Image: Mr. Fish
The Ukraine crisis makes clear that permanent war requires permanent state censorship.
This article was originally published in ScheerPost.
No one, including the most bullish supporters of Ukraine, expect the nation’s war with Russia to end soon. The fighting has been reduced to artillery duels across hundreds of miles of front lines and creeping advances and retreats. Ukraine, like Afghanistan, will bleed for a very long time. This is by design.
On August 24, the Biden administration announced yet another massive military aid package to Ukraine worth nearly $3 billion. It will take months, and in some cases years, for this military equipment to reach Ukraine. In another sign that Washington assumes the conflict will be a long war of attrition it will give a name to the U.S. military assistance mission in Ukraine and make it a separate command overseen by a two- or three-star general. Since August 2021, Biden has approved more than $8 billion in weapons transfers from existing stockpiles, known as drawdowns, to be shipped to Ukraine, which do not require Congressional approval.
Including humanitarian assistance, replenishing depleting U.S. weapons stocks and expanding U.S. troop presence in Europe, Congress has approved over $53.6 billion ($13.6 billion in March and a further $40.1 billion in May) since Russia’s February 24 invasion. War takes precedence over the most serious existential threats we face. The proposed budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2023 is $10.675 billion while the proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is $11.881 billion. Our approved assistance to Ukraine is more than twice these amounts.
The militarists who have waged permanent war costing trillions of dollars over the past two decades have invested heavily in controlling the public narrative. The enemy, whether Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, is always the epitome of evil, the new Hitler. Those we support are always heroic defenders of liberty and democracy. Anyone who questions the righteousness of the cause is accused of being an agent of a foreign power and a traitor.
The mass media cravenly disseminates these binary absurdities in 24-hour news cycles. Its news celebrities and experts, universally drawn from the intelligence community and military, rarely deviate from the approved script. Day and night, the drums of war never stop beating. Its goal: to keep billions of dollars flowing into the hands of the war industry and prevent the public from asking inconvenient questions.
In the face of this barrage, no dissent is permitted. CBS News caved to pressure and retracted its documentary which charged that only 30 percent of arms shipped to Ukraine were making it to the front lines, with the rest siphoned off to the black market, a finding that was separately reported upon by U.S. journalist Lindsey Snell. CNN has acknowledged there is no oversight of weapons once they arrive in Ukraine, long considered the most corrupt country in Europe. According to a poll of executives responsible for tackling fraud, completed by Ernst & Young in 2018, Ukraine was ranked the ninth-most corrupt nation from 53 surveyed.
There is little ostensible reason for censoring critics of the war in Ukraine. The U.S. is not at war with Russia. No U.S. troops are fighting in Ukraine. Criticism of the war in Ukraine does not jeopardize our national security. There are no long-standing cultural and historical ties to Ukraine, as there are to Great Britain. But if permanent war, with potentially tenuous public support, is the primary objective, censorship makes sense.
War is the primary business of the U.S. empire and the bedrock of the U.S. economy. The two ruling political parties slavishly perpetuate permanent war, as they do austerity programs, trade deals, the virtual tax boycott for corporations and the rich, wholesale government surveillance, the militarization of the police and the maintenance of the largest prison system in the world. They bow before the dictates of the militarists, who have created a state within a state. This militarism, as Seymour Melman writes in The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline, “is fundamentally contradictory to the formation of a new political economy based upon democracy, instead of hierarchy, in the workplace and the rest of society.”
“The idea that war economy brings prosperity has become more than an American illusion,” Melman writes. “When converted, as it has been, into ideology that justifies the militarization of society and moral debasement, as in Vietnam, then critical reassessment of that illusion is a matter of urgency. It is a primary responsibility of thoughtful people who are committed to humane values to confront and respond to the prospect that deterioration of American economy and society, owing to the ravages of war economy, can become irreversible.”
If permanent war is to be halted, as Melman writes, the ideological control of the war industry must be shattered. The war industry’s funding of politicians, research centers and think tanks, as well as its domination of the media monopolies, must end. The public must be made aware, Melman writes, of how the federal government “sustains itself as the directorate of the largest industrial corporate empire in the world; how the war economy is organized and operated in parallel with centralized political power — often contradicting the laws of Congress and the Constitution itself; how the directorate of the war economy converts pro-peace sentiment in the population into pro-militarist majorities in the Congress; how ideology and fears of job losses are manipulated to marshal support in Congress and the general public for war economy; how the directorate of the war economy uses its power to prevent planning for orderly conversion to an economy of peace.”
Rampant, unchecked militarism, as historian Arnold Toynbee notes, “has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdown of civilizations.”
This breakdown is accelerated by the rigid standardization and uniformity of public discourse. The manipulation of public opinion, what Walter Lippman calls “the manufacture of consent,” is imperative as the militarists gut social programs; let the nation’s crumbling infrastructure decay; refuse to raise the minimum wage; sustain an inept, mercenary for-profit health care system that resulted in 25 percent of global Covid deaths — although we are less than 5 percent of the world’s population — to gouge the public; carries out deindustrialization; do nothing to curb the predatory behavior of banks and corporations or invest in substantial programs to combat the climate crisis.
Critics, already shut out from the corporate media, are relentlessly attacked, discredited and silenced for speaking a truth that threatens the public’s quiescence while the U.S. Treasury is pillaged by the war industry and the nation disemboweled.
You can watch my discussion with Matt Taibbi about the rot that infects journalism here and here.
The war industry, deified by the mass media, including the entertainment industry, is never held accountable for the military fiascos, cost overruns, dud weapons systems and profligate waste. No matter how many disasters — from Vietnam to Afghanistan — it orchestrates, it is showered with larger and larger amounts of federal funds, nearly half of all the government’s discretionary spending. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the U.S. debt to over $30 trillion, $6 trillion more than the U.S. GDP of $24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spend more on the military, $813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined.
An organization like NewsGuard, which has been rating what it says are trustworthy and untrustworthy sites based on their reporting on Ukraine, is one of the many indoctrination tools of the war industry. Sites that raise what are deemed “false” assertions about Ukraine, including that there was a U.S.-backed coup in 2014 and neo-Nazi forces are part of Ukraine’s military and power structure, are tagged as unreliable. Consortium News, Daily Kos, Mint Press and Grayzone have been given a red warning label. Sites that do not raise these issues, such as CNN, receive the “green” rating” for truth and credibility. (NewsGuard, after being heavily criticized for giving Fox News a green rating of approval in July revised its rating for Fox News and MSNBC, giving them red labels.)
The ratings are arbitrary. The Daily Caller, which published fake naked pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was given a green rating, along with a media outlet owned and operated by The Heritage Foundation. NewsGuard gives WikiLeaks a red label for “failing” to publish retractions despite admitting that all of the information WikiLeaks has published thus far is accurate. What WikiLeaks was supposed to retract remains a mystery. The New York Times and The Washington Post, which shared a Pulitzer in 2018 for reporting that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to help sway the 2016 election, a conspiracy theory the Mueller investigation imploded, are awarded perfect scores. These ratings are not about vetting journalism. They are about enforcing conformity.
NewsGuard, established in 2018, “partners” with the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as corporations such as Microsoft. Its advisory board includes the former Director of the CIA and NSA, Gen. Michael Hayden; the first U.S. Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former secretary general of NATO.
Readers who regularly go to targeted sites could probably care less if they are tagged with a red label. But that is not the point. The point is to rate these sites so that anyone who has a NewsGuard extension installed on their devices will be warned away from visiting them. NewsGuard is being installed in libraries and schools and on the computers of active-duty troops. A warning pops up on targeted sites that reads: “Proceed with caution: This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.”
Negative ratings will drive away advertisers, which is the intent. It is also a very short step from blacklisting these sites to censoring them, as happened when YouTube erased six years of my show On Contact that was broadcast on RT America and RT International. Not one show was about Russia. And not one violated the guidelines for content imposed by YouTube. But many did examine the evils of U.S. militarism.
In an exhaustive rebuttal to NewsGuard, which is worth reading, Joe Lauria, the editor-in-chief of Consortium News, ends with this observation:
NewsGuard’s accusations against Consortium News that could potentially limit its readership and financial support must be seen in the context of the West’s war mania over Ukraine, about which dissenting voices are being suppressed. Three CN writers have been kicked off Twitter.
PayPal’s cancellation of Consortium News’ account is an evident attempt to defund it for what is almost certainly the company’s view that CN violated its restrictions on “providing false or misleading information.” It cannot be known with 100 percent certainty because PayPal is hiding behind its reasons, but CN trades in information and nothing else.
CN supports no side in the Ukraine war but seeks to examine the causes of the conflict within its recent historical context, all of which are being whitewashed from mainstream Western media.
Those causes are: NATO’s expansion eastward despite its promise not to do so; the coup and eight-year war on Donbass against coup resisters; the lack of implementation of the Minsk Accords to end that conflict; and the outright rejection of treaty proposals by Moscow to create a new security architecture in Europe taking Russia’s security concerns into account.
Historians who point out the onerous Versailles conditions imposed on Germany after World War I as a cause of Nazism and World War II are neither excusing Nazi Germany nor are they smeared as its defenders.
The frantic effort to corral viewers and readers into the embrace of the establishment media — only 16 percent of Americans have a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in newspapers and only 11 percent have some degree of confidence in television news — is a sign of desperation.
As the persecution of Julian Assange illustrates, the throttling of press freedom is bipartisan. This assault on truth leaves a population unmoored. It feeds wild conspiracy theories. It shreds the credibility of the ruling class. It empowers demagogues. It creates an information desert, one where truth and lies are indistinguishable. It frog-marches us towards tyranny. This censorship only serves the interests of the militarists who, as Karl Liebknecht reminded his fellow Germans in World War I, are the enemy within.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.