Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq

by Susan A. Brewer
     
 

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On the evening of September 11, 2002, with the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the background, television cameras captured President George W. Bush as he advocated the charge for war against Iraq. This carefully staged performance, writes Susan Brewer, was the culmination of a long tradition of sophisticated wartime propaganda in America.
In Why America Fights,

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Overview

On the evening of September 11, 2002, with the Statue of Liberty shimmering in the background, television cameras captured President George W. Bush as he advocated the charge for war against Iraq. This carefully staged performance, writes Susan Brewer, was the culmination of a long tradition of sophisticated wartime propaganda in America.
In Why America Fights, Brewer offers a fascinating history of how successive presidents have conducted what Donald Rumsfeld calls "perception management," from McKinley's war in the Philippines to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her intriguing account ranges from analyses of wartime messages to descriptions of the actual operations, from the dissemination of patriotic ads and posters to the management of newspaper, radio, and TV media. When Woodrow Wilson carried the nation into World War I, he created the Committee on Public Information, led by George Creel, who called his job "the world's greatest adventure in advertising." In World War II, Roosevelt's Office of War Information avowed a "strategy of truth," though government propaganda still depicted Japanese soldiers as buck-toothed savages. After examining the ultimately failed struggle to cast the Vietnam War in a favorable light, Brewer shows how the Bush White House drew explicit lessons from that history as it engaged in an unprecedented effort to sell a preemptive war in Iraq. Yet the thrust of its message was not much different from McKinley's pronouncements about America's civilizing mission.
Impressively researched and argued, filled with surprising details, Why America Fights shows how presidents have consistently drummed up support for foreign wars by appealing to what Americans want to believe about themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Colman McCarthy
In understated prose and meticulous detail…Brewer ably argues that the strategies of presidential persuasion for starting or remaining in wars are little more than watery stews of lies, bluffs and exaggerations or the perfuming of facts to scent the air with what Donald Rumsfeld called "perception management"…Brewer's interpretation of presidential propaganda is likely to be dismissed by keepers of the temple's secrets as a baleful outburst by a lefty professor hawking her ideological assumptions. That might be plausible, except that Why America Fights soars well above the usual marks of bias: carelessness, rants or conclusions not connected to facts.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Susan Brewer's meticulously researched and engagingly written book is a strong addition to the burgeoning literature on U.S. propaganda. ... Why America Fights masterfully distills a huge body of work into a narrative that is approachable and thoughtprovoking. In addition to providing a persuasive analysis of U.S. propaganda, it is a marvelous introduction to key events in the history of U.S. foreign relations." —Journal of Cold War Studies

"A well-researched, provocative, and convincing work that makes an important contribution to our understanding of how the government constructs and disseminates rationales for initiating and sustaining armed conflict." —H-Net Reviews

"This is a stunning book which blows away all the myths about why America goes to war. American fights, the author demonstrates, to remake the world in its own image, for power and for markets. Its propaganda, 'as American as apple pie,' has historically sought to disguise this." —Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty

"Marshalling compelling evidence, Susan Brewer documents the rhetorical strategies by which the U.S. government, often with the complicity of the media and key opinion-molding groups, has mobilized popular support for every major U.S. conflict from the Spanish-American war to the invasion of Iraq. Well written and deeply researched, this timely work should be read by all those concerned with issues of war and peace and with how propaganda can coarsen and debase civic discourse on vital public issues." —Paul Boyer, editor of The Oxford Companion to United States History

"Susan Brewer's lively account of wartime propaganda from 1898 to the war in Iraq, Why America Fights, could well be sub-titled, Why America Is Still Fighting. May its account of the mobilization of patriotism for dubious purposes serve as a prophylactic for the future." —Marilyn Young, New York University

"Susan Brewer writes that U.S. war propaganda since the dawn of the twentieth century has been both necessary and misleading. Judiciously argued and well researched, this engaging narrative examines the claims that policymakers advanced in their speeches, newspapers, radio programs, and films to sell America's wars. Brewer's provocative book deserves a wide readership from Americans who so often wonder how their lofty goals in war can end in disillusionment." —Emily S. Rosenberg, author of A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory

"In understated prose and meticulous detail...Brewer ably argues that the strategies of presidential persuasion for starting or remaining in wars are little more than watery stews of lies, bluffs and exaggerations or the perfuming of facts to scent the air with what Donald Rumsfeld called 'perception management.' " —Washington Post

"...this is an important book. It sheds light on an aspect of U.S. political history that American citizens in general, and members of the press in particular, ought to examine more closely before being taken in again by bellicose state propaganda." —The American Conservative

"A breezy, student-friendly synthesis...a highly readable account of what administrations have done during recent wars." —Presidential Studies Quarterly

"A marvelous work of synthesis and analysis. ...Clearly written, the book is peppered with unforgettable quotations and illuminating anecdotes that are often amusing, ironic, and damning. Very well suited for classroom use." —Diplomatic History

"Brewer skillfully reveals how administrations have flooded the American public with facts, exaggerations, misinformation, and patriotic appeals in attempts to drum up the support for foreign wars...Never has this been any more relevant as it is now, as we approach a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan." — ForeWord

"In this ambitious book Brewer not only details how propaganda messages have evolved she also offers an interpretation of American foreign policy."-Clayton R. Koppes, Journal of American History

"A vitally important book for our times...Concise and insightful...Brewer's study is ideally suited for educated lay readers and university courses."-Gerd Horten, American Historical Review

"An absorbing history of efforts by the American president and his senior staff to gird the nation for war. Combining primary sources from presidential archives and policy memoirs with a thorough review of the secondary literature on wartime media and citizenship, historian Susan Brewer assembled a detailed indictment against overweening executive power." -Damon Coletta, American Review of Politics

"In this ambitious book Brewer not only details how propaganda messages have evolved she also offers an interpretation of American foreign policy."-Clayton R. Koppes, Journal of American History

"A vitally important book for our times...Concise and insightful...Brewer's study is ideally suited for educated lay readers and university courses."-Gerd Horten, American Historical Review

"An absorbing history of efforts by the American president and his senior staff to gird the nation for war. Combining primary sources from presidential archives and policy memoirs with a thorough review of the secondary literature on wartime media and citizenship, historian Susan Brewer assembled a detailed indictment against overweening executive power." -Damon Coletta, American Review of Politics

"Susan A. Brewer's brilliant and important study of patriotism and war propaganda...reminds us that war is a construct of ideologies, doctrines, beliefs, lies, truths and delusions." —Australian Book Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195381351
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
07/24/2009
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Susan A. Brewer is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She is the author of To Win the Peace: British Propaganda in the United States during World War II.

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