Post-Cold War Propaganda

By Bowman, James | The American Spectator, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Post-Cold War Propaganda


Bowman, James, The American Spectator


THE HISTORY OF ANY WAR IS DIFFICULT to disentangle from its propaganda-and not only the official propaganda. In a way the official propaganda is the easiest to pull free of. Too easy, indeed, since we are liable to overlook those places where the official propaganda is actually true. An example was the Allied propaganda mills' publicizing of German atrocities in the early days of the First World War. These lurid stories were dismissed for over 80 years as crude, politically motivated fabrications until John Horn and Alan Kramer published German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial a couple of years ago, demonstrating that a lot of the stories were true. But the expectation that atrocity stories would be false helped to blind people to the Holocaust in the next war.

Now we have the opposite expectation, that governments will lie and cover up-which is why there is such a fuss about those ever-loving "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. The propaganda of the critics of the administration about its allegedly deliberate deceptions-in effect an elaborate and not-very persuasive conspiracy theory-has become far louder in our ears than the propaganda of the administration itself.

That's one of the legacies of the Cold War, as Miracle, the Disney version of the triumph of the U.S. Olympic hockey team over the Soviets in 1980, reminds us. It's an exciting story, excitingly told. Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), hockey coach at the University of Minnesota, takes a bunch of college kids from all over the country and molds them into a team that takes on and defeats the mighty Russians, universally acknowledged to be the best team in the world.

I particularly liked the emphasis of the film, directed by Gavin O'Connor to a script by Eric Guggenheim, on Brooks's own emphasis on teamwork. "I'm not looking for the best players, Craig," he says to his assistant (Noah Emmerich). "I'm looking for the right ones." He sees that the all-star or "dream team" approach to Olympic team sports which prevailed before and after 1980 is useless against the Russians, who have been playing together as a team for over a decade. By forcing his young proteges to come together as the same kind of team-partly by making them hate him-he gives them the wherewithal to win against the odds.

But the story cannot be told without the background of the Cold War rivalry of the U.S. and the USSR, and when it comes to filling this in, the film reveals its own propaganda purposes. For one thing, Brooks's abrasiveness and unabashed anti-Communism is toned down, almost to the vanishing point. As Russell plays him, Brooks seems weirdly unemotional until, at the point of his triumph, he creeps off into a corner and weeps. More importantly, the picture is put into the context of what Jimmy Carter was calling at the time a "crisis of confidence" in America.

Of course, there was no crisis of confidence in America; there was a crisis of confidence in Jimmy Carter. And a few months later he was booted out of the White House by Ronald Reagan on account of it. Carter had attempted to deflect attention from the Iranian hostage crisis together with high unemployment and inflation, the things that had happened or got worse on his watch, by blaming the country's dissatisfaction on Vietnam and Watergate, long since faded into the national rear-view mirror. A majority of the American people weren't buying it then, but this movie, made nearly a quarter of a century on, is still trying to turn Jimmy's version into history. Americans were ashamed of themselves, and their hockey team made them feel better about themselves.

It's sheer Cold War revisionism. Like Lt. John Kerry when he was leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the movie wants us to believe that "We saw America lose her sense of morality" in Vietnam. That may be what John Kerry saw-like Jimmy Carter, the man he hopes to succeed in the Oval Office. But it's not what most Americans saw, or what happened. …

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