© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART VIII: THE WAR OF WORDS
by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / December 3, 2001
Page 3 of 7
Continued from page 2
Elizabeth McIntosh, an OSS veteran who specialized in propaganda in the Pacific theater during World War II, sees the current Afghanistan conflict as a case in which one type of propaganda may well be working to the detriment of the other.
"I just feel that we are creating a real monster there for our purposes, while at the same time for them, they think they are creating a Mohammed," she said of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi fundamentalist leader suspected of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
"The morale operation has to be done subtly, to denigrate the leaders. So the obvious thing would be to diminish the man. He's being built up so strongly that it's going to be a tough propaganda problem to deal with."
Indeed, even though Afghanistan has been reduced to the fractured, feudal state it was before the Taliban took power in 1996, bin Laden clearly won round one of the propaganda war, said Yoram Schweitzer, a researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel.
Schweitzer has specialized in the way terror groups use propaganda and information as essential tools. Two months before the Sept. 11 attacks, Schweitzer wrote an analysis of a film in which bin Laden was shown telling his people to kill Americans and Jews as part of their religious duty.
"In recent weeks, bin Laden has made another impressive media comeback, with a spectacular propaganda show in which he threatened to attack American and Israeli targets," Schweitzer wrote in a June analysis entitled "Bin Laden Productions Ltd."
Now, he thinks bin Laden's main goal in attacking the United States was to trigger the sort of response that took place in Afghanistan.
"Bin Laden represents a very small minority," Schweitzer said. "For him the motivation was to solicit this kind of reaction and enlarge by great numbers his supporters."
The United States has had mixed results in putting one evil face on a broad, complex threat. Saddam Hussein's survival of the Persian Gulf War raised his status in some parts of the Islamic world, even though Iraq has a secular regime. You can buy a beer in Baghdad.
"Saddam is the greatest heretic of everybody," Schweitzer said. "Bin Laden is serving, like Saddam, as a symbol. It remains to be seen if he can turn this into concrete support."
Propaganda a primary weapon in Nazi arsenal
Though some people say the current information age has made it easier for enemies to manipulate the media, consider this observation:
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