Riveting debut film on controlling the public mind

Psywar is a sterling debut documentary from writer-director Scott Noble. It is chock full of interviews with thinkers, historical background, and excellent narration by Mikela Jay.

Psywar explores the evolution of propaganda and public relations in the United States, with an emphasis on the “elitist theory of democracy” and the relationship between war, propaganda, and class.

This film is designed both as an introduction to the concept of psychological warfare by governments against their citizens and as an exploration of certain dominant themes in American propaganda. Significant time is also devoted to different conceptions of “democracy” as theorized by figures like Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays, and the “founding fathers” of the United States itself.

Psywar illuminates how the state of the world reached the point it is at today: where an imperialist United States wages several wars abroad and maintains the support of its people, despite a growing and yawning chasm between the haves (who profit from warring) and the have-nots (cannon fodder deluded by unquestioning patriotic idealism). The US has managed to drag its fellow capitalist nations along in more-or-less support of its imperialist aggressions.

People who analyze the state of the world and consider the manifest moral and humanitarian violations might be forgiven for shaking their heads that such a whopping segment of humanity could go along with such inequality, such carnage, such insouciance.

Psywar begins by looking at how people’s distorted perceptions are crafted and maintained

In the opening segment of Psywar, there is video footage of American soldiers defacing a statue of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein with the Old Glory. It was a staged event by psyop group. The film then segues into another infamous pysop about the fallen American soldier Jessica Lynch. Both events were disinformation campaigns that deliberately misreported events.

John Rendon, an “information warrior and perception manager,” is a major player in the $200 billion a year perception-management industry. Rendon is the figure who orchestrated the effort to sell the American public on a war against Iraq. The American public was buying it early on. At best, it can be stated the government thought highly enough about the public acumen that it resorted to disinformation; at least public perception matters.

The corporate media is heavily complicit in the warmongering and warring, even to the extent that psywarriors at CNN “helped in the production of news.”

Psywar points to a synergy: “The invasion of Iraq represents a pinnacle of domestic psywar in the United States, an unparalleled integration between [sic] public relations firms, corporate media, and military psyops.”

The perception management was so powerful that even soldiers were so deceived that they engaged in the greatest crime as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal at the end of World War II: aggression.

Perception management is “steeped in class warfare.” Psywar tells the story of the exploitation of workers by the wealthy Rockefeller family. Striking coal miners seeking better working conditions and pay were attacked by the National Guard who were in the pay of the Rockefeller family. It is known as the Ludlow Massacre.

In one of his last videotaped interviews, historian Howard Zinn explains the dilemma of the working poor against plutocrats such as the Rockefeller family.

The Ludlow Massacre was a PR nightmare for the Rockefellers. An early psywarrior, Ivy Lee was instrumental in attempting to rehabilitate the image of the Rockefellers. His public relations involved smears and disinformation against the coal miners and their supporters. As Psywar mentions later in the film, Lee would later propagandize for Nazis against Americans.

Early on, it became clear that public perception needed to operate behind the scenes. Staged PR was arranged, such as charity.

Richard Coniff, author of A Natural History of the Rich, challenges the philanthropy of rich – stating that the rich hold a “functional view of wealth rather than a strictly charitable view.”

Zinn agreed, noting that charity can be exploitative and that the American system is exploitative. Zinn said that the “system is maintained […] by giving people a little bit, and giving enough people just enough to prevent them from breaking out in open rebellion”

In the second part of the documentary, Noble looked at propagating the faith. It begins with Graeme MacQueen, co-founder of the Center for Peace Studies. He also holds that the support of the people is necessary for war. However, he said “war is disgusting to most people”; therefore great psychological pressure is brought to bear upon soldiers.
National Security is there to swindle people

Christopher Simpson, author of The Science of Coercion, says propaganda is about mindset and ideology.

Recognizing this, Psywar relates how president Woodrow Wilson helped cast the propagandistic George Creel Commission which would pave the way for the US to enter World War I by planting false atrocity stories, stoking fear in Americans and calling on them to fight the good fight for democracy.

The propagandist firm of Hill and Knowlton arranged an infamous staged op as a prelude to an assault against Iraq. A teenage girl, Nasriyah, cried crocodile tears and lied about babies being ripped from incubators by Iraqi soldiers. The false story moved American sentiment to back military action against Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait.

Patriotism is the sentiment widely relied upon by governments to attain their ends against foreign foes. Historian Michael Parenti appears to challenge typical notions of patriotism. He identifies patriotism as being about greater values than attacking foreign lands; he sees it as about social justice, peace and stability, an end to racism, etc.

Another problem identified as preventing a public solidarity was that unions were based on gender and ethnicity.

Historian Sharon Smith said a breakthrough came with the anarcho-syndicalist union the Industrial Workers of the World (better known as the Wobblies) which set out to organize and include women, immigrants, and African Americans in one big union.

Anarcho-syndicalist scholar Noam Chomsky holds that it is natural for humans to free associate.

The unity among humans is thwarted by a state which uses war to accumulate power and by corporations to gain enormous fortunes. The Left worldwide labor movement is in disarray

In part 3, We the People, Psywar elucidates on how people are pawns in a system set up in favor of the wealthy.

The existence of democracy is refuted. Chomsky calls elections “a marketing exercise.”

Says William I. Robinson, editor of Critical Globalization Studies, we live in polyarchy: “a system of elite rule.” That is the way the system was designed to be.

Historian John Manley states that the so-called founding fathers were slave owners who sought to protect propertied interests. To this end, the Constitution was crafted behind closed doors. Chomsky notes that James Madison, the major framer of the Constitution, designed it to protect the opulent from the majority.

Littler known is that the US Constitution is based on the Kaianerekowa (Great Law of Peace) of the Haudenosaunee (called Iroquois in Psywar). Stephen M. Sachs, author of Remembering the Circle, lists how the Kaianerekowa allowed the Haudenosaunee to easily remove corrupt leaders, that women had a major role in decision-making, that everyone was involved in policy formation, thus creating a participatory society.

One weak link stood out in Psywar. Why did the film turn to a white man to tell the history of “native Americans”? Why not talk to one of the Haudenosaunee?

The final part of Psywar is Consumers. People are indoctrinated to see themselves as consumers. Advertising reminds people of this. The system would have people work to consume. To this end, the emphasis is on work, not leisure. It is feared that less hours of work might foment radicalism.

Sut Jhally of the Media Education Foundation attacked consumptive society: “The problem of capitalism is the problem of consumption. And the problem is that after your needs have been met, there is no real need for consumption.”

The system is reeling now. Neoliberalism calls for cutbacks and results in increasing inequality. Parenti said we are back to about 1900 in terms of inequality. “People are poor because they are paid less than the value that they produce. You need poverty. Poverty is needed if you are gonna have wealth.”

Psywar argues that it is the monopoly media’s relentless propaganda that holds up capitalism. Democracy and capitalism are argued to be mutually exclusive. If capitalism is sacrosanct, then you can not have democracy.

“Behind political democracy was economic equality.”

Psywar tells the story of how and why the world is the way it is now. It tells of the system, why it was concocted and why it is kept in place.

Knowledge is requisite to combat propaganda and disinformation. It is necessary to overcome the system and to erect a people-centered system that respects the needs and aspirations of the society as a whole. Psywar makes clear that public opinion is important. If it were not important, then there would be no need for perception management. It is the incessant propaganda and disinformation that creates a perception of reality. Noble reveals the framework that exploits class, race, gender, and resources to benefit the already wealthy at the expense of the masses.

Psywar is a documentary that augurs well for future filmmaking by Noble who made the film for $1500 while working a blue collar job. It is a good example of the democratization of filmmaking occurring via the internet.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

9 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on January 31st, 2011 at 10:07am #

    “Says William I. Robinson, editor of Critical Globalization Studies, we live in polyarchy: “a system of elite rule.” That is the way the system was designed to be.”

    and since our only civilization ever had, had been destroyed by priestly class of people.
    the first known rule had been a priestly one. american ‘tribes’ never had such a rule until just 3c again.
    why all the above observers don’t espy this? do they think that rockefellers had not risen as long ago as 6k+ yrs.
    all of these observers smhow manage not to espy the people who created ancient and modern rockefellers. tnx

  2. E.R. Bills said on January 31st, 2011 at 10:31am #

    Hey Kim–

    Have seen a little Canadian movie called Pontypool?
    It’s about a virus that turns folks into monsters that kill the uninfected–and virus is spread through the english language, particularly hate-speech. I think you’d dig it.

  3. Deadbeat said on January 31st, 2011 at 2:36pm #

    I would be more excited about seeing this movie if it was an expose on the pseudo-Left. Since Zinn & Chomsky are featured, I’ll pass.

  4. Mad Miles said on January 31st, 2011 at 8:15pm #

    The Industrial Workers of the World still exists. I’m a member.

  5. Don Hawkins said on February 1st, 2011 at 4:19am #

    Psywar sounds interesting and we have all heard of scrambled egg’s well how about scrambled brains. Let’s see the old balance of power and sure look’s like anything but balanced oil is now over $100 a barrel and here in the States the talk is health care. The storm we are now seeing in the States is it because of climate change it sure is and more much more on the way the clash of the air masses along with a few minor weather pattern changes so the answer is talk about health care again on a scale between one and ten this thinking is .05 and that could be pushing it. I see someone in the MSM called an elected official a balloon head. Well with the elections coming down the track we get to see more balloon heads am sure. All done of course while a few pursue their institutional role: maximizing short-term profit and putting aside externalities that means an end to life on Earth as we know it as a start. As we see in Egypt a tyrant doesn’t go quietly even with a million people saying dude you got to go I hear England is nice this time of year. Here in the States how many are standing up to the point oh fiver’s and if you see something say something the whole damn thing is 100% looney tunes if the truth be known and it’s not.

  6. Don Hawkins said on February 1st, 2011 at 4:58am #

    Go to NSIDC and take a look at the ice in the Arctic the ice that should be forming this winter. It’s not forming a little new ice that melt’s rather quickly in the summer with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So what happens well the same process happens again and the winter there going to need more snow melter’s in a few cities alright for a few more years until the Earth find’s a balance and this is where the end of life on Earth as we know it as a start happens. Do we hear about any of this on MSM will no as it’s not good for maximizing short-term profit and putting aside externalities so the big plan I guess is Psywar and or scrambled brains from balloon head’s. At least a few of us can get the truth out with blog’s, you tube, face book, I-phones. Can you walk like an Egyptian?

  7. Don Hawkins said on February 1st, 2011 at 5:35am #

    We hear stop the spending and if the truth be known and it’s not the debt will never be paid back and do a few of the few know this of course. So what’s the big plan so far I guess a few castle’s in a sea of slums that look’s real good on paper. Can hardly wait to hear the Psywar from the balloon heads the next year or so will be different to say the least maybe we will hear bye bye folk’s we don’t know how it work’s go shopping. A new way of think if we wish to survive. The system known as Capitalism and or crony Capitalism and that’s being nice will destroy most life on Earth pretty much a nobrainer with known knowledge and do the balloon heads know this some do. The American people have spoken vote for me and that balloon behind me is just a prop pay no attention to that and behind curtain number one is a new car electric and coal is where we get more than 50% of our energy, Balloon Head’s.

  8. Don Hawkins said on February 1st, 2011 at 6:02am #

    Like to at this time give special thank’s to Chris Matthews who used Balloon heads on old MSNBC who are in the search for something that was a good one and yes you did use imagination so please don’t stop there if we wish to survive the we being all life on Earth.

  9. siamdave said on February 2nd, 2011 at 3:32am #

    For Canadian readers, the way it has unfolded in Canada here – They’re Building a Box – and You’re In It – . The indoctrination is very, very deep – the rulers have been perfecting thier methods for the best part of 100 years, and there’s not many flaws.