Duing the run up to the war in Iraq, various anti-war and pacifists folks kept quoting Hermann Goering’s comment at the Nuremberg trials about going to war:
“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
Today Andrew Sullivan provided this great riposte from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, May 26 1940
But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots … The method is simple. It is first, a dissemination of discord. A group – not too large – a group that may be sectional or racial or political – is encouraged to exploit its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals. The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and, eventually, a state of panic. Sound national policies come to be viewed with a new and unreasoning skepticism … As a result of these techniques, armament programs may be dangerously delayed. Singleness of national purpose may be undermined. . . . The unity of the state can be so sapped that its strength is destroyed. All this is no idle dream. It has happened time after time, in nation after nation, during the last two years.
Sullivan connects this quotation with Michael Moore. I would say it applies equally well to much of the liberal media establishment.
In any case, the contrast between the quotations represents well the value and danger of democracy and freedom of the press. Goering assumes the leaders control of the media so all they have to do is tell people things. In contrast, here the leaders are held to a higher standard where leaders must show the people they are in danger in the face of a free press that may be actively hostile to the leadership and its agenda and that does not have the same level of security responsibilities as that leadership. The question FDR opens is whether the questioning of leadership claims by the free press can become pathological enough to cause major damage. I would like to believe that the check on the free press comes from an intelligent and educated citizenry, but my observations of the Ivy League educated readership of the NYTimes, the Washington Post, etc. leaves me dubious.
How do we balance the dangers of overreaching by dictatorship against the dangers of pacifist stupor induced by a free press?