Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq


On the evening of September 11, 2002, with the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the background, television cameras captured President George W. Bush as he advocated war against Iraq. This carefully stage-managed performance, writes Susan A. Brewer, was the culmination of a long tradition of sophisticated wartime propaganda in America.
In Why America Fights, Brewer offers a fascinating history of how successive presidents have conducted what Donald Rumsfeld calls "perception management," from McKinley's war in the Philippines to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Brewer's intriguing account ranges from analyses of wartime messages to descriptions of the actual operations, from the dissemination of patriotic ads and posters to the management of newspaper, radio, and TV media. When Woodrow Wilson took the nation into World War I, he created the Committee on Public Information, led by George Creel, who called his job "the world's greatest adventure in advertising." In World War II, Roosevelt's Office of War Information avowed a "strategy of truth," though government propaganda still depicted Japanese soldiers as buck-toothed savages. In the Korean War, the Truman administration delineated differences between "good" and "evil" Asians, while portraying the conflict as a global battle between the Free World and Communism. After examining the ultimately failed struggle to cast the Vietnam War in a favorable light, Brewer shows how the Bush White House drew explicit lessons from that history as it engaged in an unprecedented effort to sell a preemptive war in Iraq. Yet the thrust of its message was not much different from McKinley's pronouncements about America's civilizing mission.
Impressively researched and argued, filled with surprising details,Why America Fightsshows how presidents consistently have drummed up support for foreign wars by appealing to what Americans want to believe about themselves.


The first casualty when war comes is truth.

Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917

ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush launched a campaign to promote war against Iraq. “We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder,” he declared. The president’s prime-time speech was broadcast from Ellis Island where White House staffers had expertly staged the scene by illuminating the Statue of Liberty in the background. The previous day the attorney general raised the terror alert level to orange and the White House announced that Vice President Richard Cheney had spent the night at a “secure, undisclosed location.” Following the speech, the president’s top advisors appeared on television news shows to describe the immensity of the Iraqi threat. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned, “Imagine a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction.” Americans must go to war, announced officials, to secure their own safety, liberate the Iraqi people, and spread democracy in the Middle East.

In promoting Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush administration drew on a long history of government efforts to rally popular support for war. When Americans are called upon to fight, they want to know why Americans must kill and be killed. They expect their leaders to prove that war is right, necessary, and worth the sacrifice. This book explores the official presentation of war aims in six wars: the Philippine War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. From William McKinley . . .

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