How do wars begin? With a “master illusion”, according to Ralph McGehee, one of the CIA’s pioneers in “black propaganda”, known today as “news management”. In 1983, he described to me how the CIA had faked an “incident” that became the “conclusive proof of North Vietnam’s aggression”. This followed a claim, also fake, that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had attacked an American warship in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964.
“The CIA,” he said, “loaded up a junk, a North Vietnamese junk, with communist weapons - the Agency maintains communist arsenals in the United States and around the world. They floated this junk off the coast of central Vietnam. Then they shot it up and made it look like a fire fight had taken place, and they brought in the American press. Based on this evidence, two Marine landing teams went into Danang and a week after that the American air force began regular bombing of North Vietnam.” An invasion that took three million lives was under way.
The Israelis have played this murderous game since 1948. The massacre of peace activists in international waters on 31 May was “spun” to the Israeli public for most of last week, preparing them for yet more murder by their government, with the unarmed flotilla of humanitarians described as terrorists or dupes of terrorists. The BBC was so intimidated that it reported the atrocity primarily as a “potential public relations disaster for Israel”, the perspective of the killers, and a disgrace for journalism.
A similar master illusion currently preoccupies Asian governments. On 20 May, South Korea announced that it had “overwhelming evidence” that one of its warships, the Cheonan, had been sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine in March with the loss of 46 sailors. The United States maintains 28,000 troops in South Korea, where popular sentiment has long backed a détente with Pyongyang.