canown.jpgThose who know me well know that I'm unsettlingly enthralled by old American war propaganda. I don't know what happened to my "Loose Lips Sink Ships" t-shirt, but I do know I miss it. Not only do I find it visually appealing and quaint but it quickly communicates an awful lot about how much we've changed as a nation.

While it's dangerous to read too much into mass cultural phenomena, feel free to browse around an excellent archive like Northwestern's online library of WWII posters and try to imagine a contemporary equivalent. I am certainly no less than the 10,000th person to mention this, but is it possible to overstate the extent to which the concept of "sacrifice" has been completely eliminated from the neocon war mentality? Honest to God, sit back and try to picture a commercial in which the government asks Hannity's listeners to drive less. Or eat less. Or work 16 hours per day. It's incomprehensible from two perspectives: we can conceive of neither a government that would do it nor a population that would accept it.

The idea that the white middle class will not be asked to make the slightest sacrifice is the foundation of selling neocon war to the public. They don't need to sacrifice life or limb (we have plenty of poor people, black people, and poor black people for that) and they certainly don't need to make any lifestyle changes. In fact, we encourage them to keep buying new Chevy Tahoes; consumer debt-fueled purchasing makes the piper play! So far from asking the public to make sacrifices, we take great pains to emphasize that they can keep living the most wasteful and inefficient lifestyle in recorded history. Eat crap, live 2 hours away from work without public transit, drive land barges, buy disposable everything….remember, you're an AMERICAN. Profligate consumption is your birthright.

rationing.bmpAfter all, it's not like this war is costing us $275 million per day. So how has Our Leader managed to avoid even the slightest hint of asking his loyal drones to make sacrifices for this phenomenally expensive joyride? Why, the same way people like him "rationalize" their way out of everything: the Market will pay for it. See, we'll just spend far, far into the red today and in the future our economy will be such an unstoppable force that it will pay for the war many times over (as long as we don't chicken out and let those tax cuts expire! And let's make sure we stay on Congress about that AMT!) This lame cop-out is to political debate what "It was all just a dream!" is to fiction writing. It is the laziest, most baseless statement of magical faith short of "Jesus will save us." The past seven years have seen an explosion of this type of "logic." The stock market is going to save Social Security. Tax cuts will give everyone healthcare. Casinos will fund our schools. Outsourcing will create job growth. Name any dilemma and rest well assured that some Market Fantasy – erectile dysfunction aids for Libertarians, in essence – will fix it. I don't suppose it would make the slightest sense to expect a war to be treated any differently. Just sit back and amuse yourself with the image of how your favorite member of the I Love the War, As You Can Tell By the Number of Yellow Ribbons On My Explorer crowd would react if Our Leader told them they had to start rationing meat and carpooling.

Feel free to amuse me with your best guesses. I'm thinking it would look something like a hybrid of a John Birch Society meeting and that scene in Scanners where the dude's head explodes.

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  1. Chris Says:

    Here's my poster: Being a Chicken Hawk and winning the Iraq War from your Lazy-Boy is the exact same as being a poor sap from rural Indiana actually BEING in Iraq and being filled full of holes like swiss cheese. So, listen to Rush Limbaugh, thump your chest, and go spend some money at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonald's with a great big grin on your face! And, remember folks: the invisible hand of the free market is ACTUALLY God's hand and will fund the war because God likes pasty, white, obese, old capitalist Americans!

    My poster would have a fat, bald guy in a suit jerking off to the O'Reilly Factor in his living room while Jesus holds a Wal-Mart bag in one hand and a McDonald's bag in the other with an approving grin. God would also be in the background, winking, while he adds the 11th Commandment: America shall win the Iraq War through my invisible economic hands, no matter how unrealistic and insane it seems, no matter how many hundreds of thousands of civilians or American soldiers die, no matter how many rationalizations Neocons invent. Then, off to the side somewhere, a poor logical man will be blowing his brains out because he just can't take it anymore or wait until the 2008 election.

    This would be a big poster, indeed.

  2. LT Nixon Says:

    Haha, saw this post over at Crooks N' Liars and you've definitely made me chuckle. Good use of the Scanners reference, I haven't seen that movie in years. However, I don't think that apathy in America is solely a "white middle-class" problem, I think it's largely an American cultural problem crossing all economic backgrounds. Sure there's been a few dudes that have struck it rich because of the war in Iraq, but most people don't even know what the hell is going on in Iraq or the rest of the world. Despite the fact that the internet has made information readily available, most people choose to be uninformed. Until that problem gets fixed, people are going to keep on electing dimwitted leaders who think when you ride alone you ride with Jesus.

  3. Charles Says:

    I linked here from C&L, but I'll have to visit more often. You're dead on correct. Plus, I love old propaganda posters myself. I didn't spot my fav at that archive, of scraps forming a face of Hitler.

    Have a good day!

  4. The Idiot Says:

    Can't agree more.

    You can find some interesting stuff in those old WWII posters. I posted a little something about that myself (shameless self promotion):


  5. zencomix Says:

    "Gin drinkers are a breed apart!" Frank Zappa

    Bill Maher had a book from 2002 with interesting takes on the War Propaganda Posters.

  6. zencomix Says:

    "Gin drinkers are a breed apart!" Frank Zappa


  7. Batocchio Says:

    Ed, I imagine you've seen the great Propaganda Remix Project?

  8. Ed Says:

    Yes, I think it's brilliant. I've been tempted to print out a few of those and randomly post them around town…

  9. Batocchio Says:

    Okay, comment wackiness.

    Ed. I tried to write before that you've probably seen the Propaganda Remix Project:


  10. Edwin Says:

    I too linked in here from C&L, and love your article. I'm mailing it to my friends. How I have longed to see this, and these comments, in print. This has been readily apparent for some time, but it's like a "Twilight Zone" episode and everyone just goes on about their business, as usual, as if nothing is happening. F*cking freaky stuff man.

    Not to mention, it was very amusing (and, dare I say, FUNNY), as is Chris's (at #1) giant poster.

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