Soenke Zehle on Fri, 1 Nov 2002 15:18:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] You Don't Introduce New Products in August

Oct. 29, 2002
Branding New and Improved Wars
By Norman Solomon


Marketing a war is serious business. And no product requires better brand
names than one that squanders vast quantities of resources while
intentionally killing large numbers of people.

The American trend of euphemistic fog for such enterprises began several
decades ago. It's very old news that the federal government no longer has a
department or a budget named "war." Now, it's all called "defense," a word
with a strong aura of inherent justification. The sly effectiveness of the
labeling switch can be gauged by the fact that many opponents of reckless
military spending nevertheless constantly refer to it as "defense" spending.

During the past dozen years, the intersection between two avenues,
Pennsylvania and Madison, has given rise to media cross-promotion that
increasingly sanitizes the organized mass destruction known as warfare.

The first Bush administration enhanced the public-relations techniques for
U.S. military actions by "choosing operation names that were calculated to
shape political perceptions," linguist Geoff Nunberg recalls. The invasion
of Panama in December 1989 went forward under the name Operation Just Cause,
an immediate media hit. "A number of news anchors picked up on the phrase
Just Cause, which encouraged the Bush and Clinton administrations to keep
using those tendentious names."

As Nunberg points out, "it's all a matter of branding. And it's no accident
that the new-style names like Just Cause were introduced at around the same
time the cable news shows started to label their coverage of major stories
with catchy names and logos." The Pentagon became adept at supplying
video-game-like pictures of U.S. missile strikes at the same time that it
began to provide the big-type captions on TV screens.

Ever since the Gulf War in early 1991, people across the political spectrum
have commonly referred to that paroxysm of carnage as Operation Desert
Storm - or, more often, just Desert Storm. To the casual ear, it sounds
kind of like an act of nature. Or, perhaps, an act of God.

Either way, according to the vague spirit evoked by the name Desert Storm,
men like Dick Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell may well have been
assisting in the implementation of divine natural occurrences; high winds
and 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs raining down from the heavens.

Soon after the Gulf War a.k.a. Desert Storm ended, the Army's chief of
public affairs, Maj. Gen. Charles McClain, commented: "The perception of an
operation can be as important to success as the execution of that
operation." For guiding the public's perception of a war - while it is
happening and after it has become history - there's nothing quite like a
salutary label that sticks.

In October 2001, while launching missiles at Afghanistan, the Bush team came
up with Operation Infinite Justice, only to swiftly scuttle the name after
learning it was offensive to Muslims because of their belief that only Allah
can provide infinite justice. The replacement, Enduring Freedom, was
well-received in U.S. mass media, an irony-free zone where only the
untowardly impertinent might suggest that some people had no choice other
than enduring the Pentagon's freedom to bomb.

If you doubt that the Executive Branch is run by people who plan U.S.
military actions while thinking like marketers, you're (no offense) naive.
It was a candid slip of the tongue a couple of months ago when the White
House chief of staff, Andrew Card, told the New York Times: "From a
marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Not
coincidentally, the main rollout of new-and-improved rationales for an
upcoming war on Iraq did not take place until September.

Looking ahead, the media spinners at the White House are undoubtedly
devoting considerable energy to sifting through options for how to brand the
expected U.S. assault on Iraq. Long before the war is over, we'll all know
its reassuring code name. But we won't know the names of the Iraqi people
who have been killed in our names.

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