In the second half of the last century the American public has been able to exert decisive blows to the plans of those who involve us in armed conflicts. There is every indication that if the civilian deaths in Afghanistan, and the attempts to cover them up, continue, there will be a influential movement to end the conflict. It has happened in the past and will happen again.

Since the Second World War, it has become increasingly difficult for the government and proponents of armed conflict to sustain the surge of patriotic fervor that their adventures ignite at the start of hostilities. Historically, though, it takes months and even years for the forces of peace to catch up with and counter the war machine. This was especially true of the Korean War, which started in June 1950 and ended in July 1953.

The war raged on and the nation was driven by a right wing that used ever more bellicose language. General Douglas MacArthur, a loose cannon, threatened to cross the Yangtze River into China, thus bringing the Chinese Red Army into the conflict.

During this same period our country was under the thrall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and all dissent was stifled. Even so, a peace sentiment grew very strong. Though not organized, it became strong enough that the Republican Party, out of power since 1932, blindsided the Democrats and ran Dwight Eisenhower on a platform of ending the war.

When President Harry Truman made the decision to send troops into North Korea, the peace sentiment rose rapidly. Eisenhower’s pledge to go to Korea and end the war came at a time of mounting causalities. At the end of the war there were over 54,000 dead and 103,000 wounded Americans; Korean and Chinese casualties were each at least 10 times as high.

Responding to this promise, the electorate voted Ike into office. Polls later showed that he got a large majority of the vote of women. Loath to acknowledge the ability of an aroused nation to set foreign policy at the ballot box, the pundits at the time claimed women had voted for Eisenhower because he was a handsome WWII hero.

A more recent example of the desire of the American people for a peaceful and just world is the movement that developed against the war in Vietnam. In addition to a growing popular opposition to the war there was a very powerful (even heroic) voice in the Senate. President Lyndon Johnson in an effort to avoid going to Congress for a declaration of war concocted the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” claiming that the North Vietnamese had attacked an American naval vessel.

He went to Congress with this in hand and asked for authorization “To take all necessary measures,” to send in troops that would not be “advisors” and would have a blank check to actively engage in hostilities.

Two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted against the resolution, an act that gave a huge impetus to the anti-war movement.

When the establishment immediately went on the attack to counter the effect of this dissent. Senator Morse, appearing on the TV program “Face the Nation,” made an eloquent defense of the constitution. He was interviewed by Peter Lisagor.

Peter Lisagor: “Senator, the Constitution gives to the President of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy …”

Wayne Morse: “… couldn’t be more wrong, you couldn’t make a more unsound legal statement than the one you have just made …”

Peter Lisagor: “You know the American people cannot formulate and execute foreign policy.”

Wayne Morse: “Why do you say that? Why, you’re a man of little faith in democracy if you make that kind of a statement. I have complete faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you’ll give them. My charge against my government is we’re not giving the American people the facts.”

The establishment learned their lesson from Senator Morse and took steps to make sure that even less information reached the American people about the armed conflicts that we were led into. The stifling of the press during the Gulf War showed the lengths that the warmongers would go to in managing the information given to the public.

Peter Arnett, a CNN reporter, was attacked by the right wing for giving live reports on the American bombing of Baghdad. Accused of being a traitor (he is Australian) when he detailed the “collateral damage” of our “smart” bombs, his career was derailed. The message to journalists was clear: the truth will set you free – of your job.

Another lesson learned by our leaders was to keep the engagements short and avoid committing ground troops to keep the casualties low.

In addition to government restrictions on access in time of war, more recently, the effects of monopolization of the news media has made it even more difficult for the average citizen to get the facts. Even so, experienced journalists and others are speaking out against these policies. “The restrictions are unprecedented and they are successful,” ABC National Security correspondent John McWethy told a panel at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about the problems of covering the events in Afghanistan.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, described as “an initiative by journalists concerned about the standards of the news media,” released a study of the press coverage of Afghanistan. The report states, “Overall, straight factual reporting dropped to 63 percent of coverage in November and December from 75 percent in mid-September. The remainder of the coverage is analysis, opinion and speculation.”

The report does not shy away from characterizing big media, saying, “Contrary to the suggestions of Fox News executives, there is no evidence that CNN is less ‘pro-American’ than Fox or has some liberal tilt. To the contrary, there is no appreciable difference in the likelihood of CNN to air viewpoints that dissent from American policy than there is Fox. This may not be anything to boast about. Both channels tended to favor pro-administration viewpoints more than most other newscasts – even most talk shows.”

Edward S. Herman, Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an author who writes on American foreign policy and the media, is even more blunt about the efforts of the Washington war machine. He writes that “mainstream media often serve as virtual propaganda agents of the state, peddling viewpoints the state wishes to inculcate and marginalizing any alternative perspectives. This is especially true in times of war, when the wave of patriotic frenzy encouraged by the war-makers quickly engulfs the media. Under these conditions the media’s capacity for dispassionate reporting and critical analysis is suspended, and they quickly become cheer-leaders and apologists for war.”

An opinion piece in The New York Times by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil, who write about journalism issues, also addressed the problems of reporting and the consequences of the biased and incomplete news coverage. They write that the finding of the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s study “help explain why polls from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press show only 30 percent of Americans rating the news media’s performance as excellent in mid-November, down from 56 percent in September.”

Further they point out that “History suggests that the more government restricts press coverage, the less the public is likely to sustain support of a war effort. Pictures of body bags on television did not lead to public disaffection with Vietnam: there were few if any body bags on television. The problem was the government’s deceitful accounting of the war, which led to what popularly became known as the credibility gap.”

The closest we have come to a Wayne Morse in the current war is the heroic stand by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who voted against H.J.Res.-64, which allowed Bush to avoid going to Congress for a declaration of war that would acknowledge Congress’ constitutional authority. She was demonized, marginalized, ridiculed and vilified.

The citizenry who are struggling with the task of building the opposition to this push toward permanent war by Bush, Cheney and those who put them in the White House should realize that despite the seemingly overwhelming odds the American public will reject these war efforts as they did in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

If the American public had the same information and honest polls they would reject this war in the same numbers as those around the world. More honest polls, not reported to the American public, showed that between 64 percent and 87 percent in Europe and between 80 percent and 94 percent in Latin America were in favor of extradition and trial of those responsible for the Sept. 11 atrocities. An important point to make along with the bare statistics is that these numbers come from populations that have experienced war and its devastation. Thus, when the bombing started in Afghanistan polls in Europe showed 65 percent to 69 percent were opposed to bombing.

It is polls like these that prompted the war machine to create a truly Orwellian body called the “Office of Strategic Influence.” They were quick to tell us that this office will also disseminate the truth along with the lies. Critics worried that, as in the past with CIA efforts, the American media will inadvertently pick up these lies and propagate them as the truth to the “Homeland.”

The arrogance of the war hawks led them to proudly reveal this propaganda machine to the public. The resulting outcry of outrage and ridicule prompted Rumsfield the Secretary of Defense to beat a hasty retreat. The New York Times reported him as saying, “The office has clearly been so damaged that it is pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively. So it is being closed down.” It goes without saying that the Rumsfield and cohorts will arrange a more clandestine method of lying to the world.

Again, though, as the Afghanistan war goes on, the realities of the conflict will get more and more coverage in the press. As the exposure of the civilian casualties and as the faces of the victims appear before the American public, there will be a gradual strengthening of peace sentiment and peace actions – what the war machine dreads.

Despite Bush and company’s efforts to keep the facts away from the American people, bits and pieces of news of the civilian deaths and hints of the true motivation for our involvement there are impacting on the public. The work of the peace forces, aided by the Internet and access to foreign news, is making an impact on attitudes toward the war.

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