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To conjure a dark illusion

“In a society that believes in nothing, fear becomes the only agenda. Whilst the 20th century was dominated by a conflict between a free-market Right and a socialist Left, even though both of those outlooks had their limitations and their problems, at least they believed in something, whereas what we are seeing now is a society that believes in nothing. And a society that believes in nothing is particularly frightened by people who believe in anything, and, therefore, we label those people as fundamentalists or fanatics, and they have much greater purchase in terms of the fear that they instill in society than they truly deserve. But that’s a measure of how much we have become isolated and atomised rather than of their inherent strength.”

Dr Bill Durodié is an Associate Fellow of the International Security Programme (ISP) for Chatham House

The above quote is a brief excerpt from Adam Curtis‘ 2004 classic documentary The Power of Nightmares on how black propaganda can create a fantasy of self-delusion which ultimately seduces the body-politic of its producer. This is a compelling interpretation of the history of the creation of Al Qaeda as a phantom enemy to fill the gap caused by the fall of the Soviet Union.

The US Networks have refused to show it, so while it may be familiar to our UK readers, it has probably not received the audience it deserves outside of the UK.

The Power of Nightmares

The Power of Nightmares – The Rise of the Politics of Fear

Regardless of whether you believe his interpretation is correct, it is an interesting analysis of the road to Baghdad.

To prevent Cats from accusations of copyright infringement, I will not post links, but I watched all three episodes this afternoon courtesy of Google.


  1. Julie near Chicago says:

    People who believe in nothing will fall for anything–including the idea that there is nothing to fear.

    It’s so much easier and more comfortable to live life that way, after all. Besides, there’s the fact that Ignorance is Rational. Just ask that great philosopher, Michael Huemer. (Obama was able to convince enough people that voting IS rational to get elected. With the help, of course, of certain voting irregularities. The point remains.)

    Not only that: As has long been known, Ignorance is also Bliss.

    “Fundamentalists and fanatics.” Let’s see. Besides Al Quaida and “Islamists” generally, who are currently busy killing all the vulnerable Christians they can get their hands on, that would include Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and the U.S.S. R. generally; Mao; Messrs. Guevara and Castro; Herr Hitler; and on and on.

    None of these people would hurt a fly, of course. Nor incite anyone else to do so. Nor be the heads, nor the right-hand-man executioners, of regimes that do so.

    “Nothing to see here … move along.”

    . . .

    PS. One of the strongest and longest tactics of the Left has been to deride the worries of those who are neither Ignorant nor Blissful, though they are often quite Rational.

    Also, I believe that the people suffered greatly because they allowed themselves to believe Messrs. Baldwin and Chamberlain, instead of Mr. Churchill.

    What is proper and rational is to fear people who have the intent to wipe their targets off the map, or who go in for wholesale slaughter in order to achieve their version of Perfection on Earth; that fear to be consonant with the degree of their power to achieve their aim, and the rational response being to act so as to defeat that power while doing as little damage as possible to civil society (Paul’s term) and the genuinely innocent who are caught in their webs.

    Somebody wrote a book called The Gift of Fear, if memory serves.

    . . .

    It is also, of course, proper and rational to fear our own governments, which are actually out of control, or 90% of the way there.

    If we could trust our governments, trust their honor, their aims, and their effectiveness in doing their proper job, we would have much less to fear from present-day Islam and from the Left and the Anglosphere-haters generally.

    . . .

    So, all of these fears are perfectly rational. The trick is to keep a clear head and use informed judgment to act effectively, not letting fear run away with us. (Always easier said than done. :( )

    And never letting the Prononciers du Jour* destroy our common sense, or a justified sense of outrage, or moral self-confidence.

    *How the heck do you say “those who pronounce upon” in a single word en français? :(

    PPS. Dr. Durodié writes,

    …[W]e label those people as fundamentalists or fanatics, and they have much greater purchase in terms of the fear that they instill in society than they truly deserve.

    One hopes that he can distinguish between the rationality of the fear of Islamicists and other baddies, and that of the fear of so-called “Fundamentalist” Christians.

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    Ah! I have watched as much of the trailer as I could manage before having to go throw up, and now I see! The scales have fallen from my eyes!!

    It is the Eeviill U.S., as led into the depths of dark R’lyeh by the EEEEEviiiiillllllllllllll NEO-CONS!!!!!!


    PS. It wasn’t “today’s politicians” who dreamed up that business about using bogeymen to scare the populace into submission. I b’lieve the idea goes back a few hundred, or a few thousand, years. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. Julie near Chicago says:

    PPS. And now I see that the Eeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvviiiiiiiiiiilllllllllllllllllllllll Neocons went so far as to invent Bill Clinton, er, no, I’m overstating–they invented the loathesome Slick Willie as an “enemy.”

    Well, yes. I am called away now, but that is a reasoned and fair judgment to make of the former president.

  4. John Galt says:

    Don’t see your particular point about “the evil neocons” as politicians of all factions are shown to be liars in this series. For myself I find the vast majority of politicians to be slimy, control freaks, be they Marxists or conservatives.

    I’m with Billy Connolly “If you won’t drink with them, don’t vote for them”.

    This is more about the consequences of inventing a complete fantasy to push your agenda against a foreign power (i.e. black propaganda), which then gets fed back into the domestic political system.

    It is a pretty cynical piece and I can’t vouch for its political bias one way or another, but it does make you think about some of the actions of the Reagan era administration.

    The argument being that they pushed Reagan into a more aggressive anti-Soviet policy that risked all-out nuclear war whereas if Kissinger’s more neutral policy of detente had been continued it would have still resulted in the collapse of the Soviet union.

    The collapse of the Soviet union was not because of the withdrawal from Kabul, SDI or any of the other political MacGuffin’s put forward, rather the Soviet union collapsed because of internal economics, political corruption, nepotism and lack of popular support.

  5. Julie near Chicago says:

    My remarks were based on the trailer, JD, not the whole series. And frankly, if lots of folks are tired of our “being the world’s policeman” (and personally I myself am tired of trying to be the world’s wet-nurse and sanitation engineer–but both seem to be necessary), then I am tired of being cast as the world’s whipping-boy and chief scapegoat.

    I would hope that the people who see this trailer would grasp the simple fact that whatever the putative message, the real one is that the Americans and the American Right are evil and not to be trusted. It’s Lefty propaganda on its face. It doesn’t give me much interest in seeing the whole series, although I daresay the latter makes a few good and even valuable points.

    One of the gurus of the cause of Leftist manipulation taught that subversive propaganda must always contain elements of truth in order to defeat arguments against it.

    That’s not to say it shouldn’t be posted, JG. It should be, and then examined for toxins and parasites.

    By the way. Kissinger. I thought we hated Kissinger. Didn’t he give all sorts of nasty real-politik advice to Nixon when he was Secretary of State?

    Détente, yes. Do you really think bin Laden was wrong when he said his people would bet on the strong horse?

    Do you really think that judgment applies only to Muslims?

    Do you really think that President Reagan’s perceived readiness to fight the Soviets when, as, and if necessary had no effect in bringing on its collapse?

    People say, Well, these horrible socialist regimes, the USSR, China, they are irrational and cannot last. Ultimately they will collapse and die.

    Yes, after killing somewhere between 150 and 200 million of their citizens already. (Not counting war casualties.) And you’ll notice that the rule hasn’t even held in all cases so far, the Norks and Cuba being the most obvious and long-lived of the examples.

    Neither of the collapsed regimes was based on a policy of non-expansionism, you know. There’s a reason why it was called the Communist International.

  6. Julie near Chicago says:

    “Collapsed regimes.” I overstated the case, as the Chinese regime has not collapsed, far from it; although it seems to have changed its tactics somewhat.

  7. John Galt says:

    Don’t forget that the UK has form on this as well with the report “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government” (aka “The Dodgy Dossier“) which was put forward by Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell.

    On the matter of Kissinger, I acknowledge that his policy of Détente was appropriate given the tensions of the cold war and the threat of nuclear conflict, although in other circumstances that might better be described as appeasement.

    Kissinger had control of the US foreign policy machine during turbulent times and as such is tainted by Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile and others, but how much he personally sanctioned I know not.

  8. Julie near Chicago says:

    I know, JG, but the fact is that there were WMD, that Pres. Bush (at least) did not make the WMD claim as the centerpiece of the reason for the war, that Saddam WAS in breach of the UN cease-fire terms, that 113 intel agencies worldwide agreed on the WMD, and that his nuclear program was ready to be reinstated as soon as he thought it feasible. Oh, and by the way, there certainly were links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

    There were indeed plans to take him out by assassination, if Mr. Baer (I believe it was Robert Baer) is correct–but apparently State persuaded Clinton to flinch or some such, and support for the operation, which was the idea of Iraqis and I believe to be carried out by them with CIA cover, was withdrawn. At the last minute. Now, it’s a few years since I read the book, and my memory may be wrong as to whether it was State or the CIA or WJC who flinched first, but that’s the gist of it. And there would have been no Operation Desert Storm, or at least, not as instigated by Saddam’s behavior.

    Of course, if the CIA had had a hand in such a thing, it would have been Those Awful Americans and That Dreadful Evil CIA Meddling Again, going about killing people right and left, and all that. Well, I have no stomach for assassinations, be it known. But I few people have needed killing, you know the names, and Saddam and his psychopathic sons are on the short list. (And the CIA has been wrongly held guilty of various acts, by the way. For instance the murder of General What’s-his-name at the time Pinochet deposed Allende.)

    My countrymen (at least the ones I will admit to knowing) and I were shocked and horrified at 7/7. If you folks had had the bad luck to be first on the hit-list, do you think we would have stood by and said Tsk tsk, what a shame, awful for those poor Brits, oh well it’s their pile of poo, pity.

    Of course not. And nor did you. And once again I was proud of my country’s British ancestry.

    Of course there were also Madrid, Mumbai, Djakarta, more ….

    But nothing to get the wind up about, folks.

  9. NickM says:

    Ronnie did a lot to push the Sov’s over the brink though they were on that already. They simply were not in a position to grasp and grok the mcrocomputer revolution. amongst other things. Ronnie grasped this in a way. He realized the USA was much more powerful than the antedeluvian USSR (Google “Soviet Block Sinclair Spectrum Clones”). Look at the kill ratios the IAF got against the Syrian Airforce in ’82. I think the IAF’s F-16 got against Syrian MiG-23s (and assorted other junk) over Lebanon. 100-0 seems about right?

    Yeah, I know the USSR fell for many reasons – disgruntled satellite states (yes, that’s you Lech and you Vaclev*) and Pope JP-II and the total stagnation of Soviet society (I have a theory the Yugoslav civil war of the ’90s was at least partly attributable to sheer boredom) and lot’s of other things but Ronnie put his shoulder to that stone too and that stone set off an avalanche. And for that he deserves credit. A lot of credit.

    *Why no Nobel for him when Yasser Arafat got one? It is still at large. As indeed is his toilet. If anyone doubts the scumbaggery of Hamas they stole Yasser Arafat’s khazi… In the an(n)als of criminal history that is spherically beyond contempt.

  10. Julie near Chicago says:

    Well I MUST say NickM, I like your style. :>))) LOL

    *Yes, why the despicable Arafat (not to mention the current jackass) but not Pres. Havel? Or Irina Sendler? Disgraceful.

  11. Tim Newman says:

    The collapse of the Soviet union was not because of the withdrawal from Kabul, SDI or any of the other political MacGuffin’s put forward, rather the Soviet union collapsed because of internal economics, political corruption, nepotism and lack of popular support.

    The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan went quite some way to exposing the political corruption and undermining popular support. Its significance shouldn’t be underestimated.

  12. Tim Newman says:


    The argument being that they pushed Reagan into a more aggressive anti-Soviet policy that risked all-out nuclear war…

    This was the charge the CND made when Reagan put US nuclear missiles in Europe. In fact, he made nuclear war less likely by showing the Soviets they could not wage a “limited” nuclear war in Europe and keep the Americans out.

  13. Lynne says:

    Let’s not forget the less warlike but equally nasty CAGW fraud. We’re all gonna fry so pay up and pay up hard!

  14. clh says:

    In case you are expecting us to say Irena Who?

  15. John Galt says:

    Having thought a bit more about it, I’m prepared to give Ronnie and the boys extra credit for spending $3bn+ on arms to the Mujahadeen to get the soviets out of Afghanistan.

    I’ve always though that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was an idiotic exercise anyway, as has been every invasion of Afghanistan in modern times. The original US policy was to let the Soviets bleed themselves out gradually against guerillas, supported by small scale CIA interventions to keep a gradual war going. We’ve seen how effective asymmetric warfare can be against a superior force with the ongoing insurgency in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that this was accompanied by ongoing mechanised mass slaughter of Afghan civilians was not to something either the CIA or the Soviets were bothered about.

    The change of CIA strategy from minimal-to-maximal covert support for the Mujahadeen might have been a tipping point for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but it wasn’t in-and-of-itself the keystone whose withdrawal led to the collapse if the Soviet Union, it was just one of many contributing factors.

    If the Soviets hadn’t invaded Afghanistan at all, I contend that the Soviet union would still have collapsed around the same time it did for all of the other reasons. Their economy was in tatters, the people disillusioned, the central leadership corrupt and the satellite states just waiting for the moment.

    Tim Newman’s point that the failure of Afghanistan somehow undermined confidence of the Russian people and highlighted the corruption of their leaders I am certainly not buying. By the end of the Brezhnev era in 1982, the USSR had been in virtual economic stagnation for 9-years. Political corruption was endemic and everybody with half a braincell knew that the output from TV, Radio and Newspapers were lies. The stagnation and denial of reality continued under Andropov and Chernenko. So the man on the Vykhino omnibus was fully aware of these failings before the war turned against them in the early 1980′s.

  16. Tim Newman says:

    Tim Newman’s point that the failure of Afghanistan somehow undermined confidence of the Russian people and highlighted the corruption of their leaders I am certainly not buying.

    Well, I’ve heard it from Russian sources – bearing in mind I speak Russian, lived there for 4 years, and am married to a Russian. Get hold of a book called Zinky Boys, about the conscripts in Afghanistan. Whereas most Russians knew the leadership was bad, they were not prepared to believe the army – which was held in the highest esteem since the victories in the Great Patriotic War – could be corrupted. Afghanistan changed that, and people realised that if the armed forces were riddled with the same endemic corruption as every other institution, then there really was no hope. The authorities were so concerned about the casualties rates leaking out that they buried them in unmarked graves and told blatant lies to the families. They’d not have done this if they didn’t fear the public reaction. Also, the disillusionment with the military and among those who served in it during and after Afghanistan was probably one of the main factors in the Soviets deciding not to use force to keep the USSR together. The invasion of Afghanistan also created deep rifts within the leadership of the USSR, with Tajikistan refusing to endorse the invasion and being exempt from sending conscripts.

    I also think you underestimate the degree to which people still believed in the system. They didn’t know it was all lies, they merely strongly suspected. The big shock came when it collapsed: I know of no Russian, not a single one, who said “Meh, saw that coming.” I know a lot who were so disgusted at the final proof that the whole system was a sham that they drank themselves to death or turned their back on the only thing they’d known all their lives. But this didn’t happen until after the collapse.

  17. John Galt says:

    Fair points Tim.

    I concede that it is hard to put myself in the shoes of those living in Soviet society at that time. Certainly from the outside looking in it seems obvious, but given the level of censorship and propaganda it might well be as you say.

    I still find it difficult to believe though, even if it is true.

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