The more things change . . . (which is why we study history)

I’ve been reading a recently acquire book titled “Propaganda for War: The Campaign against American Neutrality, 1914-1917” as part of my (for)ever-continuing education about the Bisbee Deportation.

In a nutshell, it the story of the intense British propaganda effort to paint the Central Powers (Germany, etc.) as a foe of the United States, freedom and democracy, and to lure the United States, with its immense power and resources, into the conflict now known as World War I.Map of Cuba

It’s a fascinating read (yes, really) about an aspect of the 19-teens about which I knew relatively little. And it’s a prelude to another book, by the same author, even more pertinent to the Bisbee event, but more about that in weeks to come.

How history relates to now

Whenever I talk history, I try to link the past to the present, to show that we are really not changing all that much, nor have we changed over the ages. But I’m still amazed myself when I find such linkages.

Thus it was astounding this morning, after having begun studying the history book the prior evening, when I came across a news article from the Associated Press headlined “US secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest.”

Different technology, same purpose. The text-messaging service was built through secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks, the AP said.

“The project, which lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet with a primitive social media platform. Its users were neither aware it was created by a U.S. agency with ties to the State Department, nor that American contractors were gathering personal data about them. In 2012, the text messaging service vanished as mysteriously as it appeared.”

It was to start out with messages about soccer, hurricane updates — innocent information. When the subscriber base reached a high enough figure, the service would “introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize ‘smart mobs’ — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.'”

The complete story is fascinating and worth the time (it’s lengthy) to read. Just as is the story of British propaganda 100 years earlier, which I’ll be discussing more completely in the weeks to come.

“History,” we are told, “teaches us we learn nothing from history.” The difference between then and now, of course, is that the British were successful in their propaganda efforts.


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