Louis Bromfield: NATO, permanent war panic and America’s Messiah complex
From A New Pattern for a Tired World (1954)
The North Atlantic Alliance is no more than an old-fashioned “power” alliance by one group of U.N. members against another group of U.N. members. Where indeed does this leave the avowed purposes of an organization set up to establish world peace, government and order? The issue cannot be argued save on the basis of hypocrisy, ignorance, or deliberate self-deception.
The growing technique of secrecy in government actions and decisions, justified originally on the score of war conditions, has tended more and more to exclude the American people, and even their representatives in Congress, from any actual participation in government and in foreign policy, and has transferred action and policy into the hands of appointed or career bureaucrats without direct responsibility to the people. Moreover, it has given to the chief executive, in violation of the Constitution, the power to make certain treaties, under the name of “executive agreements,” with foreign nations and even to make war (as in the case of Korea) without the sanction or even the knowledge of the people and their representatives in Congress.
With respect to the bureaucracy and the military powers, we have by no means as yet wholly escaped the danger. Indeed, even history may never reveal how narrowly we escaped complete domination by militarism, if indeed we are as yet entirely free of this greatest of all perils to all free peoples.
In producing this climate in which war is peace and peace is war, constant propaganda and the technique of terror and the Big Lie are indispensable, a fact which accounts largely for the veritable army of press agents and public relations officers maintained as an army within an army by the professional element of our armed forces. None of this is exaggeration. One has only to observe the presence and influence of the generals everywhere in our government today and the ways in which they dominate the lives of all of us, from necessitating vast taxes of which military appropriations consume at the present time by far the greater part, to conscripting resentful young men for military service and perhaps death and mutilation in forty-nine countries of the world.
So long as such conditions continue and the public fails to revolt, we are bound to live in a constant state of alarms, threats and crisis, in constant danger of war and in a distorted and wasteful economic climate which can in the end only be disastrous…Today our policies and actions are determined and guided by a strange mixture of hazy impractical idealism and of militarism promoted by a campaign of calculated fear.
It is doubtful that the world will make much progress toword real peace and genuine prosperity so long as nations and international relations are subject to constant intervention and at times domination by the professional military caste or so long as vital decisions and policies are influenced, controlled or kept from the people by military men or appointed bureaucrats or bureaus which have no direct responsibility to the people.
There has been much degradation in our time of such once honorable words as “liberal” and “freedom” and “democracy” and “idealism” and many others. They have been used carelessly and frequently as tools of corruption, conspiracy, treason and mere sloppy thinking and aimless missionary zeal. [M]uch of it has come too from the sentimentalists and the gushing reformers who simply by-pass fact and reality in warm and ecstatic enjoyment and appreciation of their own goodness and virtue. And in by-passing the realities they merely defeat their own occasionally con1mendable, declared purposes and bring confusion and misery to an already suffering world. Nothing is so dangerous as a superficial, illogical, uninformed reformer and “idealist.”
History will doubtless regard this age not only as one of vast wars, disorders and revolutions but also as the Age of Propaganda, of the press agent, the lobbyist, the public relations man…The average citizen in every nation and most of all in the U.S. is bombarded constantly by propaganda and press releases designed to cloud his judgment, appeal to his prejudices, fill him with deliberate misinformation for a calculated purpose, and generally sell him down the river.
Government during the past generation has become itself one of the greatest propagandists, all the way from the professional elements in the armed services, who hire thousands of press agents at taxpayers’ expense to sell their own particular bill of goods, down to the smallest bureau which sends out mimeographed sheets concerning the wonderful humanitarian work it is doing and how indispensable this work is to the welfare of the nation and the world, and above all how indispensable it is for the political party in power to be continued in office. One of the great evils of bureaucracy is that it tends increasingly to become self-perpetuating at the expense of the country. The armed forces represent our greatest bureaucracy and our most powerful all-pervading lobby. Propaganda has seeped into the news columns of great, powerful and respected newspapers which once would have held such a pattern of behavior in contempt.
Once objective journalists have turned their reports from Washington or Paris or Moscow into subtle editorial commentaries slanted this way or that, sometimes with the approval of the editors and employers and sometimes notsometimes indeed without even any perception upon their part. Often enough it has been done so subtly, that the editor or employer was and is wholly unaware of what is being done. (The simplest way is to quote from people and speeches selectively, choosing statements and comments which slant the story completely but conceal the motive and permit the reporter to escape detection, responsibility or criticism.) The news release, “leak,” propaganda, “buildup,” “trial balloon” technique during the past twenty years has become the very essence of “government by crisis,” a technique at which the armed forces have become the most expert practitioners and one which is practiced by politicians, zealots, cranks and even officials high in public office.
It is done very largely by creating public terror of elements and events which are vast, and frequently indefinable, which cannot be pinned down and analyzed. Perhaps the worst offenders, save for unscrupulous politicians, are the cloud of columnists and commentators who become eloquent and even hysterical in their fears and alarms. And of course the politicians and the journalists who dash from country to country on three-day visits with notebook in hand to return home and write, in book or press or magazine, “authentic” accounts of profound and world-shattering conditions and events which cannot possibly be understood or properly interpreted save upon a basis of profound and detailed knowledge and long, intelligent study. This is one of the evils of rapid travel in a shrunken world. The phrases “from an authoritative source” and “from indisputably reliable sources” appear over and over again in propaganda bulletins, press releases and in the reports of columnists and correspondents.
In addition to the practitioners among the politicians, generals and captive journalists, there is another element, perhaps more dangerous, which also espouses the scare technique. These are the Americans suffering from what might best be described as “a Messiah complex,” who feel a compulsion to save the world and constantly to meddle in the affairs of· other peoples and nations, regardless of whether, as is more and more the case, this interference is actually resented.
The Messiah complex is peculiarly an Anglo-Saxon disease which at times can border upon the ecstatic and the psychopathic. It existed strongly among the English people who sent missionaries everywhere in the world although they took care to have them accompanied by traders. In the United States we are inclined to send the missionaries, unaccompanied however by traders, and to spread money and welfare broadcast in return for no material rewards whatever and frequently with small benefits or none at all to the great masses of the people in the nations we are supposed to be aiding.