My research focuses on the relationship between the government and the media during wartime, and how this relationship affects the public’s perception of the war and foreign policy. I will cover how the government influences what the media covers, as well as how the media influences policy in return. Even thought both sides do not always get along, I also hope to show how the government and the press work together in order to create a specific image for the public, and how they are able to influence public perception through their compromises. Here is my mind map:
My research will be focused on how the Cold War era shaped modern era war culture and militarization. Present day war culture is potentially harming to our society, and the way conflicts are being handled are not indicating that we are on a path to success.
Many different sources point to the Cold War and the ideals of the time period as the main model for the way military conflicts are handled in the present day. War culture nowadays is considered fragmented, with small battles being fought as opposed to the entire country feeling like it was at war. The total war mindset of both WWII and the Cold War have driven the American government and people away from this idea. War in the present day is considered to be far away, removed from the everyday life of Americans. Yet with this idea, the style of modern war is much more of an everyday violence, which the American people have become accustomed to through media and rhetoric of politicians in the news. Patrick Deer elaborates on these ideas in his essay Mapping Contemporary American War Culture. Patrick Morgan discusses the impact deterrence had on the Cold War and the effect it now has on war culture in his book, Deterrence Now. He brings up the idea that the great powers of the world now have no reason to be threatening to one another because they are all on tracks to having similar governments, and the world market economy has been developing more and more. This has deviated from the previous track of nations having opposite ideals and working against one another, as seen in the Cold War. In Tom Engelhardt’s book The End of Victory Culture, he discusses the way victory culture came back onto the scene after a period of absence. In my RBA, I’m aiming to examine the hidden forces behind the violence we see on a daily basis in America today, and the ways in which the Cold War has driven these forces.
The creators of Star Trek had intentions of making episodes that critiqued American foreign policy, and Nicholas Evan Sarnatakes highlights the various ways in which they do so in his article. A 1968 episode titled “Patterns of Force” points out the consequences of an interventionist strategy and points out that a democratic way of conducting foreign policy is correct. “Patterns of Force” begins with the Starship Enterprise embarking on a journey to a foreign planet to look for a lost researcher. Upon arrival at the planet Ekos, Captain John Kirk and Spock see that a regime identical to that of Nazi Germany has taken over the planet, being led by none other than John Gill, the lost researcher whom Kirk and Spock went to Ekos to look for. After learning that Gill has been drugged by his second in command and is not acting under his own initiative, Kirk and Spock send the ship’s doctor to inject Gill with a medication that allows him to explain what is going on. Kirk and Spock are then able to call off an attack that was poised for a neighboring planet. Sarnatakes explains that there are two comments about American foreign policy in this episode. The first is that “intervention-no matter how well intentioned-is a mistake” (85). He makes tis argument because no matter how good the intentions might be or how peacefully the intervention is staged, there will be “repercussions for which Americans will be responsible” (85). Another message that is relayed in “Patterns of Force” is that democracy is the supreme form of government. The Nazi form of government employed on Ekos was unsuccessful, and the argument is made that one person with sole power over a nation can’t help but abuse it. In this way, democracy asserts itself as the correct form of government over all others.
The platform of science fiction is an exceptionally effective one in getting controversial points across. In Star Trek’s case, the direct criticism of the US government would not be accepted on television. The show allows the true meaning of the episodes to be shrouded by elements of fantasy and action. John Lucas, a producer on the show, explains why they use the science fiction platform when he says, “You’re protected by the argument that ‘Hey, we’re not talking about the problems of today, we’re dealing with a mythical time and place in the future.'” (79). The audience is sable to decipher the true meaning of each episode while the show isn’t being criticized for any type of treason. Along with this, people enjoy the fantastical experience that comes with watching a Star Trek episode as well.
Matthew Farish argues that the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings created an uneasy atmosphere around nuclear attacks. This feeling translated into the Cold War and lasted throughout it as well. The main concern surrounded cities, and the potential danger that came with them. Farish argues that because we saw what happened in two major cities in Japan, it forced us to worry about what could potentially happen in our cities. Farish says that, “While individually intriguing, these dramatizations and others like them are, more importantly, all productions that mobilized a similar ‘imagination of disaster.'” This quote sums up why Americans were feeling this fear, and that it was actually their imaginations allowing them to feel this way. Pieces in the media force this fear to come forward in the American people, and they have a large impact on the feeling society has a whole.
Aside from the fear of disaster after WWII, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 created the same attitude. As in the first example, the media is the cause for this “imagination of disaster” like Farish mentions. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, interviews, images, videos, and clips of the planes crashing into the buildings were everywhere. Immediately the effect of the attacks and their prevalence in the media was visible, both in the government and in American culture. The Patriot Act is only one example of a measure taken by the government to amp up security, because the fear of another terrorist attack was extreme at this time. The public was sensitive to the idea of any other terrorist happenings as well, and the topic has been touchy even now since that day. The reason for this is the media and the sheer amount of attention on the attacks after they happened. Judgments of fellow Americans increased, as did the general paranoia of something similar to 9/11 happening to our nation again.
These two time periods experienced similar trauma-filled events, and both populations at their respective times were under false impressions brought out by the media and policies generated by the government as well.
In the reading on Lugo’s first chapter, a few things took me by surprise. The main thing was the connection that was pointed out between the War on Terror and same-sex marriage. After 9/11, the general eye of the public became more scrutinizing and judgmental. But what struck me was why homosexuals and the concept of same-sex marriage would be bundled into this new lens of the American people. Lugo points out that, “lesbians and gay men became a brand of ‘domestic terrorists,'” and same-sex marriage “became a site in which danger and uncontainability merged into one.”
Any time a major culture shock like 9/11 happens, the mindsets of people will obviously change. Even though this is true, what Lugo described in Chapter 1 made the American public seem conventional and ignorant in a way reminiscent of how homosexuals weere treated during the Cold War. It showed that no progress had been made, and the closed attitude of the American people would come flooding back as soon as it had a good opportunity.
After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, there was an array of emotions and feelings running across the country, many of them fueled by the persuasive words of President Bush and his administration. There was an immediate urge to fight terrorism in all shapes and sizes, including prevention and extra care within our borders. The Patriot Act was passed on October 26th, 2001, only 35 days after the attack on the World trade Center. This act increased the level of suspicion towards fellow Americans, especially those of Middle Eastern descent.
This level of suspicion is reminiscent of the Cold War era, where homosexuals were heavily scrutinized and treated with disrespect. Homosexuality was seen as a threat, and that once it infiltrated the government or any other organization it would spread throughout the entire thing. Regarding post-9/11, allegations ran rampant, especially toward those who were of Middle Eastern descent. Fingers were pointed at completely innocent people, only because they had a similar appearance to the hijackers of the 9/11 flights.
This general fear and misinformed judgment led to ignorance among the American people both during the Cold War and post 9/11. It was driven by propaganda (such as the poster linked here) and the persuasive words of the media of both eras. Without the media constantly covering topics related to 9/11 and making out fellow American neighbors to be the bad guys, the public would not have had this amped up suspicion. As seen in the photo above, the general consensus of many citizens was that the Patriot Act was a violation of privacy and did not believe in the ideals it supported.
The way the public was influenced by the media and public figures during both the Cold War and the period post 9/11 shows the similarities between both eras. This time, Cold War is used by the media not as a Cold War spy movie, but as a tool to convince the American people what is right and wrong.