World opinion managing the mind of a hostile world

Posted: Aug 02, 2006 12:01 AM

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.

It's an appealing thought, but there is something to say for being in the insane majority. After all, it is decidedly unpleasant to be opposed by an insane majority. You could ask Israel right at the moment -- or for that matter for the past 3,000 years.

Whether technically insane, or merely wrong, ignorant, weak, stupid or malicious, the majority of people around the world -- what we respectfully call "world opinion" -- are rarely right about much of anything. That, in a nutshell, is why the world is in the shape it is -- and always has been. Christian theology calls it the imperfection of man, but one doesn't need to be a theologian to notice the deep moral and intellectual shortcomings of even the finest amongst our species. Gregory the Great (540-605 A.D.) neatly summarized seven of the worst: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. Thus, I propose the formula: 6.5 billion x 7 = world opinion (the world population times seven deadly sins equals world opinion). That is 45.5 billion reasons why world opinion is wrong.

And yet, to a greater or lesser extent, even the world's most powerful and stubborn men have felt the need to pay their respects to world opinion -- unwise a thing as world opinion usually is. Even Adolf Hitler, with all his insane hate and contempt for mankind (plus the strongest military force in the world at the time), felt the need to call his unprovoked invasion of Poland a "counter-attack" in a Reichstag speech. Of course, there was no Polish attack to "counter." He carefully preceded that lie with headlines the previous week in the German press such as: "Complete Chaos in Poland," "German Families Flee," " Polish Soldiers Push To Edge of German Border," "This Playing With Fire Going Too Far" "Three German Passenger Planes Shot At By Poles," "In Corridor Many German Farmhouses In Flames." Once again, none of those Polish deprivations of Germans happened -- except in the Nazi headlines. (If you are watching CNN et. al. this week, these headlines might seem vaguely familiar.)

But the lesson from all this is that as confident (or over-confident) as Hitler was at the time, he recognized that he could gain something by manipulating world opinion with propaganda. (Just as Winston Churchill fought the propaganda war as hard as he fought the military one. Effective propaganda is as necessary for the side of the angels as it is for the side of the devils.)

And it is vital to understand that while world opinion may be just the random collective judgment of mankind -- it is usually not random, but rather, in part at least, a propaganda-manipulated opinion.

Currently, the United States and Israel find themselves confronting a world opinion that is being shaped and manipulated by unfriendly others, and by the residue of historic malevolence, including: Hezbollah propaganda, European anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism, Muslim anti-Semitism, historic European anti-Semitism, and a mainstream world media that is tropistic to the foregoing factors.

Thus the question arises: How should Israel and the United States respond to the growing negative world opinion concerning the current Hezbollah/Israeli War? Naturally, the Europeans, the United Nations and the mainstream media -- the current majority in world opinion -- implore America and Israel to renounce Israel's and America's efforts at self defense from the hostility of radical Islamist terror: In Marcus Aurelius's phrase, to join the ranks of the insane. Both Israel and the United States should politely decline the invitation.

But nor is it in America's national interest (or Israel's) to say to hell with world opinion -- as some of the strongest advocates are currently saying. It is true that world opinion is at its most influential before the tanks roll and the bombs drop (just as the influence of a deterrent military force is strongest before it is actually tested in battle -- as Israel is sadly discovering currently).

And, importantly, it is also true that world opinion is powerless to stop the tanks rolling. So long as Israel decides to fight and America continues to give her diplomatic and re-armament back-up, world opinion can merely fume. So long as it remains in American national interest (particularly regarding our worldwide struggle against radical Islamism) to continue to back Israel, we should not be deterred by the rising fury of world opinion.

But over time, we ignore world opinion at our peril. World opinion tends -- to some extent-- to shape American voter opinion. And voter opinion tends to shape American politicians's opinion. Thus over time world opinion may weaken American will to defend itself against the amorphous but deadly Islamist virus.

Also, to the extent that defeating radical Islamism is enhanced by winning the hearts and minds of so far non-radical Muslims, corrosive world opinion against us only deepens the deep hole in which we currently find ourselves. America needs to get a lot better, fast, at the propaganda war that we are losing by default in the court of world public opinion. During the Cold War we spent billions and employed our smartest people to fight and win the propaganda war. Today, we are hors de combat.

Marcus Aurelius understood the appeal of joining the insane -- if there are enough of them. And like old Marcus -- the last of the five good Roman emperors -- we need to cling stoically to the dictates of reason in our continuous struggle for survival and victory. But it would sure help if we started trying to cure the pathology of an increasingly insane world. Our policy should be: Billions for propaganda, but not a single step back from fighting when necessary.