Wars rarely begin on the battlefield. Long before the first shots are fired, governments prepare their citizens to accept the death and destruction that would otherwise be unacceptable. In this webinar, two extremely knowledgeable researchers, Yves Engler and Colleen Bell, explained how public opinion is molded and manipulated in Canada and in the United States.
Yves Engler’s presentation described how the Canadian government and military have suppressed and shaped the flow of information during wars. While the tactics have varied based on technologies, balance of power and type of conflict, the government has pursued extensive information control during wars. There was formal censorship during World War I, WWII and the Korean War. In recent air wars, the military largely shut the media out while in Afghanistan they brought reporters close.
Yves’s recommended readings
- A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation
- Repression of anti-war voices an old Canadian story
- Truth always the first casualty of war — CBC proves it
Colleen Bell discussed the role of martial public diplomacy in US Imperialism. Public diplomacy and war are generally considered antithetical concepts. The former signals dialogue and the search for shared understanding, while the latter refers to the very breakdown of dialogue and a resort to coercion or all-out destruction. However, in reality, war and public relations activities are deeply entwined. In this talk Colleen proposes the concept of “martial public diplomacy” which lays the ground for the examination of a range of information, influence and media practices that have been “synchronized” in US-led global contingency operations. Contemporary efforts by the US military to “shape the information environment” provide it with a robust role in public communications campaigns within and beyond the battlefield.
Colleen’s recommended readings
- Bell, Colleen. 2018. Celebrity power and powers of war: the rise of the COINdinistas in American popular media,Critical Military Studies, 4:3, 244-263, DOI: 10.1080/23337486.2016.1268370
- MacKenzie, Megan and Nicole Wegner. 2021. Feminist Solutions for Ending War. London: Pluto Press.
- Mirrlees, Tanner. 2016. Hearts and Mines: The US Empire’s Culture Industry. University of British Columbia Press.
- Shipley, Tyler. 2020. Canada in the World: Settler Capitalism and the Colonial Imagination. Halifax and Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.
Yves Engler: Dubbed “Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky” (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire), “ever-insightful” (Rabble), “Chomsky-styled iconoclast” (Counterpunch) and a “Leftist gadfly” (Ottawa Citizen), Yves Engler (yvesengler.com) has twelve published books. His latest is Stand on Guard for Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military.
Colleen Bell: Professor Bell is an associate professor in the political studies department at the University of Saskatchewan. She is an international relations scholar specializing in theorizations of war and security, and the contested boundary between military and civilian operations in Western counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and stabilizations missions. She is author of The Freedom of Security: Governing Canada in the Age of Counterterrorism (UBC Press) and co-editor of War, Police and Assemblages of Intervention (with Jan Bachmann and Caroline Holmqvist). Her current research projects examine police power in global politics, martial public diplomacy, and the security politics of Canada’s feminist foreign policy. Bell is past president of the International Studies Association-Canada section and current editor of Critical Studies on Security.
Radhika Desai (moderator) is Professor at the Department of Political Studies, and Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, at the University of Manitoba. Her books include Capitalism, Coronavirus and War: A Geopolitical Economy (2023), Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire (2013), Slouching Towards Ayodhya: From Congress to Hindutva in Indian Politics (2nd rev ed, 2004) and Intellectuals and Socialism: ‘Social Democrats’ and the Labour Party (1994), a New Statesman and Society Book of the Month.