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Has the Media and the War in Iraq Polarized our Society?


From R.E. Gus Payne, Investigative Journalist and Author,

Our media analysts are fond of telling us that we live in a “divided” or “polarized” society in America. Blame is placed on the major political parties, claiming they have a vested interest in turning rich against poor, black against white, female against male, etc.. The cable news and print media, especially, seemingly pinpoints blame for any wrongdoing it perceives. But it never chooses to blame itself.

What is the genesis of polarization in our society? Eric Voeglin, the world-known philosopher and teacher, discusses this subject in his essay “Revolution, the Open Society, and Institutions”. It lies not with Republican or Democrats but in the success of the American Revolution, as distinguished from French or Russian or even a German National Socialist revolution. “Of the major revolutions it is, one might say, the only one that has been truly successful,” wrote Voeglin. Because of this success, a great deal of envy is to be found among European intellectuals, especially among the French. Since our American intellectuals are strongly influenced by European intellectuals, and others, these influences show up and help exploit differences between us. “That a large sector of American intellectuals is anti-American must be acknowledged, even if they would deny it; it is the same anti-Americanism that is be found among European intellectuals,” he wrote. We need not worry ourselves, however, that these American anti-Americans shall ever amount to anything resembling a potent political force – “if, for no other reasons than because, so far as I know the most ardent “liberal” intellectuals, short of a few scholars, are not literate enough” to understand the thoughts of Hegel or Karl Marx.

The language of “polarization” is more popular now than it was when Voeglin observed it. He believed that because of the structure of American society, attempts at polarization will fail and that the dissenters will end up in near isolation, they themselves separated from the rest of us. However, one must recall the Vietnam War era. Voeglin did. Without commenting on whether America should have been engaged in the war or not, he concluded the answer to the question was not nearly as important as was the fact that “once it was started it had to be carried through to some sort of conclusion, because one cannot simply end a war by walking out of it.”

This all sounds very familiar to us today, but now the war is in Iraq and not Vietnam.

The polarization of America over our involvement in Vietnam was brought up by the news media, especially by television, when Voeglin said the destruction on TV news appeared to be caused by America, while very little attention was paid to the destruction caused by the other side. What appeared to be America’s relentless destruction of pathetic little villages in a Third World country aroused protest and dissention in America. The fact these horrors were caused by others and not by our American government only was forgotten or disregarded by the media.

“On this occasion the enormous power of the mass media under the control of the intellectual establishment became manifest,” wrote Voeglin. Even worse, he explained how the media resulted in turning America’s military defeat of the Communists in the Tet offensive of 1988 into an American defeat through “the propaganda of the mass media”. Other lies were told by the mass electronic media, such as, when the American bombing of the dikes in North Vietnam were made to look like the savage attacks against helpless, innocent civilians. Or the fact that it had been overlooked completely that the Communists had invaded Cambodia and that efforts to repel them was the subject of ‘atrocious American aggression.’

All of this in reference to Vietnam is very muck like what is happening today in regard to Iraq. Again, it does not matter at this point how America got there, but only that we are there, and that we simply cannot pack up and leave a war.

Voeglin’s contention is that there exist serious intellectual problems in academia in the U.S., as well as in the news media, especially television. From the academic world with its flair for “political correctness”, intellectual dishonesty has spread into our educational system where our younger generations are in danger of losing any realistic understanding of a democratic government such as their grandparents grew up with in America. This is a great danger to our future as a single, unified nation, if these trends are allowed to continue. The genesis of increased polarization.

The words of Voeglin should be read and heeded today: “Certainly we are confronted today with a massive social force of aggression, intellectual dishonesty that penetrates the academic world, as well as other sectors of society, that will beg for correction in one form or another if the situation should ever become critical.”

I believe the situation is now critical.

R E Gus Payne, September 2007


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