The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Psqueamishness over psyops

My complaints about the Iraq invasion were always (IIRC, as they say) that it was illegal and strategically unwise.

Once war is started, barrack-room lawyering over methods is generally to be resisted.

The two are, of course, connected: in a war of national survival, nothing is ruled out (this, even the International Court of Justice kinda sorta recognised in the nuclear weapons advisory decision - it's on the ICJ site). Inter armas silent leges comes into its own, whatever the conventions on the books. Hence the infamous 1945 RAF raid on Dresden. And US forces in the Pacific theatre in World War 2 operated (no quarter given, nuclear bombs) as if the Japanese threat were a threat to US national survival (which I'm inclined to doubt).

In a war of onanistic self-righteousness, such arguments ring hollow. That is a case (one of many) for avoiding such wars, rather than supposing that the Marquess of Queensbury can have anything to say about battlefield operations.

Turns out - saith the LA Times - that a fuss is being made by some in the Pentagon about a psyops operation that saw a false statement to CNN on October 14 about the start of the attack on Falluja designed to test the response of the badasses inside:
"Troops crossed the line of departure," 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert declared, using a common military expression signaling the start of a major campaign. "It's going to be a long night."

The supposedly 'liberal' network is, of course, a sucker for such bang-bang nonsense, so the lie had no trouble making it to air.

Not an isolated incident, apparently, but part of a general disinformation strategy. Yet, in the DOD,
Several top officials see a danger of blurring what are supposed to be well-defined lines between the stated mission of military public affairs — disseminating truthful, accurate information to the media and the American public — and psychological and information operations, the use of often-misleading information and propaganda to influence the outcome of a campaign or battle.

You have to admire the chutzpah: an organisation disseminates information that proves to be lies, then top officials of the same organisation step forward to complain. And we're meant to believe them. And not think there's a Mutt and Jeff going on.

Why? The great American public likes to see the gooks given what for, but also likes to think that some Jimmy Stewart characters are agonising about it behind the scenes. Even under the current cowboy president, if an American is violent, he must be seen not only to have been provoked, but also to have ambivalent feelings about launching his vastly superior firepower.

Truthful, accurate information? A monkey-shine worthy of that master funster Donald Rumsfeld himself!

Pentagon officials say Myers is worried that U.S. efforts in Iraq and in the broader campaign against terrorism could suffer if world audiences begin to question the honesty of statements from U.S. commanders and spokespeople.

It's a bit late now, as the actress said to the bishop...


Interestingly, the expression Five O'Clock Follies crops up toward the end of the piece - and from a second senior Defense official to boot!

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