Preamble: This article is a ‘position paper,’ a 1st year English literature assignment which helps students towards the writing of essays. Incidentally, it is just the right length for publishing, and I award bonus marks for doing so. We had been discussing propaganda — attempting to come to some definition which is more complex than the overly simplistic ‘propaganda=bad’ that one hears so often. I also encouraged each student to write from a position of knowledge and experience — whether they researched the issue or whether they dug into personal experience as Logan has.
The result, I think, is a personal yet considered discussion of some of the key propagandic issues of our time, which recent Wiki-leaks have brought to the fore.
Assistant Professor, English Literature
Royal Military College Saint-Jean
Disclosure of Information
By: OCdt Logan Spiegel – RMCSJ
“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise” (Aeschylus). Propaganda is defined as the spreading of ideas, information or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person, it’s also completely necessary according to the human condition described by Thomas Grey in 1742. In this game of storytelling, the authors can select, emphasize, omit, shape, and regulate information in order to shift a position along an axis of secrecy and transparency. In a constant balancing act, propaganda’s relationship with the individual soldier, and therefore the public, is extremely linear, whereas most things in life, a balance is often just right. Recently that has changed dramatically, with the release of 91,000 secret reports on the Afghan war. Wikileaks has dealt a gigantic blow to the system, managing to completely sideline the state. Complete transparency, while desirable, is unrealistic in delivering what the general population wants to hear. On the other hand, complete secrecy is not an option in a constitutional democracy. The relationship between propaganda and the audience is reciprocal; while their demands contradict each other, both elements are essential in achieving a balanced disclosure of information.
Untainted information is often hard to swallow. 2429 incidents involving various enemy actions occurred during the month of June 2009 in Kandahar, Afghanistan: approximately 81 per day. Documented by Wiki leaks, for the first time in history, civilians have first hand access to reports written in the heat of battle.1
During that period I was deployed on the western edge of the Canadian lines. The reality on the ground was not at all what I would have expected in a counter insurgency campaign. Before crossing the western line into the horn of Panjwaii, the atmosphere was extremely tense.
Preparation always began with forcing yourself to eat no matter what time. With 100 lbs of gear each and a tremendous amount of weaponry, we stepped off using the cover of darkness. Fighting is a day job in Panjwaii, navigating with night vision and trying to maintain noise discipline isn’t the easiest thing. Anyone who has ever been knows that falling down with that much weight in weird and awkward ways is a skill. After crossing the line, our radios, which intercepted enemy traffic, were buzzing with chatter.
As we entered the now Taliban-controlled area, we knew it was coming. “Friendly forces were engaged by Insurgents with Small Arms Fire and RPG. FF engaged Positively Identified Insurgents with weapons with 40 x 155 mm artillery rounds.”2 In an awesome display of firepower, enemy positions as were defined and targeted with artillery. The sound of a 155 mm shell’s 10 second flight is just enough time to reflect how similar it sounds in the movies. I remember yelling to my friend the word ‘peacekeeping’ with a big puzzled look on my face.
Like many times before, our venture west ended up in another Canadian casualty. The news release of his death certainly didn’t much. “He was injured around 9:15 a.m. on June 23, when he stepped on a mine while on foot patrol in the Panjwaii district, southwest of Kandahar City.”
My version, an untainted version, would have read something like this: “He died as of result of his massive injuries from two stacked anti personnel mines which were deliberately placed on all the main fall back routes after our engagement with the enemy.”
One thing is certain: if the average Canadian were aware of the ferocity of battle happening in Afghanistan we would surely lose support. There is nothing positive in the specifics of battle; a certain amount of selection and omission, or propaganda, is needed to properly describe the circumstances of death.
In the September 2009 quarterly report to the Canadian parliament, the situation in Kandahar Afghanistan from April 01 to June 30 was described in a much more tasteful manner: “Insurgent violence increased during the quarter, and more intense fighting was expected through the summer with an expanding counter-insurgency campaign.” Halfway through the document, the report covers the 108% increase in violence. Not surprisingly it prefers to sandwich the material between training and development successes. According to our listed priorities, this would be the correct way to organize the information, but the death of a Canadian receives much more press than the projects being undertaken to help individuals. In this sense, propaganda is a necessary evil, accounting for a human tendency to focus on topics of death. Shaping information towards the actual facts on the ground helps in the disclosure of balanced information.
Tier 1 Special Forces units have become increasingly popular and controversial as they operate in the realm of complete public secrecy. In 2002, when Prime Minister Chretien dismissed the idea that Canadian soldiers could take prisoners in Afghanistan, an embarrassing photo appeared on the front page of the Globe and Mail of JTF2, a tier 1 SF unit transporting prisoners, proving him wrong.3 The government was immediately sent into damage control mode. When information strays from the center, the audience is quick to catch on. Balance must exist even when shaping information. A certain amount of truth must be included in all acts of propaganda.
According to Max Weber’s Politics as a Vocation, something is only “a state” if its administration successfully upholds a “monopoly of the legitimate use of violence.”4 There will always be a struggle to control the flow of information through an acceptable and balanced lens. Various formulas of untainted and disinformation exist. This reasonable relationship, demanded by the audience, is basically balancing propaganda with truth. “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
1 Wikileaks servers are now down due to an unknown electronic attack. The servers are being relocated to a ‘cold war’ era bomb shelter.
3 “Eggleton confirms JTF2 has taken prisoners in Afghanistan,” Cbc.ca (Sept 24 2010), Web.
4 Max Weber and Talcott Parsons, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Free, 1964)
Two captions: OCdt Logan Spiegel upper left side of the article was taken during his deployment in 2009 – prior to his enrollment in ROTP; in the second, he is with Christie Blatchford – Canadian newspaper columnist and broadcaster., who recently spoke to the cadets at RMCSJ.
Editor: Prior to becoming an officer cadet at RMCSJ, Logan Spiegel joined the CF in 2003 as an Infantry Reservist. The most important event in his career was being attached to 2 R22R for 19 months of training before deploying with 9 Pon, Cie C of the Battlegroup to Patrol Base Sperwan Ghar. Within his infantry platoon he was the weapons detachment commander and a back up crew commander. After tour instead of joining directly with the R22R and going back overseas he decided to take a break and focus on his studies.