Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: Benevolent Expansionists or Tyrannical Imperialists?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Benevolent Expansionists or Tyrannical Imperialists?


"Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?...We cannot retreat from any soil where Providence has unfurled our banner; it is ours to save that soil for liberty and civilization." - Albert Beveridge (pg 29, 30)

"Our form of government, our traditions, our present interests and our future welfare, all forbid our entering upon a career of conquest...The President in his message says that our only purpose in taking possession of Cuba is to establish a stable government and then turn that government over to the people of Cuba. Congress should reaffirm this purpose in regard to Cuba and assert the same purpose in regard to the Philippines and Porto Rico." -William Jennings Bryan (pg 43,44)

"That treaty now commits the free and enfranchised Filipinos to the guiding hand and the liberalizing influences, the generous sympathies, the uplifting education, not of their American masters, but of their American emancipators." -William McKinley (pg 229)

"The United States has always protested against the doctrine of international law, which permits the subjugation of the weak by the strong. A self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people...Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not from themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it." -Carl Schurz (pg 287, 289)


Clearly, each argument, standing on its own, is very powerful. However, seeing all of the arguments together shows how a situation such as this can be spun in either direction to win support. While we now know that the primary purpose of keeping the Philippines was to have a strategic coaling station, allowing the United States to expand its sphere of influence into the Pacific, it may easily have been thought at the time that the US was truly saving these people from a greater evil (Spain) or liberating them from the "savage" existence they had to one more like US citizens enjoyed (see the McKinley quote above). It is interesting to see that these very same tactics are at use today to gain support for the pro- or anti-war cause (liberating the people of Iraq from a tyrannical dictator and allowing them self-government or protecting our oil interests).

4 Comments:

Blogger mr.oilman said...

It is indeed interesting that these same tactics are used today. An interesting tactic would be to tell the American people the truth. Instead we are "sold" these wars and told how they keep us safe and protect our freedom. In our current situation we were told that we were in danger and that saddam hussein must be stopped. The American people bought into this idea. However, somewhere along the way the sales pitched changed. Now we are in the interest of spreading democracy to those in desperate need of our guidance. There in the background, though, are the oil interests you mentioned. Our government are masters at providing facades for hiding there real motives.

2/08/2006 10:01 PM  
Blogger A. Mattson said...

A great post. Good use of selected quotes to make a point.

There are clearly themes that sound very familiar here. The rhetoric used to justify our war with Spain is not that different from the arguments that our president makes today. Some of the symbolism is rooted deep in our political culture. These images of freedom, liberty and democracy are powerful and if they can be attached to specific objectives can move a population to war. This mobilization of powerful poltical symbols is necessary, but is it sufficient? Or does this rhetoric only move the public to do things that are already in their own interest anyway?

2/14/2006 12:06 AM  
Blogger CBarr said...

In response to the question posed, I think that Bernays would say that the government and/or media would need to know what is in the public interest and make it seem as though what is being done caters to that. So, perhaps using the gas prices would mobilize a certain portion of the public, the ideas of preventing terrorism would cater to another...is that why so many reasons/justifications have been given; to cover all of the bases?

2/15/2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger A. Mattson said...

Yes, multiple layers of argument for different target audiences. The emphasis is shifted according to the target demographic. Speeches are tailored to specific audiences, the emphasis is changed to reflect the interests and attitudes of the target market. The 'public interest' can be spun and shaped to fit what interests the specific 'public' in question.

2/25/2006 6:46 PM  

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