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Posts Tagged ‘ww1’

Thoughts on ‘Incels’ and Alleged Public Reactions Towards Them: 4

May 21, 2018 23 comments

In the previous post of this series, I made a point that the aftermath of WW1 created a lot of socio-economic instability in Europe which resulted in leaders like Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler (in addition to many other similar less famous ones) assuming power. But have you ever wondered how these men came to power in the first place? I mean.. who supported these leaders anyway? And what does any of this have to do with ‘incels’ in 2018?

As it turns out, a lot. To understand what I talking about, we have to first talk a bit about why WW1 (and WW2) were so different from any wars before them- not just in sheer scale but also their timing and impact on society. The ‘timing’ aspect of both WW1 and WW2 is often glossed over by most historians because the subject matter does not sell as many books or lectures as military descriptions of those wars. So why is their timing important anyway?

Well.. for starters, the era from 1880-1910 was marked by a very significant change in kind of jobs and livelihoods available to most men in European countries. While the industrial revolution might have begun decades earlier, it was not until the 1880s-1890s that it started to change the spectrum of jobs available to most men in those countries. We often forget that majority of ‘jobs’ in those countries were related to agriculture, as late as the 1870s- even in western Europe.

But what effect did this have on those affected by this transition? Some of you know part of the answer, which is birth of the modern labor movement. The other part is however less talked about. The short version is that the change of ‘jobs’ and livelihoods from farm to city resulted in a lot of social dislocation and growth of instability. A rapid increase in number of non-agricultural jobs during that era did however keep a lid on that problem, at least for the time being. And then WW1 started in 1914.

As many of you know, WW1 was the really the first large-scale war in which every major participant nation-state mobilized its citizenry and ended up instituting military conscription. By the end of that war, millions of soldiers on all sides had died or were permanently disabled. But even more problematically, many millions more came back to countries, societies and livelihoods which had ceased to exist. To put it another way, soldiers who returned ‘home’ after WW1 came back to communities and livelihoods which had changed beyond their ability to adapt.

It did not help that post-WW1 austerity type economic measures in many countries and the increased mechanization of work created tons of young and poor men without any real prospects for a better future. Now combine this with the visceral contempt many felt for all those old-fashioned regimes and social structures who were responsible for WW1. It does not take a genius to figure out that the massive young male precariat created by WW1 looked around for new leaders who could promise them a better future.

And this brings us why the October Revolution in 1917 allowed the Bolsheviks to displace the provincial government and all moderates. As you might have figured out by now, the Bolsheviks had far more wiling young men and weapons than their opponents. The sheer number of willing young men and weapons was also why the Bolsheviks won the almost 5-year long Russian Civil War in 1922. And yes, the civil war did resulted in the death of a few million people- but in the end the Bolsheviks won, Lenin assumed formal leadership and USSR was formed in 1923.

Let us now talk about how Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. For somebody who literally created the concept of Fascism, it is interesting that Mussolini started out as a socialist. While the many twists in his life until the end of WW1 are too numerous to document here, the relevant part is that he became a well-known populist leader towards end of WW1. It certainly helped that the previous government and system in Italy had lost public support because of its many failures during WW1, even though they came out on the “winning” side.

Long story short, Mussolini correctly assessed the extent of public dissatisfaction with the existing system and took steps to gain power culminating in the March on Rome in 1922. And yes, the core supporters who stood behind him and helped him seize power were young men who had come back ‘home’ after fighting in WW1. As you will see, young men who fought in WW1 and came back to a displaced existence without a decent future somehow always ended up supporting a leader (almost always an outsider) who would promise them a better future.

Which brings us to the issue of how Hitler came to power in Germany. As some of you know, post-WW1 Germany was a hot mess. For one, terms of the Treaty of Versailles had caused a series of massive economic problems in Germany. The lack of perceived public authority and impotence of successive governments in the Wiemar republic combined with their inability to do help all those young men who returned ‘home’ after WW1 had created a huge population of young men who wanted to overthrow the current system.

Again, to make a long story short, the absolutely dismal reputation of the Wiemar republic along with the massive economic stresses caused by the great depression made a person like Hitler look like a reasonable option to the German public in 1933. Of course, the core and most loyal supporters of Hitler came from the ranks of soldiers who had fought in WW1. It is therefore no surprise that all the organisations which enabled Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, such as the Sturmabteilung, Nazi Party, Schutzstaffel and their precursors such as the Freikorps, were almost exclusively made up of young veterans of WW1.

Will write more about how all this relates to the current status quo in the next part of this series. Here is a hint.. history may not repeat, but if often rhymes.

What do you think? Comments?

Propaganda and Advertising have Poor Real-Life Efficacy: 1

December 2, 2017 4 comments

The title of this post might, at first glance, seem almost counter-intuitive to whatever most of you desire to believe about the efficacy of advertising and propaganda. After all, why would all those super rich and therefore allegedly “smart” people spend tens of billions on advertising if it was largely futile? Or why would various governments spend even more money and devote a lot of personnel to create and disseminate propaganda. Surely, even semi-competent people would not spend that much money and effort on something of negligible efficacy. Or would they?

Let us start by talking about all the disastrous, expensive and ultimately ruinous wars initiated by “great leaders” and “highly trained generals” throughout human history, such as WW1 and WW2 and the present. Or think about all the giant multi-national corporations (Xerox, Kodak, Motorola, Blockbuster etc) that have failed because their leadership kept on making bad and ultimately disastrous decisions. My point is that there is no evidence that all those supposedly “smart” leaders of large corporations and nations (and their underlings) are even reasonably good at their jobs- in spite of being paid a lot of money and wielding much power.

If all that evidence doesn’t satisfy you, ponder a bit about how a mediocre reality TV star such as Trump won the republican nomination by steamrolling 16 “professional” life-long politicians and then defeated the darling of the neoliberal establishment, aka HRC, in the 2016 presidential general election. My point is that people who are supposed to be “elite” are, for all practical purposes, incompetent posers who just happened to get a lucky break or hit a lucky streak in their past. Their choices and decisions should not, therefore, be interpreted as evidence of deep thought, competence or efficacy.

But what about all those books you have read touting the amazing effectiveness of propaganda and adverting? What about all those documentaries made by Adam Curtis? What about all those books written by Noam Chomsky, especially this one? Surely, all these supposedly brilliant left-leaning “intellectuals” must have some wondrous insight into the power of propaganda and advertising that is not obvious to “non-experts”. Or maybe they want to pretend to believe in something which can explain their own impotence while simultaneously making a decent amount of money and fame?

To make a very long story a bit shorter, I shall now talk about a few examples of what are often considered to be best examples of success for propaganda and advertising to show you that the real reason why most people appear to go along with that crap is very different from what you are willing to accept.

Example 1: Propaganda in World War I

The attempts by all belligerent European governments to sell the idea of fighting WW1 to their subjects.. I mean citizens.. is sometimes seen as the first instance of governments deploying mass propaganda on a large and systematic scale. But was it really effective? Or were the other reasons behind the public support for war? Have you ever considered that the real reasons for public support for that war might have something to do with the expectations and mindset of people in that era?

Ok, let me ask you a question. What percentage of the population, including the “elites”, of that era could even imagine a war on such a gigantic scale going on for four years? If you don’t believe me.. read the correspondences of both soldiers and generals who fought in that war. It quickly becomes obvious that even 2-3 years into WW1, most of those involved in the actual fighting and planning believed that some new military tactic, weapons system or strategy would somehow magically translate into a swift and decisive victory.

Furthermore, the general public in European countries had not lived through such a large war on their soil, let alone one that could last more than a few weeks. Perhaps most importantly, the very high number of deaths and casualties in each participating nation, within even the first few months of that war, made it basically impossible for either the people of those nations or their leaders to settle for anything short of “total victory”. It was really about an uncontrollable and escalating cycle of vengeance at a time when contemporary culture was characterized by social darwinist thinking.

I would go so far as to suggest that the total absence of propaganda during that time would have no worthwhile effect on the conduct, length or outcome of that war. The sheer amount of wishful thinking based on past experiences in pre-modern societies based on social darwinism combined with the high number of children per woman and the second stage of the industrial revolution made every single aspect of that war pretty much inevitable. The government support of propaganda and advertising were, at best, avenues for creating patriotic sounding jobs for the sons of rich and connected people who did not want to risk their lives at the front.

Example 2: Militaristic Nationalism in Japan between 1920 and 1946.

Another important, though less commonly discussed, alleged example for success of propaganda concerns the rise of extreme militaristic nationalism between 1920 and 1946. It is, for example, common knowledge, that the Japanese armed forces fought bravely and often to the last man even in seemingly futile battles such those for Iwo Jima and Okhinawa. Then there are all those accounts of Kamikaze plane attacks and Banzai charges. By any measure, the soldiers and other personnel of the Imperial Japanese forces during WW2 were highly driven and ideologically motivated. But was it due to propaganda?

Many conventional historical accounts of 1920s-1930s era Japan strongly suggest, or just outright say, that the government- especially factions controlled by the military establishment put in a lot of effort and resources to inculcate a certain nationalistic ideology among the Japanese people. This extended from simple censorship of media to elaborate mock training of schoolchildren to fight in wars. But how much effect did any of these traditional and non-traditional avenues of propaganda have on the type of nation that Japan became in the late 1930s and really 1940s?

In my opinion- very little and here is why. Understanding the reasons which led to the Japanese people embracing an extreme right-wing nationalistic ideology predicated in their racial superiority requires us to put ourselves in the world as seen by the average Japanese person in the that era. Japan, you see, went from a medieval feudal society to a modern industrialized one within less than 50 years from the beginning of the Meiji period. By the beginning of WW1, and certainly by its end in 1918, its industrial, academic and engineering achievements had surpassed almost every other country but a few (USA, UK, France and Germany).

All these achievements and competencies had, however, not been helped it increase its global prestige, power or access to raw materials. In contrast, even third-rate European powers like Portugal, Netherlands and Belgium had large colonies in Asia and Africa. The treaty of Versailles simply confirmed that Japan, as an Asian country, would never be welcome as an equal in the imperialist white man’s club. At that time, Korea was the only real overseas colonial possession of the Japanese empire- and it was hardly a desirable one.

But it was a much bigger problem than diplomatic slights at the hands of white European nations. Japan had a large population but only a small part of it was arable or inhabitable. One unintentional, but somewhat welcome, consequences of the industrial revolution in Japan was that many millions of newly educated and skilled Japanese started moving to Korea, China and other East-Asian countries to make a living. There they encountered nation after nation of subjugated Asian people living in a pre-industrial era.

It is therefore not surprising that the idea of racial superiority was so readily accepted by Japanese people in that era. They could see that their country was the most developed and powerful country for thousands of miles in any direction. And yet, this did not translate into any material advantage for them. It is therefore not surprising that leaders spouting right-wing militaristic ideas about conquering and exploiting the resources of surrounding countries became popular in Japan. They were just saying out loud what everyone else was thinking.

In the upcoming part of this series, I intend to talk about why Nazi propaganda appeared to be so effective until the final year of WW2, why soviet propaganda appeared to succeed until the early 1970s and why american propaganda appeared to succeed for decades before entering its death spiral after 2008. Here is a hint.. in all three cases, people appeared to go along with the propaganda only as long as the underlying system provided at least part of what it had promised.

What do you think? Comments?