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How people can be brought around to support war: incite fear of attack

A wonderful old Minnesota peacenik named Dick Bernard writes a blog called “Thoughts Towards a Better World.” His most recent post, a curtain raiser in advance of the recent State of the Union message, eventually worked around, as Bernard often does, toward the importance of peace and the foolishness of war.

Bernard brought up a quote from Nazi bigwig Hermann Goering that I don’t recall having ever seen, although it packed a punch when I read this week).

Field Marshall Goering — one of Hitler’s earliest, longest lasting associates, the top German military figure during World War II, and for a long-time Hitler’s designated successor —was the highest-ranking Nazi to survive the war and be tried, convicted and sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Tribunal (although he managed to kill himself with a cyanide capsule the night before he was to be hung).

Gustave Gilbert, an American psychologist fluent in German, worked as a translator with the Nuremberg Tribunal and interviewed Goering in the days between his conviction and his suicide. Gilbert then wrote “Nuremberg Diary,” a 1947 book based on interviews with Goering and other Nuremberg defendants.

Gilbert asked Goering how it was possible to build and sustain public support for a war effort, especially in Germany, which had barely recovered from the still recent disaster of World War I.

Here’s Goering’s reply:

 “Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

“But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” [Gilbert] pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, [replied Goering] but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Have a nice day.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 02/01/2018 - 12:03 pm.

    Memories of 9/11

    “Denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism”

    Memories of 9/11.

    I wish I was more optimistic about our ability to learn from history.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/01/2018 - 01:35 pm.


    Going to war has, as an almost automatic outcome, a dramatic increase in approval of our leaders if that war is due to a strongly perceived threat/event. After 911 GWB approval soars to 90%. Gulf War 1: ditto for GHWB after the Kuwait invasion. Viet Nam, not so much: a gradual escalation with no front end cataclysmic event. Same gradualness for Korea, not so much with Pearl Harbor.

    Let’s hope this is lost on Trump and North Korea does not cross the cataclysmic event line because Trump would immediately trade the lives of thousand of soldiers for a 30% bump in popularity. Now some may say that is a little cruel; but, the combination of being perceived as a tough, quick decision maker and the 30% bump in popularity is more than he can resist.

    And speaking of the courage to resist, Jimmy Carter had a cataclysmic event in the Embassy and hostage take over. And maybe an argument for war can still be made; but, he did not choose it. If he did take that course in late 79 or early 80 he would have won re-election as a war time President at the cost of thousands of US casualties. He still deserves respect for making the least loss of life decision over the politically expedient decision.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/01/2018 - 03:51 pm.

    There in lies the consequences of a consumate liar.

    Trump could try to sell the need for war, but who could believe the consummate liar? Trump has declared war, but it’s a war with the truth. Look at the so called wars we’ve been and are in since 911. George W. Bush, another liar, was so anxious to go to war he couldn’t wait for the investigators to finish their investigation before he put us in a series of wars. They aren’t actually wars because they were not declared wars, but tell that to the troops that have or are having to face the horrors of war. Congress has not declared war in any of them because the circumstances are flimsy enough that no one wants that vote on their record. But if war happens it will always be declared, by the Republicans, President Obama’s fault as long as he is still alive. Now we have two fools, with nuclear weapons, butting heads to see who blinks first. We’re at the point we can’t even figure out if the Russians interfered in our election and did Trump have anything to do with it. How could congress ever declare war? Washington is a mess. I’m not sure they are on our side.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/01/2018 - 06:19 pm.


    …Dr. Johnson, suggested, “…is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Much of what is routinely referred to as “patriotism” in some segments of the electorate is, in fact, nationalism, and not necessarily patriotic at all. Sadly, there’s plenty of support for Hermann Goering’s cynical assessment of both the public and the success of demagoguery.

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 02/01/2018 - 06:30 pm.

    Could it be???

    Not one to give Trump credit for much of anything, could it be his reckless North Korean behavior has so rattled both the North and South that they finally found something to agree on: we’re all going to suffer if Trump is so clueless as to think there is something like: “limited nuclear” strikes.

    The first steps toward reunification?

    “North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

    The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

    Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

    At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

    The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

    North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

    “Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/01/2018 - 10:01 pm.

    Oh that FDR… and Bush… wait, those were real attacks so never mind. So our job is pretty simple: Distinguish a real attack from an imaginary one… By the way, there is another way to make people support a war: convince them that the war is needed to defend the defenseless. And, of course, these techniques apply to political wars as well. But the cure is simple: use critical thinking and cut through propaganda.

    Of course, the other side of the coin is that NOT having a war when one is necessary is a prelude to having a worse war. Munich ’38 is the best example but there are others (Syria, for example). So here, too, we need to understand how propaganda works (in this case AGAINST the war). And remember, in many cases it is enough to show the WILL to go to war in order to really avoid it.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 02/02/2018 - 03:22 pm.


      You do recall, I hope, that in response to an attack that was spearheaded in Afghanistan, he had us attack Iraq. So where was the “real attack” that justified THAT course of action?

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/02/2018 - 09:23 pm.

        Do you recall that congress voted overwhelmingly to support that attack? Iraq was threatening the world with its WMD…

        • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 02/03/2018 - 03:47 pm.

          Real attack

          The subject of your original response was “real attacks”, not possible threats. Such as the “real attacks” which occurred on September 11 and were planned and spearheaded out of Afghanistan.

          A clueless president somehow justifying an attack on Iraq as a followup to an attack from Afghanistan did not make sense then and does not make sense now. And regardless of congress’ ill-advised vote at that time, it was still Bush who started it, and NOT in response to anything that bore any resemblance to a “real attack”.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/03/2018 - 10:39 pm.

            The actual main point of my original response was using critical thinking to dispel propaganda and that a war is sometimes necessary. But if Bush got rid of Saddam and left Iraq right away, he would have been a hero.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/02/2018 - 08:49 am.

    ….The White House has grown frustrated in recent weeks by what it considers the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide President Trump with options for a military strike against North Korea, according to officials, the latest sign of a deepening split in the administration over how to confront the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong-un.

    The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Mr. Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans, according to those officials.

    But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act….

  8. Submitted by David Moseman on 02/02/2018 - 09:08 am.

    The Nazis taught us Peace too

    Fear always brings out the instinct to “Circle the Wagons”. Any group needs to justify its existence and governments are no exception. The easiest way to bring the people together is to find something to fear. Thus Trump keeps the threat of war on our minds with his tweets.

    Fortunately the 20th Century taught us much about war and how to avoid it. The book you site was an early example. Many others researched the Nazi Holocaust and learned much about violence and hate. They went on to explore ways to overcome these tragedies.

    This week we lost one great in this exploration of the Non Violent Alternatives, Gene Sharp… As an academic he catalogued nearly 200 ways people can use nonviolence. The “New Tactics Project” of CVT has expanded this list with examples and made it public on the Web.

    To move us forward in this exploration, what do Conservatives fear from Liberals? Do the two parties keep us angry at each other just so they can survive?

  9. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 02/02/2018 - 09:38 am.


    Is this what’s happening vis-a-vis Korea? I’ve read an article quoting a speech by Sen. Tammy Duckworth at Georgetown University last month where she says: “Americans simply are not in touch with just how close we are to war on the Korea peninsula.” She says the military sees the “handwriting on the wall” coming not from North Korea but from Washington D.C. and are acting like they are preparing to be called on the carry out what they are hearing from these great leaders. What Goering said could easily have been said by anyone after WWI a hundred years ago. It was this kind of war mongering by little men who were in way over their heads firing up the masses that finally ended in a holocaust.

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/02/2018 - 11:09 am.

    Given the current craven nature of the party in power–who will stand up if Trump decides that the best way to shut down the Russia investigation and his low approval is a military move against North Korea ? Even if it is presented as a fait-accompli with bombers-in-the-air to a congress (that has not declared a war since WW2), what would they do ? What could they do ?

    This past week, Trump ignored a law on imposing Russian sanctions that was passed on overwhelming majority (bi-partisan even !). Where is congress’ police ? Where is the supreme court police ? Without deference to law, where are we? It all comes down to the defiance of politically appointed heads of departments or the backbone of the non-political permanent staff of the departments.

    But what was that line in the just completed State of the Union…”So tonight I call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.”

    With a President that demands personal fealty over loyalty to oath-of-service, what are you left with ?

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/03/2018 - 05:57 pm.


    Every time leaders play this game there are those who step up and denounce it. We saw some of the largest national and worldwide anti-protests in history prior to the Iraq invasion. The real question is why, every time presidents pull bogus reasons for another war out of their backsides… the media without fail ends up coalescing around the war drums? That war consensus is manufactured, it’s doesn’t emerge naturally. So yeah, how does this “objective” media we keep hearing about ending acting like a state owned media every time a president wants to go to war?

    I recommend reading: “Manufacturing Consent”.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 02/08/2018 - 10:46 pm.

      During the invasion of Iraq, I noticed that every single American news outlet was behind it. MSNBC, which right-wingers like to paint as the epitome of “far left” bias, even fired Phil Donahue for being opposed to the invasion. Even the supposedly “far left” NPR reporters were acting more like stenographers taking down official pronouncements than like investigators seeking the truth.

      Never mind that tens of thousands marched against the war in cities across the country. Never mind that Iraq is worse off than it was under Saddam Hussein, with a wrecked infrastructure and more factional violence. The Bush administration wanted its war badly and convinced the Democratic Senators who were up for re-election that the American people would reject them for not “supporting the troops.”

      To find a more balanced view, I watched the late, lamented cable channel Newsworld International, which was produced in Canada and used mostly CBC programming.Since Canada was not part of the “Coalition of the Willing” (“Coalition of the Willing,” “Homeland Security,” “Operation Shock and Awe”–did the Bush administration have a team devising the most Orwellian names possible?) reporters felt free to criticize Bush’s plans for Iraq and to report from Baghdad during the buildup to the invasion and the bombardment.

      I thought back to an earlier war with Iraq, the Gulf War of 1991. At the time it broke out, I was leading a January Term student trip to Japan, so my students were not exposed to any American media. They were disturbed by what they heard of the news and the pictures they saw on Japanese TV. Some wondered if they should go home.

      When we returned to the small town where the college was located, I heard from fellow faculty members that the townspeople were all gung ho about the war and that many stores displayed signs saying “Support the troops.” I soon found out that a National Guard unit headquartered nearby and made up partly of residents of the town had been deployed to the Middle East.

      So there’s where the support was coming from. National Guard units from small towns like that one in Oregon were being sent to fight a stupid war, so that criticizing the war meant that you didn’t “support the streets” and by extension, didn’t support the local young people who over there fighting. Otherwise, it was unclear what “support the troops” meant.

      The following summer, I was awarded a fellowship for a seminar at the University of Hawaii. On the plane over, I happened to be sitting behind a Middle Eastern couple. The flight attendant asked them where they were from, and they said, “Iraq.”

      “Oh,” she said. “I was against that war. But I was afraid to say so, because I heard on the news that 90% of people were for it.”

      I spoke up, “I was against it.”

      Other people, six or eight passengers in that section of our 747, spoke up and said that they, too, had been against the war.

      If 90% of the public had really been for the 1991 Gulf War, it is unlikely that so many random passengers in one section of a plane bound for Honolulu would have voiced opposition to the war.

      America learned the wrong lessons from World War II and has come to regard its military as a sacred cow.

      Not every problem has a military solution. Not every problem is America’s business. Having a strong military is not a sufficient condition for greatness. Militarism is not the same as patriotism. A pacifist can be patriotic.The trillions (yes, trillions) that the U.S. has spent on useless wars and interference in other countries’ internal affairs could have built us a world-class infrastructure, solved the problem of homelessness, provided universal health care, and helped us adapt to climate change, among other things.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/04/2018 - 09:50 pm.

    Manufacturing consent

    Just because the issue of “objective” reporting is a somewhat regular feature I’ll flesh out the role that the press ends up playing in manufacturing consent for military actions.

    If you look at Eric’s article and the one he’s pointing to as a subject, you’ll notice that those in the press, tend to see themselves as standing outside the process, rather than being part of the process. The “objective” style of reporting facilitates that illusion by portraying a media or press that functions as “outside” observers, rather than fellow participants. That assumption that media or the press stands outside events, rather than participating events, always makes these attempts at self examination nearly incoherent.

    The fact is that governments can’t influence their citizens without press participation. A guy like Goering just assumes that goes without saying. In order to understand how that works in a liberal democracy like ours you have to critique the press. Why and how does MPR, which is supposedly “liberal” AND “independent” end up banging war drums leading up the Iraq invasion? You can’t answer Eric’s question without asking THAT question. Leaders can’t “incite” anything without press participation.

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