Propaganda is afoot. The US mainstream media is back to its old familiar self, pursuing the same pattern of war propaganda it used against Washington's enemies in the past. Its attitude towards the conflict with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program mirrors its behavior during the US-manufactured crisis that led to the Iraq war in 2003.
War propaganda replayed
Manufacturing consent among US citizens, most of whom are unable to understand the complexity of the situation, or even locate North Korea on a world map, has become something of a fixed science. Edward Barneys, who injected the art of propaganda through the veins of US political and media establishment in the early and mid-20th century, would have been proud of the perfect harmony between journalists, government officials and military men in drumming up a case for war.
Menacing headlines, the likes of, "Congress warned North Korean EMP attack would kill '90% of all Americans'," are the recycling of old headlines of Iraqi threats during previous wars, including such false reports as Iraqi soldiers tearing babies from hospital incubators and killing them during the first Iraqi war in 1990-91.
'Expert' witnesses are being flaunted and rushed before TV cameras, Congress committees and townhall meetings, all parroting sinister warnings of a world that is about to collapse if President Donald Trump does nothing to remedy the terrifying situation.
Despite the use of complex language that ordinary US citizens cannot fully fathom, they can feel the dread in its palpable meaning written on the front pages of newspapers and magazine across the country:
"The Trump administration has no plan for dealing with a North Korean electromagnetic pulse weapons attack," decried Foreign Policy.
North Korea is not Iraq - the media tricks of the past will not work anymoreRamzy Baroud
North Korean defectors gained celebrity status, although temporarily, each dishing out the horror of living in that supposedly unlivable place where oppressed people are praying for US liberators.
"'The lifestyle is brutal': North Korean defectors take risky journeys out and fear for their family left behind," bemoaned a CBS headline.
The assumption is that these defectors are now, of course, safe - that they have reached the land of democracy and a perfect human rights record. The fact that Black people are shot by police, often at will, that Muslims are targeted and often turned back at border crossings, that the US human rights records in every war it has started is horrifying at best, are all seemingly frivolous facts.
Iraqi defectors too were used and later discarded when their usefulness ran out. These were the 'native informants' as late Edward Said pithily dubbed them.
In the case of the Iraq war in 2003, they were Ahmad Chalabis and Fouad Ajamis among scores of others. The latter was often hailed by George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney as an uncontested academic and moral authority.
When Iraq was destroyed, they hovered around its corpse seeking position, contracts and prestige. Likewise, the North Korean experience is also attracting its own salesmen, peddlers, and native informants.
When Trump, using the world's highest legal platform, the United Nations, threatened to “totally destroy North Korea”, his ghastly statement registered among US leading media outlets as mere words of caution. His was a matter-of-fact-statement, but still not deserving of complete and unconditional disavowal.
Few are pointing to the blatant contradictions in the US discourse.
Recently in Seoul, US Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan, said that "Washington continues to view diplomacy as the primary means for solving the crisis," but added that the “allies” must be prepared for “any eventuality.”
Sullivan’s statement is oblivious to the fact that Trump himself had tweeted, not long ago, that his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson “is wasting his time,” trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
But what kind of diplomacy is Tillerson actually pursuing? The country’s top diplomat told CNN on October 18 that, "diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops."
But if a Trump war in North Korea takes place, what would it look like?
US Newsweek magazine took on this very disturbing question, only to provide equally worrying answers.
"If combat broke out between the two countries, American commanders in the Pacific would very quickly exhaust their stockpiles of smart bombs and missiles, possibly within a week," military sources revealed.
It will take a year for the US military to replenish their stockpile, thus leaving them with the option of "dropping crude gravity bombs on their targets, guaranteeing a longer and bloodier conflict for both sides."
One million people are likely to die if a conventional war breaks out.
Yet, the same Newsweek edition continued to build a case for war.
“NORTH KOREA'S KIM JONG UN IS OFFICIALLY OBSESSED WITH MISSILES,” announced one of its headlines - the same obsessions, perhaps that had reportedly consumed Saddam Hussein and his ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Except, of course, the Iraqi leader had no such weapons in the first place. Over a million Iraqis were killed because of lies and war propaganda that lasted for years prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Watching the Iraqi leader dangling from a rope and the Libya leader, Muammar Qaddafi, molested and murdered, Kim Jong-Un’s ‘obsession’ with missiles may in that context sound rational.
But if one is truly to examine the evidence of who is truly obsessed with lethal weapons, one should take a trip to Washington State.
Not too far away from Seattle, Washington, there are eight ballistic-missile submarines carrying the world’s largest shipments of nuclear weapons.
The 560-foot-long black submarines are docked at the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, hauling what is described by Rick Anderson in a recent Los Angeles Times article as, "the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the US".
“If it were a sovereign nation,” Anderson wrote, quoting government estimates, “Washington State would be the third-largest nuclear-weapons power in the world”.
Many are haunted by this reality, especially whenever a nuclear crisis between the US and North Korea flares up, such as the one which started late July. At the time, Trump threatened Pyongyang with "fire and fury like the world has never seen before".
Visiting Kitsap-Bangor in early August, US Defense Secretary, James N. Mattis, toured the USS Kentucky and declared that the submarine is ready for action, if needed.
The nuclear load that the USS Kentucky alone carries equals 1,400 bombs, the size of which the US dropped on and which subsequently destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
North Korea's saber-rattling in recent months - which are a repeat of previous episodes such as in April of this year and twice last year - should be cause for alarm. But far scarier is the fact that North Korea's entire nuclear stockpiles consist of up to 60 nuclear weapons, compared to 6,970 owned by the US, out of which 1,750 are operational.
To place these numbers in a global perspective, there are an estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons, worldwide.
While the North Koreans require a sixth successful test to put a nuclear warhead on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), the US had conducted 1,030 such nuclear tests, starting in July 1945.
US media conveniently overlook history as it is rarely in the interests of Washington. They often refer to North Korea as a 'highly secretive nation'. Such references give pundits and politicians an uncontested platform to make whatever assumptions suit them.
But the legacy of the Korean War (1950-53), which divided Korea and its peoples is hardly a secret. An estimated 4 million people were killed in that most savage war, including 2 million Korean civilians.
The US and its allies fought that war under the flag of the nascent United Nations. It is not very difficult to imagine why North Koreans detest the US, distrust US allies and loathe the UN and its repeated sanctions, especially as the country often suffers from food insecurity - among other problems.
However, as long as mainstream media continue to willingly follow the script as demonstrated in their shameful depiction of the Iraq war – which has destabilized the Middle East to this day – nothing good will come of their coverage.
They also need to understand that times have changed, that the US single-handedly starting and ending wars will no longer be possible, neither in the Middle East nor the Pacific.
If a war takes place, the US will not have the kind of strong economy that will sustain their war efforts; China will not remain silent for long, and the US risks losing whatever little political capital they still possess in a region that they once fully controlled, but which is now drifting into the Chinese domain of influence.
North Korea is not Iraq - the media tricks of the past will not work anymore and Trump’s angry diplomacy will not change the situation in US favor, no matter how frequently he tweets.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.
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