Osgood, Kenneth, and Andrew K. Frank, eds.: Selling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in the American Century.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Barnes, Howard A.
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Selling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in the American Century (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Osgood, Kenneth; Frank, Andrew K.
Accession Number: 263035419
Full Text: Osgood, Kenneth, and Andrew K. Frank, eds. Selling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in the American Century. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010. xii + 278 pages. Cloth, $44.95.

In the 1840s a visiting Frenchman, Alexis De Tocqueville, described a bourgeoning American democracy characterized by unprecedented geographical and social mobility, a democratic ideology of equality of opportunity and equality under the law, and steadily increasing literacy (slavery and the treatment of Native Americans were glaring exceptions). By the close of the nineteenth century, mass production and consumption, and the mass media, were beginning to characterize what some sociologists and historians refer to as a mass society.

This collection of papers, all written by historians, on how presidents have attempted to "sell" wars to the masses contains a preface by the editors, also both historians, and essays by first-rate experts. In the introduction, Andrew L. Johns explains that presidents from William McKinley to George W. Bush have stressed national values and national security in attempting to mold public opinion.

According to George C. Herring, there was no need to "sell" the Spanish-American War to the masses because of "yellow journalism," the insulting DeLome letter, and the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. McKinley's war was popular with the masses, but annexing the Philippines was a harder sell. However, the general climate of Anglo-Saxon superiority, the venerable "City on a Hill" tradition of American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, and a moral obligation to uplift an inferior race, carried the day. McKinley's campaign unveiled other major themes in twentieth-century American history, including cultivating journalists, undertaking speaking tours, demonizing enemies, and characterizing domestic dissenters as unpatriotic.

Emily Rosenberg explains the "barrage of government-produced" information (p. 51) designed to sell World War I, much of it controlled by George Creel's Committee on Public Information. Creel's campaign employed various forms of censorship and propaganda, including news releases (which newspapers had better publish or risk losing their supplies of newsprint), about 40,000 four-minute speeches in movie theaters, and outright forgeries. Posters showed "Huns" as animalistic monsters attacking cowering women and children defended by stalwart American soldiers.

Mark A. Stoler notes that Franklin D. Roosevelt carefully gauged public opinion as he moved by stages to his goal of going to war with Germany and saving Britain before it was too late. Roosevelt finally got his war but not where he expected. He then had to balance the mood of the masses with the demands of British and Soviet allied leaders, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin.

In his analysis of presidential addresses during the Cold War to 1969, Robert D. Schulzinger finds that presidents stressed American political, economic, moral, and religious values. According to Marilyn B. Young, the Korean War was a "hard sell" and "came and went without glory" (p. 114). Promotional documentaries like Why Korea? (freedom versus totalitarianism) had little effect, and the deaths of 33,000 Americans and many more Koreans left Americans with an empty feeling.

Like McKinley and Woodrow Wilson before him, Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized that waging a Cold War required the "moral legitimacy of a pursuit for peace" (p. 144). He and most Americans saw Soviet-proposed "peaceful coexistence" as a ploy to split the Western alliance, as indeed it did to some extent. Osgood asserts that Eisenhower made proposals in the name of peace that he knew the Soviets would not accept.

Lyndon B. Johnson believed (mistakenly, according to Chester Pach) that he was carrying out John E Kennedy's policies in Vietnam. Americans witnessed graphic and stirring scenes on the televised evening news that became more disturbing, especially when on-the-scene reporters began to conclude that the war was unwinnable. Johnson tried to influence the news with a combination of "sweet talk and strong-arming" (p. 176), for instance pressuring CBS to fire Morley Safer. The Tet Offensive in early 1968 showed Johnson that "after three years of enormous effort and increasing cost, he could not win, end, or--ultimately--sell" the war (p. 191).

Paul Boyer's article concentrates on Ronald Reagan's campaign to sell the Strategic Defense Initiative to the American people. Assertions that the United States could meet the great technological challenges involved were coupled with the usual affirmation of America's peaceful intentions. Despite the field day that commentators and cartoonists had with "Star Wars," the "Great Communicator" carried the day with his "manipulating propaganda" (p. 217) and $100 billion was eventually appropriated for the project. As recently as 2008, $12 billion was added to the project during the administration of George W. Bush.

The title of Lloyd Gardiner's essay, "The Ministry of Fear: The Selling of the Gulf Wars," reveals the author's negative assessment. The first President Bush demonized Saddam Hussein as another Hitler, in contrast to America's traditional moral and religious values, including the pursuit of peace through war. The second President Bush saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an opportunity to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and, in the context of the enduring "City on a Hill" ideal, remold the Middle East in America's image.

Finally, Robert J. McMahon concludes that twentieth-century presidents sought "to placate, accommodate, educate, mobilize, or manipulate the citizenry at large and its congressional representatives" (p. 253). In an Afterword, David Halberstam recounts the ways Kennedy and Johnson attempted to muzzle him and other reporters who revealed the negative side of the Vietnam War.

Aside from information about presidents and their attempts to influence the masses, there is much basic history in this collection of essays. As most of the authors have published books or articles on the topic, this volume brings valuable information together in a convenient format. Despite the liberal bias, almost second nature to academic historians, this is a quality book, well worth reading for what it tells us about America in the twentieth century.

Howard A. Barnes, PhD

Professor of History

Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.