"The first casualty when war comes is truth." Hiram W Johnson. This quote is also sometimes attributed to the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.
It’s not easy to get Americans to support war. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed journalist George Creel as Chairman of the new Committee for Public Information. In an article for The American Experience, Nicholas Cull wrote, “For two years, he rallied the American public to the cause of war and sold the globe a vision of America and President Wilson’s plans for a world order. He was a controversial figure in wartime Washington, but his efforts changed the ideological landscape at home and abroad, and many of the methods and approaches he pioneered became a standard part of U.S. statecraft.”
Near the beginning of the 21st century, George W. Bush and his team made the case for war in Iraq based primarily on intelligence reports that the regime in Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The war was undertaken and Saddam Hussein was captured. However, the evidence of WMDs was not as strong as the pre-war intelligence indicated.
Fake news can also be used to make the case for peace. In 1938 Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister, gave a speech titled Peace for Our Time. “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor,” he said. A year later, Germany invaded Poland. Shortly after that, Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Similarly, and much more recently, the Obama team assured Americans that all chemical weapons were removed from Syria and everything was going to be just fine. In an interview with NPR former National Security Adviser Susan Rice said, “We were able to find a solution that didn't necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished.” As many Syrians found out firsthand, and as observers throughout the world saw in April of 2017, Syria still had a stockpile of chemical weapons.
Of course, this wasn’t Susan Rice’s first time disseminating fake news. Following the deadly attack on Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Rice went on numerous TV news shows to inform viewers that the attack was the result of a mob crazed by the airing of a low budget movie that didn’t portray The Prophet in a good light. Even though that tall tale was later discredited, whoever concocted the story has yet to be identified. Nevertheless, it proved that fake news can be very effective as a temporary distraction.
Then came Secretary of State Clinton’s infamous question, “What difference does it make?” It is obvious to most people that the primary purpose of getting to the truth about the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi was to formulate policies for avoiding similar attacks in the future. Clinton’s fake question was accompanied by fake outrage.
The Weekly Standard recently printed an excellent article about some of this.