Saturday, July 29, 2006

Psyched Out

It's not technically a digital rhetoric story, but I've been following coverage about leaflet drops by the Israeli government over Lebanon, because I'm interested in the discourses surrounding political surrender, and the Web helps us see images of the paper ephemera involved in this process from distant regions, which we might not otherwise see.

I first started thinking about these documents when I was teaching about the Requerimiento (1510), which was read to indigenous people by Spanish conquistadors, sometimes in the Europeans' native language, so Native Americans were unable to undertand their "natural" rights as political subjects of Spain.

I've found the rhetoric of these leaflets generally includes at least one of three messages:

1) the war that is being fought is a just war
2) the person on the ground is informed that he (or she) has a rational choice to make and that one of the two consequences will be personally disastrous for him (or her)
3) the opposing forces are laughable, often cartoonishly so

The Israeli army leafleteers seem to be using all three strategies, although the second one is least prominent in their campaign.

In the conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan, I've been collecting leaflets when they are posted on Centcom sites. Psywar also has a good collection of leaflets. It is interesting to note that during the initial assault on Afghanistan, the main message was that foreigners (meaning the U.S. and NATO) were friendly and wanted to help, while later the meassage became: drive out the foreigners (meaning those from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East). The 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg provides some explanation of the U.S. rationale.

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Anonymous Vivian Folkenflik said...

Technologically, the Web makes some important differences to reception of the Israeli leaflets and the Requerimiento: 1] the availability of online
translation, and 2] the images not only of the paper ephemera but of the distant damage already taking effect on those who do not make the "rational" choice: even if a given group of 1510 Indians heard the Requerimiento in their own languages, they would have had *only* a verbal understanding, not a visual one, of the possible effects. These differences change reception, though it may be hard to see what difference this makes to leafleted children trying to understand their own situation, since they, like the 1510 children, do not get to choose anyway.

1:09 PM  

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