In the comedy series, Dad’s Army, the road signs from one town to another were always being swapped around, so that the invading German army (expected any day) would be appropriately misdirected to the wrong place when they arrived.
Such misdirection is common in wartime. The Allies very successfully misdirected the Germans into believing that they would invade the continent via the shortest route – i.e. Calais -, when in fact they invaded via a longer route – i.e. Normandy-, The Allies even constructed entire armies of inflatable tanks and planes, and parked them in fields in southeast England to assist in the deception.
The wooden horse of Troy was another famous deception. The Trojans thought it was a gift left by the Greeks, when actually it wasn’t.
And I’ve been wondering whether, post WW2 – during which they become very adept at misdirecting their enemies -, governments simply carried on using the same propaganda techniques that they’d been using on their enemies, only now on their own peoples.
Want to get people to stop smoking? Easy. Just convince them all that smoking causes lung cancer, and they’ll all stop smoking in next to no time. Whether smoking does or does not actually cause lung cancer doesn’t matter. Perception is everything: if people can be got to believe that it does, they’ll do what you want them to do.
Want to get people to stop using fossil fuels? Easy. Just convince them that carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere are causing global warming. Whether carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually does cause global warming doesn’t matter. Perception is everything: if people can be got to believe that it does, they’ll do what you want them to do.
Want to get people to stop using plastic bags? Easy. Just convince them that plastic bags and bottles floating in the oceans are killing fish, and they’ll stop using them. Whether plastic bags in the oceans actually do kill fish doesn’t matter. Perception is everything: if people can be got to believe that they do, they’ll do what you want them to do.
And so on, endlessly, with countless other things you might want them to do, or stop doing. Just invent a new scare for each one. Alcohol. Sugar. Salt. Fat. Fast food. Whatever. Keep them off balance the whole time. If they show signs of seeing through one deception, hit them with a new one.
And at the moment in the USA there’s a civil war going on between the old mainstream broadcast media and the new internet media. i.e. CNN and MSNBC against Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh. Both call each other “fake news”. Both come out with completely different portrayals of the world. Both sides say, “Trust me. Trust me. Don’t listen to the other guy. He’s lying. We’d never lie to you. We’re as pure as driven snow.” In one narrative, the mad, bad, and incompetent Donald Trump only became president with the help of Russian collusion. In the other narrative, Donald Trump is an American superhero who only just managed to save the republic from crooked Hillary. Nobody knows who’s really on whose side: who’s one of the White Hats, and who’s one of the Black Hats. Is Attorney General Jeff Sessions really working for Trump, or is he working for the other side? Was Steve Bannon the brain behind the Trump campaign, or was he an interloper with his own personal ambitions? Nobody is above suspicion, and their fall from grace can be very sudden. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, they’d have been put up against a wall and shot.
I’m not suggesting that there was anything deliberate about all the misdirection and deception. Rather I’m suggesting that it’s part of a wartime culture. It’s what happens during wartime. Always. Everywhere. And we’ve always been engaged in one sort of war or other – hot war, cold war, warm war. And when the enemy needs to always be misdirected, then your own people always need to be misdirected as well. For the road signs in Dad;s Army never misdirected the German Army (it never arrived), but they almost certainly misdirected lots of English people, who were trying to get to Leicester, but ended up in Gloucester.
Did the troops landing in Normandy know where they were landing? Almost certainly not. That had to be kept secret from almost everybody until the last moment. They probably only knew, from the training they were being given, that they were going to be landing on a beach somewhere. They had no idea where. And in fact maybe they were told that they were going to land in Calais.
I think that large scale misdirection of this sort can only happen if the news media are under tight control, and everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet. And for the past century or more it has been possible for governments to control the press, control radio, and also control television. It’s quite easy to do if you control the broadcast media at source e.g. the radio station transmitters. But it seems to be much harder in an internet era when there are multiple sources swapping information with countless other sources in a two-way continual exchange. In that world, rival messages and narratives can develop. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the US political arena. It’s no longer possible for anyone to centrally control the message that’s being sent to everyone. There’ no longer one truth, but multiple rival truths. And quite possibly everyone concerned believes that they’re the only people telling the truth.
And I’m one of these new internet sources. When I press Publish, I get published globally (although maybe not China). I get read by people in Europe and the Americas and Australia and New Zealand. I even get read in Russia, and occasionally in India. And I don’t have to present my blog posts to an editor to approve before they’re published. I’ve never been censored or silenced. Google doesn’t seem to misdirect people to another Frank Davis. Nor does Facebook. Or WordPress.
And I tell my truth. In this respect I’m as pure as driven snow. But that doesn’t mean that I’m right. Don’t we all think we’re right, all the time, about absolutely everything, until we find out that we’re wrong? And when we do find out we we’re wrong, doesn’t it take less than a second before we’ve effortlessly changed our tune, and become even more right than we were a second or two ago?
And it’s snowing outside. It has been snowing on and off for days. And that’s how I know all about driven snow, and how pure it is. And also why I’m already sick of the stuff.