The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Getting a message across

For almost 40 years now, the United
States has been involved in a lengthy propaganda war in Cuba. The Bush administration, for example, consistently dropped leaflets over the island in hopes of reversing anti-American sentiments and fallacies generated by longtime dictator Fidel Castro. In an article published shortly after President Bush’s second inauguration, Gary Marx, who had been reporting from Havana since 2002 for the Chicago Tribune as a foreign correspondent, detailed the reaction of some local Cubans when they awoke one morning to find bright
leaflets scattered on their lawns containing
an image of George Bush and his second
inaugural address in print.

In that speech Bush vowed to “free
the world of tyranny,” and a second accompanying leaflet contained the United
Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. As Marx explained, the pamphlets
were a “part of an escalating U.S.
government program to spur political
change in this one-party state.”

Gary Marx was eventually ordered
out of the country by Cuban officials who
told him his work was “negative.”

Historically, propaganda has been a
common part of military strategy, and governments such as the U.S. have employed
propaganda to combat fascism and dictatorship.

In the 60s and 70s during the Vietnam
War, U.S. aircrafts dumped leaflets
across the Vietnamese countryside in an
attempt to influence locals to support the
American effort and resist the Viet Cong.

The same was the case in Korea and during
WWII, where American propaganda
was even aimed at its own citizens, fl ooding
them with images of evil Nazis and
Uncle Sam’s patriotic call to serve.

More recently, the United States has
started taking their propaganda campaign
to the Web. In May of 2008, USA Today
released an article detailing the launch of
a Pentagon run news Web site aimed at
communicating with people in the Arab
world. The site, www.mawtani.com, is
entirely in Arabic and composed of articles
written by local journalists hired
by the Pentagon. The site posts daily
articles that “promote U.S. interests and
counter insurgent messages.”

Similar to what Gary Marx said of
the pamphlets dropped in Cuba, Pentagon-
run Web sites like www.mawtani.

com are a part of the United States’
growing Information Operations, making
the Internet both a battle ground and
frontier for American propaganda.

And mawtani.com is not the only Web
site with American sponsorship; the Pentagon
also runs sites for people in the Balkans,
North Africa and Latin America.

For some Americans and professional
journalists, the most troubling aspect
of these sites is the discreet manner in
which the Pentagon displays its affiliation.

Only by clicking on a small “about”
link located at the bottom of the Web
page will readers find any information
that reveals American backing.

But it’s important to realize that many
readers would be turned off by a blatant
display of American endorsement. In
order for these sites to reach the broad
audience required to make a difference,
subtleness is necessary. For the Pentagon
to be moving away from the days of scattered
pamphlets is a positive thing for the
nation’s Information Operations. News
Web sites have more credibility and reliable
content for the reader and the information
that appears via these sites is
available to anyone, not imposed.

More young people use the Internet to
stay informed than ever before, making
it the most crucial modern arena for information exchange. The creation of sites
like www.mawtani.com is an essential
part of reaching the youth, and combating
messages of terrorism and religious
extremism in the world.

Because of the large grasp of the
Internet, terrorist organizations and
American adversaries utilize the Web
to spread much of their extremist propaganda.

It is the responsibility of the
Pentagon as our central defense agency
to counter these harmful messages and
offer the truth to people who live in areas
of the world where accurate news is
hard to come by and warped perceptions
of the U.S. are promoted.

It is for this reason that sites like
www.mawtani.com are not as much promoting
American ideology as they are countering anti-American extremist propaganda.

There’s a lot of danger lingering
in the confi nes of the Web, and the
U.S. has a good vehicle in these sites for
replacing some of the falsities with truth
and extremism with rationalism.

While the history of this country’s
propaganda programs may seem imperialistic
and disturbing to some, these Web sites are a necessary component in defending our nation against those who
wish to harm the American way of life.

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