Disappointment in the aftermath of the election and reelection of President Barack Obama has translated into apathy for many youth, who face a lower standard of living than previous generations. Many feel powerless and disinterested in world events, and that they have no ability to affect them.
Though it is not obvious, the global strategists in the Pentagon are in fact deeply worried about what the next generation is thinking.
US media articles, including statements from the likes of Hillary Clinton about “information warfare,” as well as the writings of White House adviser Cass Sunstein, all show how deeply concerned the rich and powerful are about the views of the average person. Keeping these views within the realm of what they consider “acceptable” is of vital importance to maintaining the present global order.
Recent discussion of the 1980s “Afghan War” in the US media reveals how important control of public information and public memory is for those who lead US society.
A Forced Revolution
In 1978, a popular democratic revolution was essentially forced on the population of Afghanistan. The US-backed president, a member of the Afghan royal family named Mohammed Daoud Khan, had begun rounding up members of the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for execution on the advice of the CIA. Members of this very large anti-monarchist party, with deep roots in the military and the urban areas, revolted. To avoid being killed, PDP members were forced to take power in events known as the Saur Revolution.
After the revolution, the PDP made clear that it could not build socialism in Afghanistan, despite the fact that most of its members were avowed socialists. In the majority view within the PDP, Afghanistan was far too impoverished to build socialism, a system based on public ownership of industry. In addition, much of the population, especially those in the rural areas, had never been won over to Marxism-Leninism, socialism, democracy, or even secularism.
Almost immediately after prematurely seizing power, the PDP found itself in a civil war. Foreign fighters supported by the United States poured into the country, with the intention of overthrowing the PDP and establishing a US-aligned Islamic state in Afghanistan. Using religion as a wedge, they began to actively recruit among the rural population. The middle class and academic background of most PDP cadre was a weakness that could be easily exploited, and the insensitivity toward religion of certain factions of the PDP made this even easier.
Washington Foments “Holy War”
Many of the foreign fighters sent in by the CIA were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or other US-aligned Gulf States. One of the key leaders of the US-backed war against Afghanistan’s democratic revolution was a wealthy anti-communist Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Ronald Reagan famously greeted a delegation from bin Laden’s army of anti-Soviet mujahideen (“holy warriors”) at the White House.
At the request of the Afghan government, the Soviet Union sent its soldiers into the country. USSR leaders hoped to defeat the foreign fighters who were rapidly instigating civil war on behalf of the United States. The Red Army did its best to win over the population by helping to plant crops, funding reforestation efforts and backing literacy campaigns. The civil war dragged on until the 1990s. The PDP held on to power for a few years even after the Soviet Union collapsed, but was ultimately defeated by US-backed Islamic extremists.
The Soviet Union had intervened not simply out of an internationalist desire to aid the Afghan revolutionaries but for strategic reasons.
Afghanistan is a key location within central Asia. It then bordered the Soviet Union, China, Iran, and Pakistan. If the PDP had been replaced with fanatical, US-aligned Sunni forces, this would have served as a base area for terrorism throughout the southern USSR. The US was already strategically making alliances with anti-communist Muslims in Uzbekistan and other parts of the USSR. For such forces to develop a base area in Afghanistan would have spelled disaster for Soviet society.
The strategy which the US utilized in Libya in 2011 and currently uses against the Syrian Arab Republic — stirring up a “holy war” against secular anti-imperialists — was put into practice in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Religious fanatics make good mercenaries; on the surface, they appear hostile to all things Western. It is hard to convince people that Osama bin Laden or the al-Nusra Front are “US puppets” because they appear to loathe the “decadence” of Western society, and claim to be fighting to restore the theocracies of the Fifteenth Century.
At this time, the global strategy of the Pentagon seemed to be “Holy War Against Communism.” Washington’s use of Sunni fanatics in Afghanistan took place simultaneously with the US backing of such anti-Catholic Latin American Protestant fundamentalists as Rios Montt in Guatemala. In Asia, the CIA collaborator Reverend Sun Myung Moon led the “World Anti-Communist League,” rallying his minions across the globe against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China.
The “Afghan Trap”
Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was unpopular and costly, and played a role in the eventual dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was no coincidence. Global strategists in Washington, D.C. had essentially planned the whole thing.
In the 1970s, the US government was reeling from the humiliating defeat in Vietnam. Distrust of the US government was widespread, as was hatred for capitalism in general. The Black Panther Party, a movement led by revolutionary Marxist-Leninists, had widespread support among African-Americans. The “New Communist Movement” of radicals inspired by Mao Zedong and Che Guevara was growing on the college campuses.
Richard Nixon, elected to US president as a right-wing Republican, was forced to grant all kinds of concessions in order to win back the support of the US public — not for himself, but for the entire structure of US society. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Nixon lowered the voting age to 18, ended military conscription, and recognized the People’s Republic of China.
The catastrophic consequences of the defeat of the United States in Vietnam for the power structure of the United States inspired Pentagon strategists to deliver a similar blow to the Soviet Union.
In the 1980s, the Soviet leadership was experiencing a “generation gap” and the heroic victory of the Second World War was fading from memory. The Soviet Union’s leadership had begun in 1956 to tarnish the country’s revolutionary history by demonizing Stalin and mischaracterizing the heroism of the socialist construction and antifascism of the 1930s. A demoralizing military quagmire was the perfect recipe for the destabilization of the Soviet Union, at a moment when it was already suffering from internal crises.
Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski openly admitted in a 1998 interview that US actions in Afghanistan were designed to “induce military intervention” by the Soviet Union. In the interview, he went on to say, “The secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap…” Brzezinski brags: “I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam.”
Resurgent US Imperialism
As the fighting took place between US-backed religious extremists and the People’s Democratic Party, the US public was in the dark. Western media spun a completely untrue story about what was happening. Most of the US public believed the Soviet Union had, without provocation or invitation, “invaded Afghanistan.” Reagan called the USSR an “evil empire.” TV news reports told outrageous (and later disproven) stories of Soviet atrocities.
In addition to deceptive descriptions of Soviet and PDP activities, the US public was largely unaware of what bin Laden and his band of US-backed terrorists were up to in Afghanistan. The US media concealed from the US public the fact that their tax dollars were funding people who poured acid on women’s faces, bombed schools, and beheaded literacy workers for educating women. If the public had known, support for US foreign policy would likely have eroded.
The influence of Pentagon propaganda spread to almost every corner of US society. Knowledge of what was actually happening in Afghanistan was limited to the “far left,” dismissed as “kooks” and “left-wing extremists.” Going against the mainstream, Workers World Party was able to include support for Afghanistan against US-backed terrorism in the demands of its “People’s Anti-War Mobilization,” a rally of 500,000 that took place on May 3, 1981.
On the US left, a small cluster of forces stood alone in knowing the truth about Afghanistan. Even the mainstream anti-capitalists supported bin Laden’s terrorism in Afghanistan, or were neutral. “Maoists” repeated the lies of the US press, and echoed proclamations from China condemning “Soviet Social Imperialism.” Trotskyists joined the anti-Soviet chorus as well. The academic left, the religious peace movement, and the democratic socialists who dominated the labor unions all echoed Reagan’s narrative of a Soviet “evil empire” that had “invaded Afghanistan.” Those who dared challenge this narrative were dubbed “tankies” and “Stalinists.”
Allowing CIA-trained fighters to do the US bidding in Afghanistan — rather than sending US troops — gave the fight to suppress the democratic revolution a less “imperialist” image. The US media presented bin Laden’s mujahideen as romantic, rifle-toting guerrilla freedom fighters. The few leftists who dared describe the atrocities of US-backed fighters were told they were “repeating Moscow propaganda.”
At the time, the US was commanded by a Republican Party that had been restructured in the 1970s based on the political theories of elitist professor Leo Strauss and former neo-Trotskyist Irving Kristol. These theories — now commonly called “neoconservatism” – utilized the economic downturn of the 1980s to build popular support for right-wing extremism. A wide strata of the white working class was convinced that their standard of living was slipping due to the rise of anti-imperialist movements globally and dissent and nonconformity domestically. The Republican Party built up a base of religious and cultural conservatives who believed they could restore the United States of the 1950s, with its booming economy and lack of internal opposition and diversity.
The false narrative of the US media was essential, and helped to rebuild patriotic chauvinism in the United States — wiping away widespread dissident sentiments of the 60s and 70s.
The Changing Media Landscape
Long after the 1980s, the media-directed ignorance about the US public of Afghan history remains vitally important for keeping US society intact.
In 2001, the September 11 attacks were blamed on non other than Osama bin Laden. The fact that bin Laden had been on the CIA payroll for decades was hidden from the discourse. In one instance, Jeremy Glick, whose father perished in the Twin Towers, attempted to bring up this fact in a 2003 FOX News interview. Bill O’Reilly screamed “Shut up! Shut up!” and “Cut his mic!” O’Reilly claimed he was silencing Glick “out of respect” for his deceased father.
However, the balance of forces in global media narratives has drastically changed since 2003.
In the October 23 Wall Street Journal, Stephen Fidler wrote a piece entitled “Russia and West Grapple With Alternate Realities.” Fidler bemoans that the US narrative is no longer dominant in global discourse. Among his frustrations is that Russian media now openly discusses the reality of what happened in Afghanistan. He writes: “Russian conspiracy theories are nothing new…. A senior Russian security official, Nikolai Patrushev, rehearsed a couple of historical theories in a recent interview with state media: that the U.S. lured the Soviet Union into its disastrous invasion of Afghanistan… the new sanctions against Russia are seen as a U.S. effort to bring about regime-change in Russia.”
The confessions from the mouth of Brzezinski — that he intended to “induce military intervention” into “the Afghan trap” — are hardly “conspiracy theories,” but the mainstream US press has always treated inconvenient facts in this manner. What seems to concern Fidler and many other voices in the mainstream US press is that truths they refuse to accept and have successfully labeled “conspiracy theories” for so long are becoming well known and accepted around the world.
The circles of power in Washington, D.C. and on Wall Street are highly concerned — not only because of what Russians think, but also because of the large number of people in the United States who agree with them.
In 2008, White House advisor Cass Sunstein, who is married to war propagandist and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, wrote a paper on “conspiracy theories,” saying: “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.”
In 2011, Hillary Clinton announced: “We are in an information war and we are losing that war. Al Jazeera is winning, the Chinese have opened a global multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English-language network.” Since that time, the US has continued to lose the information war. Russia Today, PressTV, and others news outlets that dare bring up untold truths like the “Afghan Trap” are even more popular than before.
The technology that eventually became the internet was developed by the Pentagon to serve strategic military purposes of empire. Since it has become civilianized, and almost universally used, it has now laid the basis for a growing movement of opposition based on the spreading of information.
On October 7, it was announced that the government of the United Kingdom recently held meetings with representatives of Facebook and Twitter, in the hopes of stopping “extremist propaganda” on the internet. When speaking at the United Nations, UN Special Rapporteur Emmerson, pointed out the dangers of limiting “extremism”– that like beauty, extremism is in the eye of the beholder.
These government efforts are likely to be fruitless. Facts, once only discussed among “tankies” of the “far left,” are now inescapable. The availability of information and expansion of debate caused “Kony 2012” to go down in flames. Events in Ukraine have also been much more difficult for Wall Street and London than expected.
As the billionaires and bankers gear up to defend their power and position in the unfolding 21st Century, they won’t be able to count on the ignorance and blindness of the domestic population as they once did. History does not work in reverse. The train of human development continues to speed forward.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.