For almost 40 years now, the UnitedStates 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 brightleaflets scattered on their lawns containingan image of George Bush and his secondinaugural address in print.
In that speech Bush vowed to “freethe world of tyranny,” and a second accompanying leaflet contained the UnitedNation’s Universal Declaration of HumanRights. As Marx explained, the pamphletswere a “part of an escalating U.S.government program to spur politicalchange in this one-party state.”
Gary Marx was eventually orderedout of the country by Cuban officials whotold him his work was “negative.”
Historically, propaganda has been acommon part of military strategy, and governments such as the U.S. have employedpropaganda to combat fascism and dictatorship.
In the 60s and 70s during the VietnamWar, U.S. aircrafts dumped leafletsacross the Vietnamese countryside in anattempt to influence locals to support theAmerican effort and resist the Viet Cong.
The same was the case in Korea and duringWWII, where American propagandawas even aimed at its own citizens, fl oodingthem with images of evil Nazis andUncle Sam’s patriotic call to serve.
More recently, the United States hasstarted taking their propaganda campaignto the Web. In May of 2008, USA Todayreleased an article detailing the launch ofa Pentagon run news Web site aimed atcommunicating with people in the Arabworld. The site, www.mawtani.com, isentirely in Arabic and composed of articleswritten by local journalists hiredby the Pentagon. The site posts dailyarticles that “promote U.S. interests andcounter insurgent messages.”
Similar to what Gary Marx said ofthe pamphlets dropped in Cuba, Pentagon-run Web sites like www.mawtani.
com are a part of the United States’growing Information Operations, makingthe Internet both a battle ground andfrontier for American propaganda.
And mawtani.com is not the only Website with American sponsorship; the Pentagonalso runs sites for people in the Balkans,North Africa and Latin America.
For some Americans and professionaljournalists, the most troubling aspectof these sites is the discreet manner inwhich the Pentagon displays its affiliation.
Only by clicking on a small “about”link located at the bottom of the Webpage will readers find any informationthat reveals American backing.
But it’s important to realize that manyreaders would be turned off by a blatantdisplay of American endorsement. Inorder for these sites to reach the broadaudience required to make a difference,subtleness is necessary. For the Pentagonto be moving away from the days of scatteredpamphlets is a positive thing for thenation’s Information Operations. NewsWeb sites have more credibility and reliablecontent for the reader and the informationthat appears via these sites isavailable to anyone, not imposed.
More young people use the Internet tostay informed than ever before, makingit the most crucial modern arena for information exchange. The creation of siteslike www.mawtani.com is an essentialpart of reaching the youth, and combatingmessages of terrorism and religiousextremism in the world.
Because of the large grasp of theInternet, terrorist organizations andAmerican adversaries utilize the Webto spread much of their extremist propaganda.
It is the responsibility of thePentagon as our central defense agencyto counter these harmful messages andoffer the truth to people who live in areasof the world where accurate news ishard to come by and warped perceptionsof the U.S. are promoted.
It is for this reason that sites likewww.mawtani.com are not as much promotingAmerican ideology as they are countering anti-American extremist propaganda.
There’s a lot of danger lingeringin the confi nes of the Web, and theU.S. has a good vehicle in these sites forreplacing some of the falsities with truthand extremism with rationalism.
While the history of this country’spropaganda programs may seem imperialisticand disturbing to some, these Web sites are a necessary component in defending our nation against those whowish to harm the American way of life.