Sizing Pentagon propaganda: $4.7b, 27k people

The Return of ‘The Runaway General’ (full article subscriber-only; read at library):

Hastings gives a telling account of the Pentagon’s media operation, which tried to “make over” McChrystal. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year on public relations and has 27,000 people working on them. Every general has his own team of media handlers–all too evident to any journalist who has interviewed senior US brass in Iraq or Afghanistan. On a regular trip General Petraeus would have a staff of fifty walking before and after him. In contrast, a senior State Department official would have less than five staff members, including his security detail.

Apparently this is old (2009) news, though I missed it. Spinning Us to Death (2011):

While American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seeks to provide the illusion of progress, systematically misrepresenting realities on the ground to bide more time, gain more troops, and acquire more funding. It’s bad enough that the American media uncritically relays statements from U.S. officials portraying “success” on the ground. Now the Pentagon is using its massive propaganda budget to blur the line between informing the public and spinning it to death. In fact, several years ago the Associated Press found that the Pentagon had spent $4.7 billion on public relations in 2009 alone, and employs 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, nearly as many as the 30,000-person State Department. Essentially the Pentagon is trying to influence public policy and lobby civilian officials to shift policies toward their own ends while dispersing the costs onto the American taxpayer.

Military propaganda is nothing new, in the U.S. or elsewhere. Many people have written about how thoroughly militaries and militarists have subverted journalism, and civic discourse in general. Still, $4.7 billion and 27,000 people (and presumably more in other departments) paid to do this, while tiny portions of federal expenditure and staffing, disgusts anew — the object of disgust being the USian people for being willing fools.

Too many times I’ve heard in conversation people talk about 280,000 astroturfers employed by the Chinese government (and doubtless a similarly huge number of more traditional propagandists and censors) accompanied by adjectives like “craaazy”. “Our” militaries are running crazy amok (and are or will be happy to astroturf), and we’re to blame. Fix that, then gasp at the greater-by-degree insanities of more authoritarian regimes.

The Return linked above draws on a number of Afghanistan books, and begins more or less predicting a similar US occupation aftermath to the USSR occupation aftermath; wouldn’t surprise me, at the least there’s a grave risk of ongoing war and/or an even more extremely brutal regime over the next few years, meaning that many thousands, maybe millions of innocent Afghans will be “displaced”, tortured, slaughtered, etc. The U.S. owes every Afghan who wants it immediate U.S. citizenship. Anything less, it bears, I mean we bear, even more responsibility for future mass murder than we already do.

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