Why Propaganda Trumps Truth
By Paul Craig Roberts
An article in the journal, Sociological Inquiry, ("There Must Be a Reason": Osama, Saddam, and Inferred Justification, Vol. 79, No. 2. (2009), pp. 142-162. PDF) casts light on the effectiveness of propaganda. Researchers examined why big lies succeed where little lies fail. Governments can get away with mass deceptions, but politicians cannot get away with sexual affairs.
The researchers explain why so many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, years after it has become obvious that Iraq had nothing to do with the event. Americans developed elaborate rationalizations based on Bush administration propaganda that alleged Iraqi involvement and became deeply attached to their beliefs. Their emotional involvement became wrapped up in their personal identity and sense of morality. They looked for information that supported their beliefs and avoided information that challenged them, regardless of the facts of the matter.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained the believability of the Big Lie as compared to the small lie: "In the simplicity of their minds, people more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have such impudence. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and continue to think that there may be some other explanation."
What the sociologists and Hitler are telling us is that by the time facts become clear, people are emotionally wedded to the beliefs planted by the propaganda and find it a wrenching experience to free themselves. It is more comfortable, instead, to denounce the truth-tellers than the liars whom the truth-tellers expose.
The psychology of belief retention even when those beliefs are wrong is a pillar of social cohesion and stability. It explains why, once change is effected, even revolutionary governments become conservative. The downside of belief retention is its prevention of the recognition of facts. Belief retention in the Soviet Union made the system unable to adjust to economic reality, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Today in the United States millions find it easier to chant "USA, USA, USA" than to accept facts that indicate the need for change.
The staying power of the Big Lie is the barrier through which the 9/11 Truth Movement is finding it difficult to break. The assertion that the 9/11 Truth Movement consists of conspiracy theorists and crackpots is obviously untrue. The leaders of the movement are highly qualified professionals, such as demolition experts, physicists, structural architects, engineers, pilots, and former high officials in the government. Unlike their critics parroting the government's line, they know what they are talking about.
Here is a link to a presentation by the architect, Richard Gage, to a Canadian university audience: The video of the presentation is two hours long and seems to have been edited to shorten it down to two hours. Gage is low-key, but not a dazzling personality or a very articulate presenter. Perhaps that is because he is speaking to a university audience and takes for granted their familiarity with terms and concepts.
Those who believe the official 9/11 story and dismiss skeptics as kooks can test the validity of the sociologists' findings and Hitler's observation by watching the video and experiencing their reaction to evidence that challenges their beliefs. Are you able to watch the presentation without scoffing at someone who knows far more about it than you do? What is your response when you find that you cannot defend your beliefs against the evidence presented? Scoff some more? Become enraged?
Another problem that the 9/11 Truth Movement faces is that few people have the education to follow the technical and scientific aspects. The side that they believe tells them one thing; the side that they don't believe tells them another. Most Americans have no basis to judge the relative merits of the arguments.
For example, consider the case of the Lockerbie bomber. One piece of "evidence" that was used to convict Magrahi was a piece of circuit board from a device that allegedly contained the Semtex that exploded the airliner. None of the people, who have very firm beliefs in Magrahi's and Libya's guilt and in the offense of the Scottish authorities in releasing Magrahi on allegedly humanitarian grounds, know that circuit boards of those days have very low combustion temperatures and go up in flames easily. Semtex produces very high temperatures. There would be nothing whatsoever left of a device that contained Semtex. It is obvious to an expert that the piece of circuit board was planted after the event.
I have asked on several occasions and have never had an answer, which does not mean that there isn't one, how millions of pieces of unburnt, uncharred paper can be floating over lower Manhattan from the destruction of the WTC towers when the official explanation of the destruction is fires so hot and evenly distributed that they caused the massive steel structures to weaken and fail simultaneously so that the buildings fell in free fall time just as they would if they had been brought down by controlled demolition.
What is the explanation of fires so hot that steel fails but paper does not combust?
People don't even notice the contradictions. Recently, an international team of scientists, who studied for 18 months dust samples produced by the twin towers' destruction collected from three separate sources, reported their finding of nano-thermite in the dust. The US government had scientists dependent on the US government to debunk the finding on the grounds that the authenticity of custody of the samples could not be verified. In other words, someone had tampered with the samples and added the nano-thermite. This is all it took to discredit the finding, despite the obvious fact that access to thermite is strictly controlled and NO ONE except the US military and possibly Israel has access to nano-thermite.
The physicist, Steven Jones, has produced overwhelming evidence that explosives were used to bring down the buildings. His evidence is not engaged, examined, tested, and refuted. It is simply ignored.
Dr. Jones' experience reminds me of that of my Oxford professor, the distinguished physical chemist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was one of the 20th century's great scientists. At one time every section chairman of the Royal Society was a Polanyi student. Many of his students won Nobel Prizes for their scientific work, such as Eugene Wigner at Princeton and Melvin Calvin at UC, Berkeley, and his son, John Polanyi, at the University of Toronto.
As a young man in the early years of the 20th century, Michael Polanyi discovered the explanation for chemical adsorption. Scientific authority found the new theory too much of a challenge to existing beliefs and dismissed it. Even when Polanyi was one of the UK's ranking scientists, he was unable to teach his theory. One half-century later his discovery was re-discovered by scientists at UC, Berkeley. The discovery was hailed, but then older scientists said that it was "Polanyi's old error." It turned out not to be an error. Polanyi was asked to address scientists on this half-century failure of science to recognize the truth. How had science, which is based on examining the evidence, gone so wrong. Polanyi's answer was that science is a belief system just like everything else, and that his theory was outside the belief system.
That is what we observe all around us, not just about the perfidy of Muslims and 9/11.
As an economics scholar I had a very difficult time making my points about the Soviet economy, about Karl Marx's theories, and about the supply-side impact of fiscal policy. Today I experience readers who become enraged just because I report on someone else's work that is outside their belief system. Some readers think I should suppress work that is inconsistent with their beliefs and drive the author of the work into the ground. These readers never have any comprehension of the subject. They are simply emotionally offended.
What I find puzzling is the people I know who do not believe a word the government says about anything except 9/11. For reasons that escape me, they believe that the government that lies to them about everything else tells them the truth about 9/11. How can this be, I ask them. Did the government slip up once and tell the truth? My question does not cause them to rethink their belief in the government's 9/11 story. Instead, they get angry with me for doubting their intelligence or their integrity or some such hallowed trait.
The problem faced by truth is the emotional needs of people. With 9/11 many Americans feel that they must believe their government so that they don't feel like they are being unsupportive or unpatriotic, and they are very fearful of being called "terrorist sympathizers." Others on the left-wing have emotional needs to believe that peoples oppressed by the US have delivered "blowbacks." Some leftists think that America deserves these blowbacks and thus believe the government's propaganda that Muslims attacked the US.
Naive people think that if the US government's explanation of 9/11 was wrong, physicists and engineers would all speak up. Some have (see above). However, for most physicists and engineers this would be an act of suicide. Physicists owe their careers to government grants, and their departments are critically dependent on government funding. A physicist who speaks up essentially ends his university career. If he is a tenured professor, to appease Washington the university would buy out his tenure as BYU did in the case of the outspoken Steven Jones.
An engineering firm that spoke out would never again be awarded a government contract. In addition, its patriotic, flag-waving customers would regard the firm as a terrorist apologist and cease to do business with it.
In New York today there is an enormous push by 9/11 families for a real and independent investigation of the 9/11 events. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have provided the necessary signatures on petitions that require the state to put the proposal for an independent commission up to vote. However, the state, so far, is not obeying the law.
Why are the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are demanding a real investigation dismissed as conspiracy theorists? The 9/11 skeptics know far more about the events of that day than do the uninformed people who call them names. Most of the people I know who are content with the government's official explanation have never examined the evidence. Yet, these no-nothings shout down those who have studied the matter closely.
There are, of course, some kooks. I have often wondered if these kooks are intentionally ridiculous in order to discredit knowledgeable skeptics.
Another problem that the 9/11 Truth Movement faces is that their natural allies, those who oppose the Bush/Obama wars and the internet sites that the antiwar movement maintains, are fearful of being branded traitorous and anti-American. It is hard enough to oppose a war against those the US government has successfully demonized. Antiwar sites believe that if they permit 9/11 to be questioned, it would brand them as "terrorist sympathizers" and discredit their opposition to the war. An exception is Information Clearing House.
Antiwar sites do not realize that, by accepting the 9/11 explanation, they have undermined their own opposition to the war. Once you accept that Muslim terrorists did it, it is difficult to oppose punishing them for the event. In recent months, important antiwar sites, such as antiwar.com, have had difficulty with their fundraising, with their fundraising campaigns going on far longer than previously. They do not understand that if you grant the government its premise for war, it is impossible to oppose the war.
As far as I can tell, most Americans have far greater confidence in the government than they do in the truth. During the Great Depression the liberals with their New Deal succeeded in teaching Americans to trust the government as their protector. This took with the left and the right. Neither end of the political spectrum is capable of fundamental questioning of the government. This explains the ease with which our government routinely deceives the people.
Democracy is based on the assumption that people are rational beings who factually examine arguments and are not easily manipulated. Studies are not finding this to be the case. In my own experience in scholarship, public policy, and journalism, I have learned that everyone from professors to high school dropouts has difficulty with facts and analyses that do not fit with what they already believe. The notion that "we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead" is an extremely romantic and idealistic notion. I have seldom experienced open minds even in academic discourse or in the highest levels of government. Among the public at large, the ability to follow the truth wherever it may lead is almost non-existent.
The US government's response to 9/11, regardless of who is responsible, has altered our country forever. Our civil liberties will never again be as safe as they were. America's financial capability and living standards are forever lower. Our country's prestige and world leadership are forever damaged. The first decade of the 21st century has been squandered in pointless wars, and it appears the second decade will also be squandered in the same pointless and bankrupting pursuit.
The most disturbing fact of all remains: The 9/11 event responsible for these adverse happenings has not been investigated.
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan's first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.