Agit Prop


A sub-category of emotionally loaded arguments.


Is al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman? Good source for critical thinking...


Example of agitprop: "The United States has been led into war on false pretexts before. A case in point is the provoked and falsified attacks on American naval vessels in the Tonkin Gulf, which were used to stampede Congress into voting for the Tonkin resolution authorizing the Vietnam War" (Schell, Jonathan. "Accountability." The Nation, October 27, 2003, 8).


"When the evidence of presidential lying grew so enormous the phenomenon could no longer be avoided, its revelation helped force both Lyndon Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, out of the office. LBJ's false assurances regarding the seond Tonkin Gulf incident, and their later exposure, would prove a significant factor in his own political demise, the destruction and repudiation of his party, and the ambitious Texan's personal humiliation and disgrace" (Alterman, Eric. "When Presidents Lie." The Nation. Oct. 25, 2004: 20).


MYTH: Social Security is going broke and must be fixed, pronto...

"This is a Big Lie. It has been told and retold with growing urgency since the 1970s because Citigroup and other giant financial conglomerates have been drooling to get their fat, grubby hands on this $1.5 trillion trust fund. They have lobbied, funded hokey think-tank "studies," planted media stories, created front groups (Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation is their current one), and poured money into scores of congress critters willing to carry their water -- and now they have the enthusiastic backing of W, who says the partical privatization of the Social Security Trust Fund is necessary in order to "save" it and will be one of his top priorities next year...

...according to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security is financially sound through at least 2052. It is fully capable of meeting all obligations to us future retirees for the next 48 years without making any changes in the system at all. What bank or corporation can claim to be as solid?" (Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer, eds. "Fables, Flim-Flam, and Urban Legends of Our Time." The Hightower Lowdown, 1-4).


"Allowing people to invest even a small fraction of their Social Security taxes in the stock market would bring huge profits to investment companies...

"...investment companies and the Fortune 500 are funneling millions of dollars in seed money to thing tanks, 'grassroots' organizations, and politicians friendly to the ideas of privatization...

"...if Bush's privatization plan goes through. Wall Street companies stand to gain as much as $75 billion a year...

"Republicsn have sparked an outcry about an impending crisis in Social Security... Do not be deceived.

"The crisis is confected... the system is solvent until 2042... the so-called crisis is decades away... most of the baby boomers will be dead by 2042... when that year finally does arrive... Social Security would still be able to meet 75 percent of its obligations to its retirees... To make up the last quarter would be relatively easy...

"...one alternative is to raise the ceiling on taxable wages. At the moment... no Social Security taxes are paid on income earned above $87,900... Raising the ceiling even to $110,000, Baker and Rosnick say, would eliminate a huge chunk of the deficit that will arrive either in 2042 or 2052...

"Bush's privatization effort, far from "reforming" Social Security, would actually drain it of revenues, increase the national debt, and put at risk the savings of those individuals who opt for speculating in the stock market... it would also imperil the promise of a secure retirement for people of every age group...

"Diverting just two percentage points of payroll taxes would create a gap of up to $2 trillion over the first ten years... To finance that huge gap, Bush would have to choose either to raise taxes or to put the government further in debt...

"The idea that Bush would add on to the federal deficit... is not going down well with some of his fellow Republicans... about 10 percent of Republicans in the House oppose Bush's privatization scheme. If they hold their ground, it could be a dead letter" ("Save Social Security." The Progressive, January, 2005: 8-10)


"A new BBC film argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians."

"The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear, a three-hour historical film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media."

"Consider, for example, that neither the 9/11 commission nor any court of law has been able to directly take evidence from the key post-9/11 terror detainees held by the United States. Everything we know comes from two sides that both have a great stake in exaggerating the threat posed by al Qaeda: the terrorists themselves and the military and intelligence agencies that have a vested interest in maintaining the facade of an overwhelmingly dangerous enemy" (Robert Scheer. "Is al Qaeda Just a Bush Boogeyman?" AlterNet. Posted January 11, 2005. http://www.alternet.org/story/20954/).


"In his first inaugural address, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to shake the nation out of its depression over the Great Depression.

""So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he said, "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror."

"Now, seven decades later, the nation is fearing fear itself, not over the economy but over the threat of another terrorist strike like the one on Sept. 11, 2001. This time, the president, George W. Bush, seems content to keep us in a state of fear. A frightened public is unlikely to vote out a self-described "war president" in the midst of the "war on terrorism."...

"...some Democrats publicly suggested that Bush & Co. timed the release of the upgraded security threat to draw attention away from the White House wannabes.

"Nonsense. Bush wouldn't tamper with the nation's fragile psyche over terrorism any more than he would rush to war in Iraq on the basis of phony intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction" (Tom Brazaitis. "The Color-Coded Fear Factor." Published on Monday, August 9, 2004 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer).


Excerpts from book: Mickey Z. The Seven Deadly Sins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2004.

"...the many distortions and misrepresentations used to justify U.S. wars...

"...deconstructing our national myths...

"...the mainstream glorification of all things military...

"Thick Nhat Hanh: "We are taught to think that we need a foreign enemy. Governments work hard to get us to be afraid and to hate so we will rally behind them"...

"The purpose of U.S. war misinformation:

  1. "Portray U.S. leaders as moral.
  2. "Garner support for those leaders regardless what actions they may take.
  3. "Lay the foundation for future wars and military interventions...

"...seven techniques are regularly employed to achieve these three goals (5)...

"Noam Chomsky: "To liberate yourselves from these misconceptions and perspectives is to take a long step toward overcoming oppression"...

"In affluent societies, one should expect a lot of "willed ignorance" from people... If one's privelege is based on maintaining the empire, it's not surprising that some people won't want to know about what the empire really does (5)...

"...public opinion can... end or prevent wars... To do so requires rebuttal, i.e., information that challenges the myopia and amnesia cultivated by State and corporate propaganda...

"Making us forget is what spin is all about (6)... [/] THE SEVEN SPINS or excuses for war:

Spin #1: The Sleeping Giant . "The U.S. minds its own business but the sleeping giant is endlessly awakened or has its patience tested by surprise events and unprovoked hostilities.

Spin #2: Good Wars. "Once forced into war, the U.S. only does so in the name of democracy, freedom, and justice.

Spin #3: U.S. vs. Them. "Godless communists, subhuman (and superhuman) Japanesse, gooks, chinks, butchers, terrorsts, evildoers, and the next Hitler--the U.S. always opposes the worst humanity has to offer.

Spin #4: Support the Troops. "No matter what we think or how we feel, we all unite behind our troops once the fighting starts.

Spin #5: The Devijl Made the U.S. Do It. "During war, even the U.S. has to sometimes play a little rough.

Spin #6: Surgical Strikes. :We have good intentions and smart bombs; those billion-dollar weapons can differentiate between the guilty and the innocent.

Spin #7: Only Losers Commit War Crimes. "For doing what we would never do, vanquished enemies of the U.S. must be brought to justice in war crime tribunals...

SPIN #1: THE SLEEPING GIANT

"It's an excuse we all learn in childhood: "He started it" or "She hit me first." From this rudimentary alibi grows the myth of the sleeping giant. By portraying oneself as the target of an unprovoked sneak attack all bases are covered. Not only are you claiming innocence and the role of a victim, you might even be excused for responding angrily... maybe even with a little too much force(9)...

EXAMPLE: The battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana bay in 1898. We blamed Spain and started the Spanish American War. The Maine's boiler simply blew up; it was an accident. The U.S. administration lied, an excuse to start a war.

EXAMPLE: President James Polk sent troops into Texas, crossing the border, "creating a pretext to stir Americans into action against Mexico." When the U.S. troops were attacked by Mexican troops (who were defending their country), Polk used it as an excuse to declare war on Mexico.

EXAMPLE: "The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is the mother of all sleeping giant spins. In July, 1941... "the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands instituted a total embargo on oil and scrap metal to Japan... tantamount to a declaration of war. This was followed soon after by the U.S. and the U.K. greezing all Japanese assets in their respective countries... The U.S. had clearly provoked the war with Japan... the embargoes [were] a clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence (17)...

EXAMPLE: The 1964 Bay of Tonkin incident was concocted to start a war in Vietnam. "...there was no reason to believe the Maddox was fired upon... a navy pilot flying over the Gulf of Tonkin that night [said] "our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets -- there were no PT boats there... There was not a single intruder" (19)...

The book gives more than a dozen more examples, most in Central and South America...

SPIN #2: GOOD WARS

Justification #2: "We can't sit back and allow bad guys to thrive. Sometimes we must commit violent acts to stop other, more violent acts from taking place (31)...

""While we claim to be a generous, humane society, I see us as a cold-blooded, selfish, increasingly narcissistic and out of touch with a broader reality," Atwood declares (32)...

EXAMPLE: WWII -- U.S. "investment [in Germany] increased by some 48.5 percent between 1929 and 1940... Western collaboration with both Germany and Italy in the years leading up to WWII abound but remain obscured through the magic of spin. This allows the Good War afterglow to shine six decades later (34)...

EXAMPLE: U.S. "humanitarian" intervention in Somalia in 1992-3. "Sold to the public as an act of U.S. philanthropy with images of malnourished African children and stories of evil Somali warlords, little of the nation's history was allowed to get in the way...

"From the late 1970s until just before Siad Barre's overthrow in early 1991, the U.S. sent hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to Somalia... Of course, chaos and famine ensued... creating ideal conditions for U.S. exploitation and whitewashing (36)...

"President Clinton... ordered the bombing of civilian targets (37)...

EXAMPLE: Yugoslavia in later 1990s. "...since an actual Somalia-like crisis did not exist, [the U.S.] simply fabricated one (38)...

"...a 78-day, U.S.-led NATO air assault was initiated in the name of humanitarianism. "The humanitarian justifications are ludicrous," says Robert Hayden, director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "The casualties among Serb civilians in the first three weeks of this war [were] higher than all of the sacualties on both sides in Kosovo in the three months that led up to this war (39)...

"NATO killed more civilians than soldiers, accelerated the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees, destroyed the infrastructure and poisoned the environment of southeastern Europe (40)...

EXAMPLE: Does the U.S. ever intervene with legitimate humanitarian purposes?... the U.S. failed the ultimate litmus test: intervening in the Nazi Holocaust. Besides collaborating with Germany before, during, and after the war, U.S. leaders demonstrated indifference to the looming genocide...

"When a resolution was introduced in January, 1934 asking [FDR] (and the Senate) to express "surprise and pain" at the German treatment of the Jews, that resolution never got out of committee (41)...

EXAMPLE: Rwanda -- "Nearly a million Tutsis were massacred in Rwanda in 1994... one-seventh of the population became corpses. The U.S. response: "...we don't care... U.S. national interest is not involved... we can't put all these silly humanitarian interests on lists"... Clinton ordered that America do nothing to stop the killing (43)....

More examples are given in the book. "The United States, like all nations, operates out of self-interest but paints its behavior in broad strokes of selflessness as no other country does (44)...

SPIN #3: U.S. vs. THEM

"...it is easier to kill a subhuman thing than it is to kill a mirror image of yourself... [so we call our enemies] savages, gooks, chinks, butchers, terrorists, evildoers... Spin #3 plays into our worst fears--the bogeyman...

EXAMPLE: We killed off almost the entire population of native Americans... "people like George Washington... describing Indians as "wild beasts of the forest" and "savage as the wolf" (50)...

EXAMPLE: "...a similar strategy was employed to justify the African slave trade (50)...

EXAMPLE: WWI and the Creel Commission which spread rumors that "double rewards were paid to German submarine crews for sinking ships carrying women and children... inducing a fever pitch of so-called patriotism (51)...

EXAMPLE: "...the all-purpose Red Menace... the United States convinced much of the world that there was an international conspiracy out there...

""...the cry of national security stills criticism, rationality, and decency," says author Edward S. Herman (52)...

"More than a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, U.S. propagandists continue to rely on red-baiting as a method of silencing dissent...

"The entire "red scare" was blatant hypocrisy...Corporate America was... deeply involved in the soviet economy (55)...

Many other examples are given in the book.

SPIN #4: SUPPORT THE TROOPS

"No matter what we think or how we feel, once the actual fighting begins, all Americans must unite behind our troops to insure their safety through victory... [This amounts to] squashing dissent through the cultivation of patriotic fervor (73)...

"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders... All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" (Hermann Goering, Hitler's Deputy, at his 1946 Nuremberg War Crimes trial).

EXAMPLE: WWI -- "Woodrow Wilson announced, "conformity will be the only virtue and any man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty" (75)...

"The Creel Committee published 75 million books and pamphlets, had 250 paid employees, and mobilized 75,000 volunteer speakers known as "four minute men," who delivered their pro-war messages in churches, theaters, and other places of civic gatherings.

"Hitler was very impressed by the successes of Anglo-American propaganda during World War I (74)... EXAMPLE: WWII -- "...posters demonized the enemy, canonized "our boys," and helped restore the tattered image of corporate America... putting a positive spin on the war...

"Battlefield casualty images were banned and any labor-management tensions were glossed over... consciously fabricated... patriotism (76)...

EXAMPLE: Gulf War I -- "The media are completely unabashed in allying themselves with the administration, being a mouthpiece for the war machine...

"What the media do nationally is to imperceptibly create an amnesia-like feeling... There's no context for actions, there's no background; there's no history. Things just happen (78)...

"One would never be able to guess from public discourse that for every American veteran of combat in Vietnam, there must be twenty veterans of the antiwar movement. One reason for this is the media distortion of who opposes war...

"Schechter says, "Hawks rule the TV studios even as doves line the streets"... It's difficult to discover much of anything about the peace movement from a corporate media that relies almost entirely on retired military men as wartime commentators (81)...

"The "support the troops" mantra specifically ignores any real examination of who those troops are, what those troops are doing, and why someone might not want them waging war...

"Putting the troops in a position where they must commit atrocities and where they could get killed or injured is not "supporting" them (89)...

SPIN #5: THE DEVIL MADE U.S. DO IT

"During the war, even the U.S. has to sometimes play a little rough and sometimes the good guys get their hands a little dirty... in the name of freedom...

"Still, no matter how hard it tries, the Fifth Deadly Spin cannot explain away America's long criminal legacy...

EXAMPLE: "The first "devil" to drive god's country to commit atrocities was, of course, the indigenous population... broken treaties... innumerable massacres... forced marches... federally sanctioned dehumanization...

"...Adolf Hitler "used the [American] treatment of the native people... as a model... displacing, relocating, dramatically shifting or liquidating a population to clear the land and replace it with what he called superior breeding stock" (94-5)...

EXAMPLE: "...it was "necessary" to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki... Americans conditioned to perceive the Japanese as inhuman found it easy to hate. As a December 1945 Fortune poll revealed, twenty-three percent of those questioned wished the U.S. could have dropped "many more [atomic bombs] before the Japanese had a chance to surrender." Such fervor for slaughter was dultivated through a massive public relations effort to demonize the Japanese, e.g., the New York Times ran a photo showing a flamethrower being used to kill Japanese with the headline: "Clearing Out A Rat's Nest." (95)...

The U.S. history of "international terrorism... has no counterpart... attacking civilian installations, bombing hotels, sinking fishing vessels... poisoning crops and livestock (100)...

"Immediately upon the defeat of Germany, the United States went about recruiting Nazis to help with the next good war (103)...

"The impact of former Nazis ratcheting up the Cold War rhetoric can be measured in number of humans who suffered and died as pawns in the game... Millions were killed... thanks to Hollywood hagiography and useless history text[books], World War II remains as the example of U.S. high-mindedness (105)...

SPIN #6: SURGICAL STRIKES

"We have good intentions and smart bombs. Those billion-dollar weapons can differentiate between the guilty and the innocent...

"...an estimated 90 million civilians lost their lives during war in the twentieth century. Today, nine out of ten wartime deaths are civilians...half of those are children...

"The United States spends more than one million dollars per minute on war (119)...

EXAMPLE: "...the General Accounting Office released a study that found the claims made by the Pentagon and its principal weapons contractors concerning the pinpoint precision of the Stealth fighter jet, the Tomahawk land-attack missile, and laser-guided smart bombs "were overstated, misleading, inconsistent with the best available data, or unverifiable" (120)...

"The stealth systems didn't work in cold weather or heavy winds... the smart bombs hit their targets only about 30 percent of the time (122)...

"Even [the] Secretary of Defense... eventually admitted, "The Patriot [missile] didn't work." (124)...

"...military policies... often involve massive civilian casualties (126)...

SPIN #7: ONLY LOSERS COMMIT WAR CRIMES

"Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in the newspapers" (George Orwell) (118).

"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities" (Voltaire) (128).

"I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side" (U.S. General Curtis LeMay [after WWII], p. 128)....

"...the issue of U.S. war crimes is rarely if ever broached (129)....

"The U.S. has almost always ended up on the winning side... and therefore hasn't had to accept responsibility for more than two centuries of its own atrocities (130)..

"...the U.S. commits war crimes with alarming frequency (131)...

"The International Criminal Court (ICC)... is the "first ever permanent, treaty based, international criminal court established to promote the rule of law and ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished." The United States is not happy about the ICC and Human Rights Watch explains why:

"The Bush Administration is attempting to negotiate bilateral impunity agreements with numerous countries around the globe. The goal of these agreements is to exempt U.S. military and civilian personnel from jurisdiction of the ICC" (139).


"And as [Bush] did in his preparation for war against Iraq, so he is doing now with Social Security: He is creating a false crisis. According to a new Congressional Budget Office report, Social Security is fully solvent to the year 2052" ("Bush's Bitter Deal." The Progressive, March 2005: 8).


Colby Glass, MLIS