Words that kill: How Western spin doctors dehumanize select peoples to justify war
With Israel’s punitive operation against Gaza now in its fourth month, it’s impossible not to compare Western outrage regarding other conflicts with the selective morality now being applied when dealing with Israel.
Even the briefest assessment of how the West’s innumerable wars have been portrayed in a client media quickly yields irrefutable evidence that the marketing of conflicts, as justified by Western powers, is central to their continued legitimization.
Since the Second World War, the US has been directly and indirectly involved in dozens of wars and coups d'état alongside innumerable covert and overt conflicts across the globe. Given the vast resources required to perpetuate this aggressive global mechanism of influence, its important to recognize that the taxpayers being asked to fund these “forever wars” may never have gone along with them without the assistance and covert alignment of a client media.
Language and terminology are, of course, a central and fundamental element when you need to portray a war as morally acceptable. This is glaringly obvious when we examine how Western media are portraying the current escalation in Gaza. American and British media subtly portray victims on one side as more expendable as opposed to the other, for example, by referring to Israeli casualties as having been “killed” while Palestinian ones are described as having simply “died”, while minors held captive by Israel, who have been detained without trial in some cases for several years, are referred to as “prisoners” while Israelis held by Hamas are referred to as “hostages.”
This willful deployment of language to sterilize and dehumanize a victim, or indeed an entire ethnicity, is by no means accidental. It is an essential element of a psychological endeavor to tip the scales in the viewers’ (physically far removed from the conflict) subconscious calculation of culpability. It’s simple to consider the elimination of “terrorists” as justifiable, whereas the mass killing of many thousands of defenseless children, women, and sick and elderly people is a far harder task to sell to an increasingly informed Western public.
The manipulation of the Western client media is by no means a departure from the norm. Current consumers of “trustworthy” news in the West should recall the CIA’s widespread use of journalists, both at home and abroad, to influence public opinion in the 1960s, widely believed to be part of ‘Operation Mockingbird’, a labyrinthine and vastly resourced operation which set out to influence the messaging of the mainstream media. While the existence of that particular operation was never confirmed, the CIA’s past efforts to recruit journalists – hundreds of them, both at home and abroad – was exposed in a US Senate investigation.
Today, given the eye-watering price tag for the proxy war in Ukraine, the average observer would be exceptionally naive to presume that similar influence is not currently being applied to the media when it comes to the justification of conflicts and the vilification of perceived “enemies” of Uncle Sam, such as Russia and China. It’s worth remembering that we’re talking about media outlets that rely almost exclusively on “good relations” with the White House and Downing Street to access “leaked” information and stay on the “inside track” of the news business. Dirty your bib once by asking the wrong question, and it’s into the information wilderness with you. It’s not called the “spoon fed narrative” for nothing.
Examining the language around the conflict in Ukraine provides a good idea about how a bias is instilled in the viewer and the reader. Despite the complex and long-running issues that contributed to the Russian intervention in 2022, the Western media opts for a shamelessly one-sided narrative, intentionally apportioning exclusive culpability to Russia. The dehumanization of living and dead Russians seems to be a keystone of this tactic alongside selective revisions of history. The indefensible failure of a media that touts itself as the champion of equality and freedom to tackle the essentially xenophobic impulse that forms the core of this strategy, speaks volumes.
Anyone watching the ebb and flow of Western coverage of the Ukrainian conflict will notice the emergence of a centrally formed, “fact-light” narrative that suggests Ukrainians are utterly blameless, in a conflict which did not, in fact, begin on February 24, 2022, but with a CIA-back coup in Kiev in 2014, powered by ultra-nationalists and the far right. Its roots stretch even deeper, decades back, to the attempts at the destabilization of the Ukrainian SSR by Western intelligence agencies.
Of course, the Western viewer is conveniently spared such details. The skill of deceit by omission of fact has been well honed by the likes of the BBC and CNN. Additionally, the Western media has also been adept at memory-holing Kiev’s crimes against its own people in the aftermath of the 2014 Maidan coup. There is no space to report the gross corruption, the punitive neo-Nazi battalions unleashed on the Donbass region, or the murder, abduction and rape deployed against the Russian-speaking populations who refused to accept the illegitimate mandate of the post-Maidan government.
So, while The Western media gleefully attaches itself to this centralized narrative, there are very hard questions to be asked about the motivations and psychological tools being used in licensing and peddling the justification of war, and when it comes to Palestine, one of these uncomfortable realities is the deployment of subconscious racism.
Let’s look at the convenient demonization of Islam. It is by no means an accident that the majority of victims of America’s catastrophic post-9/11 “war on terror” were Muslim. Decades of demonization of Islam as a savage religion bent on world domination have had a subconscious effect on the “collective mind” of the West. This is then energetically exploited by the Western media as required.
When Syrian and African refugees from wars stimulated by the Western powers sought refuge in Europe, they were met with protest and in many cases violent objection. However, when it came to the Ukrainian conflict, some Western commentators openly talked about the fact that the Ukrainian refugees “looked like us,” that they could be “our own people,” that they were blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It was a jarring display of how Ukrainians are treated as fellow human beings while thousands of brown Muslims drowning in the Mediterranean struggle to hold column inches in the same newspapers.
The intimate relationship between the client media and the military industrial complex also requires deep investigation and analysis. Media empires such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp exert vast and overwhelming influence on the public discourse when it comes to the justification of war. The relationship between the critically important military industrial complex and the creation of a defensible war narrative is undeniable yet persistently denied. So as the world shifts its gaze from Ukraine towards the Middle East, it’s remarkable how quickly the Ukrainian conflict has slipped from the top of the news feeds in the West. It’s also remarkable how criticism of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has become suddenly acceptable, whereas the same criticism only months ago was universally suppressed in the Western media.
All of this also suggests that a sinister centralized narrative is being deployed in the interest of a political will rather than in a search for truth by the establishment media. Any objective observer has to work very hard to convince themselves that the media is not now playing a critical role in the justification of the conflict “of the day.” Willful misrepresentation of one group as opposed to another, the crafty selective deployment of history in the cultivation of narratives, and the poorly veiled use of racism to describe one side as essentially culpable for their own brutal treatment by the other.
It now seems shockingly obvious that the Western media is determined to suppress any informed debate around the rationale for conflict when that conflict emanates from the US or one of its clients or allies. It is also now increasingly apparent that even when established media changes its tune, it does so to lubricate a pre-agreed political shift in direction, as is currently happening in Ukraine. Western media outlets like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and The Independent in the UK are now openly portraying a Ukrainian regime on the verge of collapse. The much-vaunted Ukrainian “counteroffensive,” once incessantly peddled by the media as a “game-changing” maneuver led by brilliant minds and fought with unassailable Western weaponry, has now become a source of open derision.
What would have been unthinkable to point out merely months ago, has now become mainstream. Detailed reporting has miraculously emerged from “anonymous sources” about the fractious nature of President Zelensky’s regime, and Shakespearean intrigue in Kiev as Armed Forces Chief Zaluzhny faces off with the endemically corrupt Ukrainian establishment. This narrative has suddenly become acceptable to the client media in the West. Does anybody actually believe that this shift in opinion has not been centrally okayed or fashioned? Given the history of the American intelligence services’ intimate relationship with the media in the US and beyond, anyone who believes the CIA’s DNA isn’t all over this sea change in reporting is exceptionally naive.
The playbook for licensing war is actually quite simple. First, demonize your enemy – call him an orc, call him a terrorist, cultivate fear among your own population and convince it that its enemy is not the grossly incompetent government that consistently spends billions of its tax dollars on foreign wars, but the peoples of far-off lands who most likely suffer their own privations due to those very same perpetual wars.
Then, convince the taxpayers that the political elites they elect are blameless in these wars and economic policies of domination, which have led to vast migrant crises such as the huge droves of individuals pouring across the southern border of the US. Does anybody suggest that American foreign policy has had no bearing on these mass movements of people? Does anybody suggest that the migrants dying in their thousands in the Mediterranean Sea as they clamor desperately for a better life in Europe have not been driven there by the innumerable wars in the Middle East? These wars are fought against almost exclusively Islamic communities and countries which have become hardened and radicalized, not necessarily by the religion itself, but by the vacuous and idiotic foreign policies which sprang from Western meddling and interference in the Middle East over centuries.
For those of us who wish for a just peace and an end to forever wars, there is an absolute obligation to challenge the client media’s deceptive licensing of conflict. These needless wars impoverish and immiserate not only the victims but the duped populations of the countries from which they emanate. It is, after all, Western taxpayers that unwittingly fund this grotesque circular profit mill, a meat grinder that sucks in human lives and spits out vast wealth for a tiny elite, the same tiny elite intimately related to the political class seeking to justify those needless conflicts. All licensed and peddled as morally defensible by the ever loyal client media.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.