secular, most pro-west and most pro-democracy leader in the whole of Arab world, made no difference!
Subsequently, in blatant disregard of United Nations’ legislation and despite huge opposition by major world governments including the French, Germans, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Russians, a completely illegal war was waged by the USA and UK.
Result: One million killed, including men, woman and children of all ages. Use of illegal and inhuman torture methods. Reports are emerging of the use of Uranium weapons and White Phosphorus bombs by US invading forces. The list of war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to mount.
No weapons of mass-destruction ever found. Furthermore, clear documented evidence has been presented that Saddam Hussein was fully cooperating with IAEA and UN and had fully complied with all of thier demands, and all the allegations against him were fabricated by the USA military-industrial-media-oil complex including the intelligence community and the elected government! Yet, he was mudered in his own homeland by us.
How did we commit these barbarous acts? Why did no one pay attention to documented evidence so easily and widely available which could have exposed US government claims for what they were, fabricated lies!
Perhaps once again, we find the answer in Shermer’s belief-dependent realism:
“Our evolved tribal tendencies lead us to form coalitions with fellow like-minded members of our group and to demonize others who hold differing beliefs. Thus, when we hear about the beliefs of others that differ from our own, we are naturally inclined to dismiss or dismantle their beliefs as nonsense, evil, or both. This propensity makes it even more difficult to change our minds in the face of new evidence.”
I am an atheist and a scientist, and I hate fundamentalists, be they muslim, christian, jew or whatever! But like most of us, I today realize I was shamelesly manipulated by the very government and the very meida I placed my trust in.
True, a war is being waged, but not by bearded jihadists who, faced with a far superior enemy and the threat of extinction are doing what anyone would have done, resorting to the only weapon left to them, suicide bombing.
The real war is the one being waged against me, You and our children by, ironically and tragically, our own elected governments and media organisations. The war of disinformation and fabricated lies, to influence and control our brains and our believes.
It’s not a war on Terror. Its a war on Us.
The only question now is, what are we going to do about it?