Common propaganda techniques

(applied reversing in the context of the NATO aggression* of Yugoslavia)

By fravia+ (April 1999 ~ in fieri ~ version 003)

1. Introduction

Since this script is intended for a "mature" audience (i.e., readers that are -or should be- able to discern propaganda patterns in order to practice their reality cracking skills), let's put immediately out of the way some useless "pavlovian reaction" patterns. I hope not to be annoyed by people accusing me of being either filo-serbian or filo-NATO. I'm not: I'm convinced that both Milosevic and Clinton are corrupt criminals, a statement that seems pretty evident to me not only in the context of this war, and -moreover- I strongly believe that all soldiers are killers ("Soldaten sind mörder", a beautiful and very precise reversing statement by Kurt Tuckholsky).

Let's also, please, put aside the obvious truths
1) that the Serbian and the Kossovars are both practicing ethnic cleansing (like everyone else nowadays... and not only in the Balcans);
2) that NATO has waged an aggression war without any legal or democratic justification whatsoever (and given itself the right to attack sovereign nations at whim);
3) that after four weeks of bombing the military, strategical and political incompetence of the NATO forces is evident from Lissabon to Novosibirsk; and that
4) that the real victims of this war are mostly Serbian and Kossovars women, children and elderly.

What I'm concerned with is the propagandistic aspect of this war. I'll analyze some English-speaking newspapers only, because I cannot understand Serbo-Croatian (else I would have gladly analyzed the Serbian propaganda as well). Note that I tried to introduce some aspects of Serbian propaganda where I could find some english speaking fonts. I hope that Serbian readers will send me an investigation of their country's own propaganda patterns.
German, French, Italian (or whatever) readers could also send me short lists of the main adjectives used on their media to describe the 'resilient dictator Milosevic' and those 'slaughtering and killing serbs', with their 'terror tactics'.
It would also be useful to collect the main paraphrases used to describe those "heroic aviators" and "law enforcers" which are "trying to carry out a mission to save the refugee's lives" bombing people around in the Balcans. A list of all euphemisms used in the various european languages (see the 'collateral damages' part of this essay) would, I'm sure, be quite interesting as well.

I don't need to point out that, in the tradition of my site, this kind of work will florish if people will contribute reversing on their own: building on each other's shoulders we will send another snowball downhill :-)

Since I'll analyse the NATO-propaganda, this script will seem biased towards the Serbian part. There's unfortunately no way to avoid it (short of knowing Serbo-Croatian and performing an analogouos exercise on their propaganda). I don't care much, since I believe the NATO-Governments to be (and not only in this context) hypocritical criminals exactly as much as the Serbian one probably is (though I admit to lack any direct experience there), so I don't believe I'm betraying anyone, quite the countrary... in any war the real act of courage is to disert, and if, as I agree, "soldiers are killers", then "disertors are heroes".

Anyway the duty of a reverser is to reverse. And -as you will see- this "schmützig NATO/Serbia-krieg" will offer us plenty of material to flex our reversing muscles.

2) It's all propaganda, don't doubt it for a minute

A great danger, when examining propaganda material, is a sort of 'subliminal contamination', a slow grip that that same material is getting onto you, notwithstanding all your reverser' defences. So let's not forget for a minute that all what we are been told about this event (as usual) is just propagandistic crap. To dig out some small truths requires, as you'll see, a lot of reversing stamina.

On 19/4/99 Joe Lockhart, the White House spokesman, told reporters at a Washington briefing to be "more skeptical" of Belgrade's claims. Reacting to suggestions that he, too, was engaged in propaganda, Mr. Lockhart said that he was trying "to put the best face on things, but Belgrade is simply engaged in outright lies about developments on the ground".

This very interesting statement puts us straight in the middle of the question: while our side tries to 'put the best face on things', the enemy is 'engaged in outright lies'.

You could also read the following on the Herald Tribune:
"Losing the information war is a prime concern in Brussels. For several weeks, NATO has been sustained by moral outrage over ragged refugees on the run from slaughter. Support for the allied assault is high in most Western countries. But recent days delivered a double whammy of adverse images: 10 civilians killed in a passenger train bombed by NATO and the tractor convoy bombing Wednesday. 'Milosevic hopes he can soak up punishment, and through outrage over collateral damage, he can win the propaganda campaign', a NATO diplomat said".

"...through outrage over collateral damage", we will find this 'collateral damage' again in the Euphemisms section below. But the "soak up punishment" part is also a masterpiece of propaganda. Goebbels would be proud of this unnamed NATO-diplomat.

Do not underestimate the importance of propaganda in this context: as the Economist (351: 24/30 April) reports:

"To most people in the main western democracies, the reports from Kosovo of torture, rape, looting and summary killings are so horrific that defeating Belgrade has seemed more important than any nicety of international law or diplomatic precedent".

This short period is a masterpiece of the deceiving art: a real truth hidden beneath (at least) three layers of rhetoric, and I'll let to the reader the pleasure (or rather the sad task) to reverse it. You will find hidden above quite a lot of keys (apart from "most", "report", "seem", "nicety" and "precedent").

3) Testimonials and Fear appeals

Testimonials usually represent the sugar-coating of a distortion, a falsehood, a misunderstood notion. The most common misuse of the testimonial involves citing individuals who are not qualified to make judgments about a particular issue. Why should we regard this person as having trustworthy information on the subject in question?

"Refugees fleeing Kosovo are reporting to relief workers that Yugoslav helicopters and airplanes have been attacking refugee convoys in the Serbian province, a Pentagon official said." (Herald Tribune)

Now, the problem is that when you see an old man 'from Kossovo' lying in an 'Albanian' hospital with a burned face, you are probably keen to believe that he barely escaped a 'serbian death squadron', especially if he (seems to) say that. But there's no real proof whatsoever that what he's saying is true, other that the fact that he's saying it and that he seems in very bad conditions. Note, that I'm not saying that he's in an Hollywood studio wearing tomatoes make-up, in fact, everything he claims could really be true: the point is that the whole thing is used for propaganda purposes, not in order to establish what happened, what if the 'helicopters and airplanes' were NATO's ones? (in fact much more probable given the air superiority relations). Did the 'old man from Kossovo' recognize the markings of the attacking planes, and would he have been interviewed if he really had?

Fear is a very strong propaganda method ("All other things being equal, the more frightened a person is by a communication, the more likely her or she is to take positive preventive action" - Pratkanis and Aronson, 1991), Fear appeals are more likely to succeed in changing behavior if they contain specific recommendations for reducing the threat that the audience believes are both effective and doable. There are four elements to a successful fear appeal: 1) a threat, 2) a specific recommendation about how the audience should behave, 3) audience perception that the recommendation will be effective in addressing the threat, and 4) audience perception that they are capable of performing the recommended behavior.

When confronted with persuasive messages that capitalize on our fear, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

The heavy use of testimonials must of course be accompanied by the discrediting of all testimonials used by the adverse part. Here, after having reported a "serbian diffused" propaganda interview with an hospital patient in Belgrad, a very curious comment by the Herald Tribune: "Belgrade had added another civilian casualty story in the propaganda war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and ordinary Serbs had been strengthened in their belief that they - not the government of President Slobodan Milosevic - are the real victims of the three-week-old bombing campaign against their country."

Some reversing work is needed here, and it is very instructive to confront this with the "old man from Kossovo" story above.

4) Euphemisms

As all reversers (should) know, euphemisms are particularly abundant during wars. This has, obviously, to do with the fact that wars are particularly unpleasant, since people tend to get killed for very 'low' strategical scopes which vanish more and more into the background of the 'holy' cause the country you happen to fight for (or you just happen to live into) appears to follow.

Note how -not so many years ago- the 'propagandistic' aspect was significantly less strong, when you had also a Ministry (or a department) of war (and not a ministry, or department, 'of defense'). Hence also missiles named 'peacekeeper' (an oxymoron if I ever saw one), traumatized people suffering of 'combat fatigue' or of 'post-traumatic stress disorders' and so on.

'Collateral damages' seem to be one of the preferred euphemisms in this war.

Ah, yes: we have 'civilian casualties', as well, but those are always provoked by the other side.

"We know that civilian casualties are the objective of President Milosevic's policies"
(James Rubin, the State Department spokesman).

And no, still "collateral damages"... if seen from the Yugoslavian side:

Vladislav Jovanovic (Yugoslavia's ambassador to the UN, October 1998, speaking about Yugoslavian repression in Kossovo): "there is not any action or repression against civilians by our forces. Our operation there exclusively centered and concentrated against terrorists and their accomplices - it is possible that some collateral damages could happen, and some civilians could be a reality, but it has never been done intentionally."

5) The case of the refugees bombing: screaming propaganda.

Since NATO pilots are bombing from more than 4,5 kilometers altitude, a series of 'collateral damages' have obviously been pre-programmed. The most embarrassing blunder so far has been the bombing of a convoy of the same refugees that the whole propaganda machine is supposed to sanctify. The reactions of the killers as soon as this happened are extremely interesting:

First reaction:
It was not us, but the enemy that did it.

Kenneth Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman, said that General Wesley Clark, the top NATO commander, had received ''verbal reports of the possibility'' that, after military vehicles in the refugee convoy were hit, ''military people got out'' and ''began to attack civilians in the middle of the convoy.'' (Herald Tribune).

Second reaction:
It could have been us, but do not jump to any conclusion.

A NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, acknowledged that ''military vehicles'' had been a target Wednesday afternoon on the Prizren-Djakovica road in western Kosovo. He added that NATO was trying to establish whether the convoy had been hit by mistake. ''We are processing the battle damage assessment,'' he said. ''I would not jump to any conclusions until we've had a chance to make an assessment,'' he said. ''Reserve judgment until we have the facts.'' Mr. Bacon said the incident Wednesday was being investigated, which he said ''may take some time.'' ''We did hit military vehicles in a convoy,'' he said. ''We are quite sure we hit only military vehicles. We will obviously review what happened.'' (Herald Tribune)

Third reaction:
OK, it was us, but it was it was "an error occurred on the part of someone trying to carry out a mission to save lives", not an 'atrocity': the real culprits are -of course- the enemies:

U.S. defense secretary, William Cohen (who has a grotesque sense of the grotesque): "For him (Milosevic) to talk in terms of atrocities when in fact he has caused the displacement and the refugee status of in excess of a million people, where he has sent in 40,000 of his military, paramilitary, police, hooded thugs to savagely kill and slaughter at random and on a wholesale basis these innocent people, for him to talk about atrocities when an error occurred on the part of someone trying to carry out a mission to save their lives, I think is one of the most grotesque statements that I could conceive of."

Incredible but true. As if readers were zombies.

The propaganda machine that has been started is a main component of this dirty NATO/Serbian war.
This same machine is now (after 4 weeks of bombing) running amok, as this snippet from "The Economist" (351: 24/30 April) testifies:
And now, having tried -so far with disastrous results- to stop the Serb atrocities by launching an air war, the alliance faces widespread criticism round the world for failing to get a licence from the United Nations and thus breaking international law.
It would be difficoult -I believe- to find a more convolute (still propagandistic) statement to underline some obvious truths, a pleasure to reverse.

Our task, I believe, should be to study the guts of the propaganda machine (of course -if possible- on both sides) in order to learn, to understand and eventually -a far day from now I'm afraid- to be able to retaliate in the name of humanity. It is important to differentiate among those that are employed by the slavemasters to tame the zombies with writings and images: in fact there are "criminals", "responsables" and "gullible ones". What really amazes me is that there are incredibly few that dare point out some pretty obvious "inconsistencies". Seems like money plays a greater role than truth for writers and journalists :-)
It would be quite interesting if all readers, in the States, in Germany, in Serbia, in Danemark and wherever, would work a little on their own media and send their own findings.
There is no mistery in the art of deceiving people, of course.
The great mystery is how so easily this is done and why so few care that it is being done. Anyway we are not discovering anything new...
"Woe unto you, ...hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess " Matthew 23:25.

This work is still in fieri exactly as the war against Serbia is. Nato plans have been very well expressed by Clinton: "Our plan is to persist until we prevail".

Those should be valid plans for all reversers as well :-)

fravia+, 20-24 April 1999

You may find interesting also "Noam Chomsky on Yugoslavia", Interview, 8 April 1999, with a very correct analyze of the "humanitarian crisis" concept.
Aggression": n. An unprovoked attack by one country against another

I have received quite a lot of emails about this article. Some people pointed out to me that the use of the term "aggression" for the title gave automatically to my essay a pro-Serbian bias. I'm afraid I cannot come to terms with this. An aggression is an aggression following valid international right, no matter how strong the current propaganda machine would like to hide it. Reversers should (try to) use terms in an "emotion free" manner, and should also (try to) read in an emotion free manner. Note that I refrained from writing a couple of small Limericks on the "old man of Kossovo", though :-)
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