There’s a famous saying (at least among us FSOs), attributed to Colin Powell, that there are more people in military bands…
I want to take a break today from the usual subjects of this blog to talk a bit about that.
One of the small pleasures we have managed to provide here in Benin is access to a limited number of channels of the American Forces Network (they have…like 10 or so). We get three – One News, one sports, one general interest. It’s the go-to place to watch baseball, or close to current American television (although it may be airing at 3am), but it also provides a window into the U.S. military and how it sees itself, and how it sells itself to the captive audience of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving overseas.
I find it a bit disturbing.
Where you see it for the most part is in the “public service announcements” which fill up the space where the commercial breaks would be in U.S. commercial television. Some are innocuous and what you might expect — Don’t drink and drive, report fraud and theft, stay in shape, don’t shake your baby. But then there are those which seem to have the goal of separating the military community from the civilian community, or as you might call it, the rest of America. “Civilians say the strangest things” makes fun of people who don’t know technical Navy terms. Another ad tries to get people to reenlist by minimizing the difference between military and civilian salaries (and overemphasizing benefits, as if civilians don’t get them). There are military-produced PR pieces (as well as full “newscasts”), about Afghanistan and Iraq, always emphasizing the community service, rather than the warfighting, aspects of life there, full of locals with smiling faces. Then there is the team that goes around the US (probably a bunch of them) to get people to “thank you for your service”.
There is a propaganda slant to all of this that really doesn’t fit the American model of a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas. A slant only made stronger by the fact that Fox News Channel dominates the split of networks on the news channel.
I think there’s a question to be asked of how much all of us are paying in taxes to support this propaganda arm of the military, and what effect it is having on the people for which this is their only source of television.
Entertainment and information could be made available to the military without all the PR and propaganda (although State, and USAID, and the Peace Corps, and everyone else serving overseas doesn’t have anything like it). At a time when our participation in wars overseas is a major political question, at a time when budgets are tight and cuts seemingly inevitable, the maintenance of a full-blown propaganda arm aimed at our own people overseas seems fiscally questionable. At any time, it seems questionable in other ways.
Next week – back to travelogues, recipes and discussions of my impending departure.