The Pentagon Propaganda Machine:
by Senator J. William Fulbright
Since the I950s, as we have moved from crisis to crisis, the constitutional
responsibilities of the Congress have been eroded in dangerous measure by the
diversion of power to the President and the Joint Chiefs and the Department of
It seems to me we have grown distressingly used to war. For more than fourteen
of the past twenty-eight years we have been fighting somewhere, and we have
been ready to fight almost anywhere for the other fourteen. War and the
military have become a part of our environment, like pollution.
Violence is our
most important product. We have been spending nearly $80 billion a year on the
military, which is more than the profits of all American business, or, to make
another comparison, is almost as much as the total spending of the federal,
state, and local governments for health, education, old age and retirement
benefits, housing, and agriculture. Until the past session of the Congress,
these billions have been provided to the military with virtually no questions
has been operating for years in that Elysium of the public relations man, a
seller's market. Take the climate into which the Sentinel ABM program was
introduced. Many people looked on it, as they now look on Safeguard, not as a
weapon but as a means of prosperity. For the industrialist it meant profits;
for the worker new jobs and the prospect of higher wages; for the politician a
new installation or defense order with which to ingratiate himself with his
constituents. Military expenditures today provide the livelihood of some ten
percent of our work force. There are 22,000 major corporate defense
contractors and another 100,000 subcontractors. Defense plants or
installations are located in 363 of the country's 435 congressional districts.
Even before it turns its attention to the public-at-large, the military has a
large and sympathetic audience for its message.
of Americans who have a vested interest in the expensive weapons systems
spawned by our global military involvements are as much a part of the
military-industrial complex as the generals and the corporation heads. In turn
they have become a powerful force for the perpetuation of those involvements,
and have had an indirect influence on a weapons development policy that has
driven the United States into a spiraling arms race with the Soviet Union and
made us the world's major salesman of armaments.
A Marine war
hero and former Commandant of the Corps, General David M. Shoup, has said,
"America has become a militaristic and aggressive nation." He could be right.
Militarism has been creeping up on us during the past thirty years. Prior to
World War II, we never maintained more than a token peacetime army. Even in
1940, with Nazi Germany sweeping over Europe, there were fewer than half a
million men in all of the armed services. The Army, which then included the
Air Corps, had one general and four lieutenant generals. In October I941, six
weeks before Pearl Harbor, the extension of the draft law was passed by but a
single vote. Many of those who voted no did so for partisan political reasons,
but antimilitarism certainly was a consideration for some. Today we have more
than 3.5 million men in uniform and nearly 28 million veterans of the armed
forces in the civilian population. The Air Force alone has twelve four-star
generals and forty-two lieutenant generals. The American public has become so
conditioned by crises, by warnings, by words that there are few, other than
the young, who protest against what is happening.
is such that last year Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana, hardly an
apostle of the New Left, felt constrained to say:
twenty years now, many of us in the Congress have more or less blindly
followed our military spokesmen. Some have become captives of the military. We
are on the verge of turning into a military nation."
that has crept up on us is bringing about profound changes in the character of
our society and government-changes that are slowly undermining democratic
procedure and values.
We cannot, without doing ourselves the very injury that we seek to secure
ourselves against from foreign adversaries, pursue policies which rely
primarily on the threat or use of force, because policies of force and the
pre-eminence given to the wielders of force-the military- are inevitably
disruptive of democratic values. Alexis de Tocqueville, that wisest of
observers of American democracy, put it this way:
War does not
always give democratic societies over to military government, but it must
invariably and immeasurably increase the powers of civil government; it must
almost automatically concentrate the direction of all men and the control of
all things in the hands of the government. If that does not lead to despotism
by sudden violence, it leads men gently in that direction by their habits.
twenty years Senator Ellender cited we have not only been infected by
militarism but by another virus as virulent-an ideological obsession about
communism. The head of steam built up in the country by the late Joe McCarthy
has never really been blown off, and the extremists of the right utilize it to
keep the hatreds that have developed over the years as hot as possible. This
heat and the ideas espoused by these extremists produce such deceptively quick
and simple solutions as "Bomb Hanoi!" Or "Overthrow Castro!" Or "America: Love
It or Leave It!" --If we would only proclaim and pursue our dedication to
total victory over world communism, they say, root out the subversives-real
and imaginary-at home, make our allies follow our lead in world affairs, all
of our troubles would soon be solved.
climate makes militarism luxuriate, for the military solution is also the
simple solution. I am not, of course, implying that the men of our military
forces are of the extreme right. They are in the main patriotic, hardworking,
worried men, but their parochial talents have been given too much scope in our
topsy-turvy world. There is little in the education, training, or experience
of most soldiers to equip them with the balance of judgment needed to play the
political role they now hold in our society.
needs its military men as brave and dedicated public servants. We can get
along without them as mentors and opinion-molders. These roles have never been
and, in a time when subtlety of mind and meticulous attention to questions of
right over might ought to command us, should not now be their proper business.
During the past several years, there have been too many instances of lack of
candor and of outright misleading statements in treating with the public. Too
often we have been misled by the very apparatus that is supposed to keep us
factually informed or, in the very strictest sense, honestly guided.
breaking the limits of honest presentation, any President and the heads of his
"newsmaking" departments can shape the flow of information the public gets.
has ready access to the nation's television networks whenever he feels the
need to use them, and his press conferences attract hundreds of newsmen. His
statements and the statements of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of
Defense usually get front page treatment.
selectivity and timing, they can command attention that at times is far
greater than that deserved by the content of the information released. They
can give new luster to old ideas and obliterate embarrassing events with
announcements, actions, trips, and "summit meetings." In a pinch, what have
been called "pseudoevents" can be created.
The word "propaganda" ... [stems] from the title Congregatio de propaganda
fide (Congregation, or College, for the Propagation of the Faith)-an
organization set up in I673 to train Roman Catholic missionaries - the word
through usage over the years has taken on the meaning set forth in Webster's
New International Dictionary (Second Edition): "Now, often, secret or
clandestine dissemination of ideas, information, gossip, or the like, for the
purpose of helping, or injuring, a person, an institution, a cause, etc."
From 1951 to I959, the Congress in its annual appropriations for the military
limited the amount that could be spent on public relations to $2,755,000.
According to Hohenberg, the services complied with the spending limit:
... by specifying that only particular duties could be classified as public
relations. They even made out weekly slips giving the total number of hours
spent in the "public relations" function-sometimes none at all, sometimes 30
to 45 minutes out of an entire week. It was not considered "public relations"
to "answer queries from the public," i.e. respond to a newspaper inquiry, or
to draft statements, write speeches, or do so many of the things that are a
normal part of a public relations man's duty.
congressional restriction on spending was removed in I959.
The military public relations campaign is directed at all of the American
people ("targets," they are called in the manuals, a nice military word
adopted by Madison Avenue and readopted by military PR people in its new
sense). The audience ranges from school children and teachers to ranchers and
farmers, from union leaders to defense contractors, from Boy Scouts to
American Legionnaires. The principal target of the military PR men, however,
is the media.
Very few Americans, I am convinced, have much cognizance of the extent of the
military sell or its effects on heir lives through the molding of their
opinions, the opinions (and votes on appropriations) of their representatives
in the Congress, and the opinions of their presumed ombudsmen in the American
When Congress passed the National Security Act in t947, it voted to end the
rampant rivalry among the military services and to require each to subordinate
its parochial interests to those of the military establishment as a whole. But
here we are twenty-three years later with the Army, Navy, and Air Force each
spending millions of tax dollars annually on persuasion of the public that its
particular brand of weaponry is the best. Competition for the public's
affections-and their representatives' votes in Congress-rivals the hucksterism
of detergent manufacturers. This is hardly the conduct the public deserves
from organizations that, taken together, consume almost half of all federal
millions spent by the separate services on publicity, other millions are spent
by the office of the Secretary of Defense itself in its role as coordinator of
military information and as a purveyor, too.
There is little doubt that the Department of Defense and the separate services
are hard at work providing positive information to the American public and
initiating and supporting activities to build up good public relations, but
these efforts, in my view, are more designed to persuade the American people
that the military is "good for you" than genuinely to inform.
The seminars are heavily larded with discussions of foreign affairs covering
such topics as Africa, South Asia, Comparative Political Systems, Geopolitics,
International Economics, Communist China, and World Agriculture. The contents
of those of the lectures that I have reviewed present a simplistic, often
outdated, and factually incorrect view of complex world problems. The poor
quality of the lectures alone is sufficient justification for abolishing the
program. But the real issue is of far more fundamental importance. It is not a
proper function of the Department of Defense to educate civilians on foreign
policy issues or to teach them to be better citizens, even if the material
presented is completely objective, which is frequently not the case.
Alaska, man who attended one of the seminars wrote to me objecting to the
approach taken by the speakers.
wrote, "were made at every opportunity against most liberal activities on
university campuses and at one point condemnations were made of what were
referred to as 'skeptical congressional powers.' Outbursts of applause
followed charged comments about social disruption and personal testimonials
were made by the civilians on the floor of the auditorium after the speakers
had effectively silenced a man asking about disarmament. At several points
what could be called nothing else but 'scare tactics' were used to intimate
that long lead [preparation] time considerations necessitated immediately the
increase of our nuclear arsenal and strategic bomber squadrons. The C-5-A cost
overruns were pooh-poohed as 'just one of those things'.... The seminar did
suggest one important thing to me. The greatest threat to American national
security is the American Military Establishment and the no-holds-barred type
of logic it uses to justify its zillion dollar existence."
The military's "education" activities are but a small part of the total effort
the Department of Defense expends on the citizenry. Like any organization of
high visibility, it has to worry about "community relations." The presence of
large military installations and large numbers of military personnel in
populated localities naturally cause day-to-day problems with local
governments and local residents for, whatever economic advantage may accrue
due to the presence of the military near a community, the demands put upon
them are burdensome. Community relations programs obviously are necessary.
But, as with so many of its activities, the Defense Department carries
"community relations" far beyond what would seem to be necessary. Possibly it
does so because of the normal panache of the military, but the more likely
reason is the enormous resources at its disposal.
can pick up a town's leading citizens and fly them to Florida or California.
It can provide generals and admirals whose names make the headlines as
speakers for the local Kiwanis Club or Chamber of Commerce. Military units and
bands and color guards are available for celebrations. Skydiving paratroopers
can enliven the county fair. Towns with deep water harbors can be visited by
impressive Navy ships, open to public visiting. Local high schools can have
ROTC units equipped and supported. And all at no expense to the local
citizen-except in his tax bill.
Defense Directive 5410.18 of February 9, 1968, defines a "Community Relations
Program" as "that command function which evaluates public attitudes,
identifies the mission of a military organization with the public interest,
and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance."
The activities to be carried on are listed in interesting order: "liaison and
cooperation with industry, with industrial, technical and trade associations,
with labor" lead all the rest. (Until a year or so ago, the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs each month published a
magazine tided Defense Industry Bulletin, described in the Community Relations
Directive "as a means of direct communication with the industrial community."
It has been taken over by the Defense Supply Agency, a more appropriate
organization- if it is appropriate to have such a close military-industrial
purposes of military community relations programs stretch beyond what would
seem to be their normal purview. Besides "developing public understanding of
and cooperation with the DoD in its community relations program" and
"assisting recruiting," the purposes include "informing the public on the
state of preparedness of the DoD" and "promoting national security and
stimulating patriotic spirit." The multi-million-dollar public relations
programs conducted by the Pentagon and the services apparently are not enough
to keep people informed. As for "stimulating patriotic spirit," in our
present-day society where patriotism seems to be equated with approval of
billions for defense and where superpatriotism is burgeoning, it seems to me
that the military is reaching too far.
importance to the Defense Department in selling the military point of view is
the stream of American citizens who pass through terms of military service. We
have become a nation of veterans-now more than 28 million. This means that
more than one-fifth of our adult population has been subjected to some degree
of indoctrination in military values and attitudes. And all have been, whether
they liked it or not, that dream of the public relations man-a captive
today has a captive audience numbering more than 3 million Americans in
uniform, and a very large part of Defense Department information activity is
directed at them, although not charged to general public relations activities.
The responsibility of reaching this audience, in large part, rests with the
Office of Information for the Armed Forces, a part of the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). The purposes of
this office, according to the Defense Department, are "to help the commander
insure that the military men and women are fully informed in order that they
may (I) comprehend the values of our Government and our American Heritage; (~)
be fully aware of the threat to free nations; ( 3 ) understand ideologies
inimical to the free institutions upon which the United States is founded; and
(4) realize the responsibilities and objectives of the individual military
All of the
members of the armed forces are exposed to programs furthering these ends
throughout their periods of service, and the 1.5 million stationed overseas
beyond the normal sources of information available at home are a truly captive
sailors, and airmen abroad the news from home-and the news of what is
happening in the world- comes from the Office of Information for the Armed
Forces. Last year it sent to military units 8.5 million copies of 70
publications, 104,000 clip sheets for service newspapers, and 1.5 million
posters, but its largest effort was put into the Armed Forces Radio and
Television Service. AFRTS, as it is known, is the world's largest television
and radio network under single control. Its land-based facilities consist of
704 radio stations and 80 television stations, extending from Thailand
eastward around the world to Iran, and it has 56 radio stations and 11
television stations on Navy ships at sea. Troops in Vietnam are served by 6 AM
and 5 FM radio stations and 6 television stations. There are 68 radio stations
in Europe and I0 television stations, some in both categories of such high
power that they blanket their areas. One television station in Iran serves
fewer than 800 servicemen, but many Iranians, it is reported, have adapters on
their TV sets so that they can watch the latest fare from the American
television networks. The cost of operating this network, without including
associated military salaries, runs into the tens of millions of dollars
costs, however, are relatively small, since ABC, CBS, and NBC provide
videotapes of their entertainment programs free to AFRTS's Los Angeles office
for distribution world-wide. For its radio programming, both news and
entertainment, AFRTS draws on the three major networks, the Mutual
Broadcasting System, Metromedia, and the Sports Network, and for news has the
network output plus that of the Associated Press and United Press
enormous amount of programming available- 450,000 radio program transcriptions
and 60 million feet of TV film annually-it would seem that the serviceman
abroad would be very well served and very well informed. He is well served-by
entertainment, for entertainment makes up the bulk of the broadcasts. But the
news he gets first has to go through several military sieves before it reaches
the uniformed listener or viewer overseas, and the sievers are people
conditioned by the purposes of the Office of Information for the Armed Forces
Historically, there have been barriers in the United States against the
military establishment's acquiring political influence. These barriers have
been anchored in the country's non-military traditions, the principle of
civilian supremacy, and the fact that until World War II we never tried to
maintain a large permanent military force.
as a result of thirty years of hot and cold war, the military has become an
active participant in national policy processes. The influence of the Defense
Department and its component parts in making national policy is not limited to
Presidents, Secretaries oŁ State, and the military and foreign policy
committees of the Congress. This influence extends also to the "think tanks"
and universities to which Defense parcels out lucrative research grants, to
the corporations and labor unions which profit from Defense contracts, and (s
preceding pages of this book have tried to demonstrate to public opinion.
Although I cannot conceive of a single top-ranking officer in any of the armed
services who today would consider an attempt to overturn our constitutional
government ... militarism as a philosophy poses a distinct threat to our
democracy. At the minimum, it represents a dangerously constricted but highly
influential point of view when focused on our foreign relations. It is a
viewpoint that by its nature takes little account of political and moral
complexities, even less of social and economic factors, and almost no account
of human and psychological considerations.
Rarely does a
general officer invoke the higher loyalty of patriotism-his own concept of it,
that is-over loyalty to civilian political authority, as General MacArthur did
in his defiance of President Truman. But if, as time goes on, our country
continues to be chronically at war, continues to neglect its domestic
problems, and continues to have unrest in cities and on campuses, then
militarism will surely increase. And even if the military itself does not take
over the government directly, it could-because of increasing use in domestic
crises-come to acquire power comparable to that of the German General Staff in
the years before World ,War I. I hope this never comes to pass. It may not
seem likely now, but it is by no means so inconceivable that we need not warn
against it and act to prevent it.
I have often
warned those students who talk of the need to revise our system by revolution
that if such a revolution were to take place, the government that would emerge
for our country would not be the one they seek. It would rather be
authoritarian and controlled by the very forces who today promote military
solutions to foreign policy problems.
of professional military officer corps stems from a few thousand high-ranking
officers of unusual ability and energy that comes of single-mindedness. Marked
as men of talents by their rise to the highest ranks through the rigorous
competitiveness of the military services, they bring to bear a strength in
conviction and a near unanimity of outlook that gives them an influence, in
government councils and in Congress, on public policy disproportionate to
their numbers. Disciplined and loyal to their respective services, with added
prestige derived from heroic combat records, they operate with an efficiency
not often found among civilian officials.
The danger to
public policy arises from civilian authorities adopting the narrowness of
outlook of professional soldiers-an outlook restricted by training and
experience to the use of force. As we have developed into a society whose most
prominent business is violence, one of the leading professions inevitably is
soldiering. Since they are the professionals, and civilian bureaucrats refuse
to challenge them, the military have become ardent and effective competitors
for power in American society.
compete with each other for funds, for the control of weapons systems, and for
the privilege of being "first to fight." Constantly improving their techniques
for rapid deployment, they not only yearn to try them out but when
opportunities arise they press their proposals on civilian authorities. The
latter group all too often is tempted by the seemingly quick "surgical" course
of action proposed by the military in preference to the long and wearisome
methods of diplomacy. For a variety of reasons- from believing it the only
course of action to testing equipment and techniques of counterinsurgency, or
just to avoid the disgrace of being "left out"-all the military services were
enthusiastic about the initial involvement in Vietnam. By now they should have
had their fill, but they still push on, trying out new weapons and new
strategies-such as "destroying sanctuaries" in Cambodia.
The root cause
of militarism is war, and so long as we have the one we will be menaced by the
other. The best defense against militarism is peace; the next best thing is
the vigorous practice of democracy. The dissent against our government's
actions in Southeast Asia, the opposition to the ABM and MIRV, and the
increased willingness of many in the Congress to do something about the
hitherto sacrosanct military budget are all encouraging signs of democracy
being practiced. But there is much in American polity these days that is
There seems to
be a lack of concern among too many people about the state of the nation, and
a too easy acceptance of policies and actions of a kind that a generation ago
would have appalled the citizenry. The apparent broad acceptance of the
"volunteer army" idea comes to mind- a concept completely at variance with our
historic development. Up to now, a blessing of our system has been that those
who go into the military service, whether by enlistment or through the draft,
could hardly wait to get out. But today, because of the exigencies of the
times, there is a chance that we may turn our back on this fundamental
principle: a large, standing professional army has no place in this Republic.
promoting militarism as part of our society, the mindless violence of war has
eaten away at our moral values as well as our sensitivity. Reporters covering
the domestic aspects of the My Lai massacre story in the home area of
Lieutenant Robert Calley were surprised to find loud support for the
accused-not sympathy, which might be expected, but support. Among these people
there seemed to be no recognition of possible wrongdoing or criminal act in
the alleged massacre.
discouragements-and even the disturbing things such as the Cambodian adventure
and our activities in Thailand and Laos-one has to hope, with reason drawn
from our history, that the traditional workings of our system and the innate
common sense of Americans will prevail. The task certainly is not going to be
easy. We have been so stunned, almost desensitized-like Lieutenant Calley's
supporters-by what has gone on during the recent past that it is almost
possible to turn to total pessimism. History did not prepare the American
people for the imperial role in which we find ourselves, and we are paying a
moral price for it. From the time of the framing of our Constitution to the
two world wars, our experience and values-if not our uniform
practice-conditioned us not for the unilateral exercise of power but for the
placing of limits upon it. Perhaps it was vanity, but we supposed that we
could be an example for the world-an example of rationality and restraint.
has not lived up to that ideal but, from the earliest days of the Republic,
the ideal has retained its hold upon us, and every time we have acted
inconsistently with it-not just in Vietnam and Cambodia-a hue and cry of
opposition has arisen. When the United States invaded Mexico two former
Presidents and a future one-John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, and
Lincoln-denounced the war as violating American principles. Adams, the senior
of them, is even said to have expressed the hope that General Taylor's
officers would resign and his men desert. When the United States fought a war
with Spain and then suppressed the patriotic resistance of the Philippines,
the ranks of opposition numbered two former Presidents - Harrison and
Cleveland-Senators and Congressmen, including the Speaker of the House of
Representatives, and such distinguished-and differing-individuals as Andrew
Carnegie and Samuel Gompers.
between our old values and the new unilateral power we wield has greatly
troubled the American people. It has much to do, I suspect, with the current
student rebellion. Like a human body reacting against a transplanted organ,
our body politic is reacting against the alien values which, in the name of
security, have been grafted upon it. We cannot, and dare not, divest ourselves
of power, but we have a choice as to how we will use it. We can try to ride
out the current convulsion in our society and adapt ourselves to a new role as
the world's nuclear vigilante. Or we can try to adapt our power to our
traditional values, never allowing it to become more than a means toward
domestic societal ends, while seeking every opportunity to discipline it
within an international community.
It is not going
to help us to reach these ends to have a -president fearful that we are going
to be "humiliated," nor for him to turn to the military as a prime source of
advice on foreign affairs. In the case of Cambodia the President accepted
military advice during the decision-making process, apparently in preference
to that of the Department of State, thereby turning to an initial military
solution rather than a diplomatic or political one. Of course the Senate was
not consulted. Once the treaty power of the Senate was regarded as the only
constitutional means of making a significant foreign commitment, while
executive agreements in foreign affairs were confined to matters of routine.
Today the treaty has been reduced to only one of a number of methods of
entering binding foreign engagements. In current usage the term "commitment"
is used less often to refer to obligations deriving from treaties than to
those deriving from executive agreements and even simple, sometimes casual
The Department of State is not alone among the agencies of government awed as
well as outmanned, outmaneuvered, or simply elbowed aside by executive
military decision-making. The Defense Department has established a massive
bureaucracy, like that at the Department of Commerce, the Atomic Energy
Commission, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and all the rest
who protect their positions and interests within the mechanism of governmental
power and appropriations.
When war was
abhorrent to the American people, the military was considered only as a tool
to be used if needed. Today, with our chronic state of war, and with peace
becoming the unusual, the military has created for itself an image as a
comforting thing to have around. In reality, however, it has become a monster
bureaucracy that can grind beneath its wheels the other bureaucracies,
whatever their prescribed roles in the process of government and their
One of the arms
of the Defense Department monster bureaucracy is the military public relations
apparatus that today is selling the Administration's Southeast Asia policy,
just as it sold the Vietnam policy of the previous Administration, with
increasing emphasis on patriotic militarism and activity directed against its
critics. The enthusiasm and dedication of the purveyors of the hard military
line are such that their present course could easily be changed so as to
direct attention to the removal of those in the Congress who question actions
of the executive branch and the growth of military influence.
The real solution to militarism, of course, requires a central attack on the
previously uncontrolled size of the military establishment. The growth of the
military attitude began in perilous times when an implacable Stalin and .
world communism were a major threat to the noncommunist world recovering from
a devastating war. But the growth of real Pentagon political power did not
begin until we became increasingly involved in Vietnam seven years ago.
... there is danger to our democracy from the dehumanizing kind of war we are
fighting [in Vietnam] that produces among the military an insensitivity to
life hard for the civilian to comprehend. We have fought many wars before, but
none since our Revolution has lasted as long as the present one. Officers and
noncoms go back to Southeast Asia for second and third tours of duty, to
engage in second and third rounds of killing. Such long immersion in violence
of the kind peculiar to this war cannot but brutalize many of those who go
through it. Harper's magazine in its May I970 issue ran an excerpt from
Seymour M. Hersh's book on the My Lai massacre.
"One brigade commander ran a contest to celebrate his unit's 10,000th enemy
kill. The winning GI received a week's pass to stay in the colonel's personal
quarters. Many battalions staged contests among their rifle companies for the
highest score in enemy kills, with the winning unit getting additional time
for passes." I recall nothing during World War II that equals in callousness a
statement that Hersh attributes to the colonel-son of a famous general: "I do
like to see the arms and legs fly." Horrifying words, but no more so than the
euphemisms "body count," "free-fire zone," and others the military use to
camouflage their deadly business.