Monday, October 01, 2007

Myth America: The War, 9/11, and the Propaganda of Historical Grand Narratives

Historical documentarian Ken Burns PBS show, The War, is a wonder of myth making, certainly from the start, which is a good place to start. See a few notes below on the perpetuation of war myths and the questionable timing of dragging out the “Good War “ for the present “terror” war's failures, and more failures, and even from a different view, failures still. Perhaps all wars are failures to another extent. Former British parliament member and longtime activist, Tony Benn, once said it best, "All war represents a failure of diplomacy." And certainly a failure of hope, decency, and the imagination. Not for Burns. He specializes in the Good War. It's his bag. And he's a liberal. Moving on...

In terms of the film documentary medium as grand narrative historiography (it's on the TV, it must be true, and on PBS no less)...Journalists Christopher Hayes and Sean Gonsalves have challenged Burns on perpetuation of myths and falsehoods to a degree...



More on the WWII myths

Very worthwhile points to consider in light of the present. However, there still stands a big elephant in the historical room. No talk of the Pearl Harbor myth...and Sean Gonsalves did not return either of my letters of inquiry...that's even too close to the bone for him, I guess...he'll go so far demythologizing, then stop. I'm not sure how that's possible.

Why is Pearl Harbor important? Because it’s a myth...the myth of America, defender of truth, democracy, justice, a nation that only enters war if attacked/provoked, exceptional and triumphant in all things, living manifest destiny. America believes its own exceptionalist mythology. After 9/11, the links to Pearl Harbor were ubiquitous. A powerful myth, indeed. But...Irony Alert- Pearl Harbor was known about and allowed to happen to get into war with Germany (in addition obviously to Japan). But, yes, you read that correctly. And Germany had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. And Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Connecting any dots yet? Why is Osama not on the FBI's Most Wanted List for 9/11? They said they don't have hard evidence to convict him and the early videos of "confessions" have been exposed as frauds...which is obvious since the FBI won't use them as evidence!

At any rate, to stay on point here...

Links of interest...not always a big fan of Lew Rockwell, but this is a good book review on some of the aforementioned myths on his libertarian site...

Libertarian critique of WWII myths

And this well-documented page on the Pearl Harbor, Mother of all Conspiracies...there's that word!


That word "conspiracies," of course.

Conspiracy Reality

For more on understanding the power of rhetoric see JFK & Gangster Government-- Michael Parenti's classic speech on a democratic people's need to confront "conspiracies” here...

Parenti on Conspiracy Culture

Also, there's historian and author Bob Stinnett's interview on his work Day of Deceit. Stinnett's FOIA request uncovered myths of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack while at the Independent Institute. Stinnett wasn't the first to do so. The Army actually concluded much the same in 1944. So, why do Hayes and Gonsalves not include this research, if even historiographically, if even to suggest the idea that the historical myths of exceptionalism and Pearl Harbor are not in synch with all of the facts? Isn't that what journalists are supposed to do?

These people don't even look at the Old Pearl Harbor, let alone the possibility of a New Pearl Harbor in 9/11, like the Project For the New American Century pined for in 2000- with their Rebuilding America's Defenses document. I'm not talking about "conspiracies" or conclusions here, but rather how sloppy, or intentionally selective research, furthers myths and falsehoods about the past, thus enabling them into the present. These WWII myth makers and myth breakers do not look at the generationally defining historical event that got America into The War- Pearl Harbor- like many in the present don't look at how we got into the current two illegal wars- 9/11. We owe it to ourselves to do better and face the possibility of continued deception perpetrated against the public. We need more transparency and more daring journalists. Those that call for such things and real investigations about 9/11 are not all just “conspiracists” but seekers of knowledge and explanation unattached to outcomes. To ask is not to conclude prematurely or posit alternative, unproven notions into some Lacanian hole at Ground Zero. Those that hurl unsound theories without evidence are merely repeating the same patterns of obfuscation laid out by the government itself. Further, to notice inconvenient facts, propagandistic trends, and patterns of official lies is not to create them. Shooting the messenger doesn't refute the potential efficacy of the message that questions the grand narrative. Conspiracy doesn't only exist in the mind of the paranoid. We should recall...

"Sometimes paranoia's just having all the facts" author, William S. Burroughs

Our resident journalists have also studiously ignored Prof. David Ray Griffin's connection with The New Pearl Harbor and it's roots as propagandistic terminology outlined in the architects of the terror war, aka (and as mentioned above), the PNAC and their year 2000 "Rebuilding America's Defenses" publication about post cold war global strategies. Again, more dots, but little connecting...this at least deserves some public hearing and debate one would hope.

In temporary conclusion-- A Memo to PBS...their Kenny boy pans and Burns history along with the present by peddling the old myths of "The Good War." Burns show isn't a total wash, but it does little to challenge the narrative of exceptionalism and jingoism. Truth is, war is the ultimate human failure. We need to remember that while we look at this so-called war on terror in the present and how we got here. 9/11 is a good place to start.


Anonymous Dominic Ripoli said...

i saw three episodes of the ken burns "the war". i thought it was really good. although he doesnt speak about pearl harbor as an inside job. im not sure if the rest of the documentary should be thrown out with the bath water. i understand what the article is trying to say. just wanted to leave my thoughts!

October 04, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger mythinfo said...

Not throwing out the baby with the bathwater...Pearl Harbor was the 9/11 of WWII. It's worth a look. Burns has many good pts. But he fails in too many other important ways.

October 05, 2007 12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. I watched an episode and a half of Ken Burn's documentary and almost couldn't bare to watch anymore. Even though he highlights the disaster of war in terms of death and destruction, he also glorifies it by talking about the heroism and nobility of the people who "heeded the call".

Oh, please.

Wars are creations of mythmakers. Like Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin and the Sinking of the Maine; the elite create these myths for those who do not pay attention to history, which is why they need their Winston Smiths to delete inconvenient truths from our consciousness.

One professor educated in mythmaking is none other than Philip Zelikow, the director of the 9/11 commission and CFR member. He said: "...that 'contemporary' history is defined functionally by those critical people and events that go into forming the public's presumptions about its immediate past. The idea of 'public presumption' is akin to William McNeill's notion of 'public myth' but without the negative implication sometimes invoked by the word 'myth.'"

October 05, 2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger mythinfo said...

The following comment was forwaded by Dr. Paul Rea:

Certainly the film has its wonderful Burnsian moments, many of them making use of letters home and horrific or poignant still photos. The
quotes from Ernie Pyle were often apt and elequent, and of course the remarks from Paul Fussell, the prisoner from Mobile long thought
dead, the Jewish man from Waterbury, and the fighter pilot from MN were powerful and insightful. In terms of personal reactions, many of
them long term, to the savagery, the film was wonderful.

As history, though, The War is deeply troubling. Aside from the refusal to deal with the evidence about Pearl Harbor, Burns also attempts to pass off the Dresden fire bombings as responses to Soviet requests to bomb rail lines heading toward the Eastern Front. Since when, at that point in 1945, were Churchill and Eisenhower eager to
help the Red Army advance more rapidly? While Burns does suggest that the bombing of Monte Cassino was unnecessary, he doesn't address the
probable futility of the whole Italian campaign.

After Sicily fell, Italy was de facto out of the war, etc. (The Italians may have been the first to conclude, "make love, not war.") And to watch his
film, you'd never know that there were more Brits than Yanks involved in the bloody stalemate.

And then, of course, there was the treatment of the nuclear bombings, which indirectly validated the myth that they were militarily necessary. For balance, Burns might have cut to Ike a couple years later, when he remarked that "we didn't need to hit them with that damn thing." Note that the speaker was a five-star general, not a long-haired, wild-eyed professor teaching The Politics of the Nuclear Age. (As counter sourcing, though, I did find that line rhetorically useful on op ed pages .)

The film was also hugely disappointing in its lack of serious treatment of the War's legacies: the Civil Rights and feminists movements, the institutionalization of the military-industrial-
technological complex, and the all the rest.

Overall, I guess one could conclude that Burns has given us a film that reinforces the notion that war is hell and that Americans could, on occasion, be
devils, but not too much more.

And then there was that ending with "America, I gave my best to you." Sure, l love Nora Jones, but . . . WW II might provide a worthy contrast to the present "foreign advanture," where few
Americans beyond the combatants feel the pain of sacrifice, but as the song was used, it smelled like sentimental schmaltz to me.

Dr. Paul Rea

October 05, 2007 11:18 AM  
Anonymous i.m.small said...


In Vietnam when we made war,
Upon TV home-viewers saw
The consequences, bloody raw,
Nor could they close their eyes before.

Today, engaged in sundry theater
The military unexposed
To scrutiny, therefore has posed
Than previous wars these wars as sweeter.

The journalists are called "in bed,"
And carefully gets edited
All shots of killing, wounded, dead:
Propagandists they are instead.

November 27, 2007 11:16 AM  
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