Brendan O’Neill sends along this essay, in which he argues against the tendency of antiwar folks to blame the war on gullible masses taken in by potent propaganda. I’ve probably been guilty of this at times, and I agree with much of what he says, especially this:
Of course propaganda can be persuasive, sometimes even decisive, for individuals making up their minds over whether to support a war, a political party, or whatever. But the influence of propaganda is determined by the broader political climate and by the general level of public debate. In a healthy, critical climate, it is likely that Bush and Blair would have received even more ridicule for their Iraqi propaganda. But at a time when serious political debate is hard to find, our leaders can offer dodgy dossiers and half-cocked claims as if they were good coin. In short, it is often the weakness of the opposition that allows leaders to take their chances with paltry propaganda.
Liberals and the left must shoulder their fair share of the responsibility for the degraded discussion over Iraq and for the opinion polls that suggest a majority of Americans and Britons supported the war. If those who are anti-war spent less time wringing their hands over Big Bad Bush and the fickle people, and more time developing a coherent case against war, then maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now. Surely the pro-war lobby is best challenged by being shouted at, rather than shouted about.
I would simply add that ignorance is different from stupidity, and though, yes, we should try our best to ameliorate that ignorance, its sheer depth can be astounding. What does one say, what can one say, to the kick-ass jingo (even one with gobs of raw intelligence) who cannot locate the countries he/she wants bombed? How much can one do in a 1,000-word essay to change that person’s mind? Won’t he/she be much more likely to accept Pentagon/Fox music videos that reinforce his/her gut beliefs? I’ve had friends and family members–ones who can find the countries they want annihilated– compliment me on my work, tell me how it made them think, then go right back to gushing over George Bush and Bill O’Reilly. Sometimes tossing one’s hands up and laughing is the only option.