Endless War State propaganda psy-op stokes decades-long nuclear angst
Could it really be that long ago, a time when "Duck and Cover" drills were welcome distractions from arithmetic, and active shooter exercises were inconceivable? When learning that tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed, thanks to Nikita Khrushchev’s threat to bury us all. American pop culture was rife with Cold War propaganda and mass media rode the crest atomic war hysteria. The USA/USSR ICBM Missile Gap mythology and concurrent doom dramas on television and the big screen during the Eisenhower years stoked a fear-based Pentagon narrative and served as early progenitors for today’s unconstrained race to oblivion.
Wait. It was that long ago. You know, way back when it was easy to sort the geopolitical good guys from the bad guys. When evening news reports of the latest Soviet and US above-ground A-bomb testing were humdrum; radioactive milk and dead livestock from fallout were a small price to pay for freedom and President Kennedy was advising American families to build backyard bomb shelters - never a good sign. And a guy somewhere with his finger on a nuclear trigger was just as much a part of our everyday routine, our fear-based reality, as the Wonderful World of Disney and American Bandstand.
While Kennedy’s idealistic Camelot agenda might have been a wisp of glory, it was cresting in DC and most Americans were convinced the dashing JFK would always foil the rapacious, godless Soviets. On Monday, October 22, no one was sure when in a televised speech a somber Kennedy announced that US spy planes had discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba. These missile sites—under construction but nearing completion—housed medium-range missiles capable of striking a number of major cities in the United States. Somehow even my Northern California hometown seemed way too close to the first salvo for comfort.
Stunned, I watched on the living room Silvertone black and white as President Kennedy delivered his sober address to his “fellow citizens,” glued to every potent phrase. I had never seen him like that. While not saying we were screwed, exactly, Kennedy made it clear to anyone watching or listening how he would deal with this “clear and present danger.” The United States would not tolerate the existence of offensive weapons minutes from our border. He also made it clear that America would not stop short of military action.
“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”
It was the “ashes in our mouth” part that caught my attention, indelible to this day.
Now, Air Force brats knew why their dads spent weeks away from their families on alert status. A coping mechanism of my father’s helped with such separations. Like most Strategic Air Command aviators, my father had to compartmentalize worst case scenarios - in this case, the nuclear annihilation plot lines of my worst nightmare - in the Fail Safe recesses of his day job box. My father also had a compartment for his Jimmy Stewart reality, his adoring family the military had trained him to kill, along with the rest of humanity. And that week I knew where we ranked with SAC.
After days of atomic diplomacy, in spite of the gnashing of the teeth of hardliners on both sides, saner minds prevailed. The Joint Chiefs argued for invading Cuba, an action that could have led to a nuclear exchange. An exhausted Khrushchev sent Kennedy an emotional entreaty on October 26, in the middle of the night Moscow time,
“If there is no intention,” he said, “to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.”
Both leaders could have continued tugging at the ropes of war,” but chose to let each other, and humanity, live another day. The Kennedy brothers won over ExComm with their blockade strategy and a peace overture. After civilization had been pushed to the brink, a geopolitical semblance of normalcy was restored, along with a smug sense of superiority endemic to our fledging Hegemon.
“These brass hats have one great advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.” James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
In a time-quake worthy of Kurt Vonnegut imagery, Americans’ virtual realities were freed for several decades from the collective consciousness of nuclear annihilation, even as US legions globe-trotted from intervention to intervention. Today, owing to the psychological manipulations and censorship campaigns of the post-911 National Security State, push-back to insidious information regulation is almost nonexistent. Facts no longer matter, and nuanced discussions on U.S. war-making are blocked. We live in the dangerous world of McCarthyism 2.0, fueled by a partisanship that has gripped the country since the 1960s, now exacerbated by both conservative and progressive ideologies on the threshold of WWIII in Eastern Europe. Straying from the messaging of government narrative manipulators and their corporate mainstream media stenographers, in a time of war, can get an antiwar dissident or independent journalist canceled, or labeled a conspiracy nut. Or worse.
To curb dissent, the National Security State would not stop short of ruining careers of independent antiwar journalists and truth-tellers. This past week PayPal launched a censorship campaign against independent and left-wing publishers Consortium News and MintPress News who have been critical of the official narrative of the U.S./NATO war against Russia in Ukraine by permanently shutting down their funding accounts. This followed the shutdown of RT America, as well as the YouTube removal and demonetization of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, Lee Camp and Jimmy Dore and others. And the progressive left, even alternative media, has been disproportionately silent. So far, crickets.
Fortunately, many independent journalists and activist authors remain prolific as ever after moving to open-sourced, alternative options, as well as uncensored newsletter and video platforms. The golden age of YouTube and Facebook might be ebbing. Dore and antiwar voice Tulsi Gabbard have already made the move to Rumble; with Chris Hedges, and antiwar, anti-corporate journalists like Aaron Maté and Matt Taibbi migrating to Substack.
The total transformation of the Kennedy liberal of my adolescence to the pre-pandemic Phil Ochs lampoon version - ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right if it affects them personally - was nearly imperceptible. Today’s liberals, or whatever we should call them now, invariably bad-mouth the government no matter the Republican in charge, but dismiss broken campaign promises coming from the other side of the aisle. To further muddy the water, these woke partisans turn patriotic, en masse, supporting each troop surge and proxy war of Democratic White House occupants, addled or not. These pro-war, Body Snatcher “fauxgressives,” upshots of continuous exposure to a social and main stream pro-war psy-op on steroids, might have astonished even Ochs.
Oddly - woke or not - while Donbass smolders, Americans now seem to be compartmentalizing, like SAC pilots, their own extinction...almost never giving it a second thought. And when it comes to proxy wars between nuclear powers, facts no longer matter, with information and disinformation suppressed or disseminated by Big Tech. If that wasn’t enough, subsets of partisan, illiberal internet moderators take it from there, parroting Pentagon talking points and shadow banning platforms and content, framing the narrative or the next NATO/US false flag in Ukraine. A far cry from the bitter truths of Morley Safer and Walter Cronkite more than a half century ago.
After JFK delivered his Strategy for Peace speech at American University’s 1963 commencement, we should have been hopeful. I was.
"What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children--not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women--not merely peace in our time but peace for all time."
That day Kennedy laid out his vision of how the United States could live in peace with the Soviet Union, and, according to JFK speechwriter and counselor Theodore Sorensen “reinvigorate the foundering eight-year effort to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty.” In less than six months he was assassinated. A year after that Khrushchev, subsequent to embracing Kennedy’s peace agenda, was removed from office. Sergei Khrushchev opined,“If history had allowed them another six years, they would have brought the Cold War to a close before the end of the 1960s, . . . But fate decreed otherwise, and the window of opportunity, barely cracked open, closed at once.”
It remains closed and barred to this day as Americans succumb to propaganda, devouring fear-based narratives of perceived or fabricated threats to U.S. Hegemony, and compartmentalize the myth of nuclear deterrence with each new proxy war and inevitable retaliation.
David P. Barash wrote recently,
“Deterrence theory maintains, in short, that each side will scare the pants off the other with the prospect of the most hideous, unimaginable consequences, and will then conduct itself with the utmost deliberate and precise rationality. Virtually everything known about human psychology suggests that this is absurd.”
Moreover, a Pandora’s Box of war is buckling today in Eastern Europe, with every escalation or lurking false flag.
Unlike 1962, I can almost taste the ashes.