Manipulated emotions, marching to another person’s drum beat

The Tin Drum
The Tin Drum cover.gif
Author(s) Günter Grass
Original title Die Blechtrommel

The manipulation of our emotions by the press is not a new thing, not at all.  Leading into every war, the government, ours and every other one in the world has manipulated emotions of the general population with a constant stream of stories about the atrocities of our, next to be, enemy.   We must first hate them before we can asked to shoot them; hate makes killing easier, just ask the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.  On a smaller and less important scale the technique of manipulating emotions with stories that demonize one side of an issue while making heroes of the other side is an every day occurrence.  Why is it so easy to manipulate us?

There a probably many reasons, but the simplest lies in our ignorance; the media, the government and all of the other spin-doctors can say pretty much anything they choose because we don’t know the facts.   That is not to be taken as a criticism, rather a description of state of our knowledge of the world; as we delegate to our representatives the responsibility to make laws in our best interests, we delegate to the media the responsibility to gather the facts and present them to us in ways that are best for us.  We don’t have the time or the resources to discover the truth for ourselves  or to weigh all of the opposing facts and construct a reasoned analysis of the situation; for that we need help.

For example, how could any of us know what is true in Syria?  We cannot; we cannot go to Syria, we don’t speak the language, nor understand the culture, history or religious intricacies – so we sit each day waiting for the supposed experts, our representatives on the spot, to relay the events of the day to us and to interpret them in ways we can understand.  Again, that is not a criticism of our collective intelligence, just a statement of a reality: it is impossible for us to go to the source of stories and interpret them for ourselves.

As justifiable as that may be, it still leaves us vulnerable to manipulation, as people in Germany and Israel are being manipulated today.  This week there has been a major controversy in Germany over a poem published by Gunter Grass on Wednesday.  The poem is called “What Must Be Said,” in the poem Grass is critical of Israeli policy as he understands it.  The controversy arises as much from Grass’ history and stature in Germany as it does from his words.  For many years, because of his books, primarily “The Tin Drum,” Grass was seen as the moral voice of Germany.  Since Grass gained the public stage as a famous author, he has demanded that Germans face their Nazi history and be ever vigilant against a return of German militarism or nationalism; and then after 60 years, he admitted that he had enlisted in the SS as a young man.  Even though he was nothing more than a simple solider during the war, he has been severely criticized as a hypocrite.  It also leaves him vulnerable to being accused of antisemitism or being anti-Israeli.  That is what the title of his poem means, he simply says he has avoided saying what he thought for fear of being label antisemitic, but can no longer be silent.

There are hundreds of editorials in German, Europe and Israel on Grass and his poem, and all assume you have not read the poem.  With that assumption each attempts to incite your hate, inflame your emotions and enlist your support against Grass and his kind; there may be some speaking in his favor, but I could not find any; the Guardian does have one that might be termed neutral.  You can read it if you wish, there are a couple of translations online and it is easy to read.  Grass in his poem does say he thinks Germany should not sell nuclear weapon capable submarines to Israel, he does say he thinks Israel has nuclear weapons, he does say he is not certain Iran has or intends to develop nuclear weapons and he does say that the talk of an attack on Iran by Israel to take out its nuclear capabilities threatens world peace.

Grass may be anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, but I cannot find that in his poem; his poem is his opinion, the opinion of an old man who fears war and thinks his personal experience gives him some insight into the causes of war. He is just a person, his awards and stature bring nothing special to the issue; granted it is easier for him to get published, but there is no suggestion of expertise in that.  The poem is an opinion piece in verse, nothing more.

Is he wrong? Is he a bigot?  He might well be, but I share his view that the talk of attacking Iran threatens world peace.  Am I wrong?  Am I a bigot?  Possibly in both cases, but my opinion is an honest one, it is based on the evidence I have found in my own research, not on the manipulations of governments or media outlets.  As with Gunter Grass, I read as much as I can from both sides of an issue and when possible I go to the primary source, although admittedly I was reading a translation of the poem, not the German original.  Some things are worth taking our time and using what resources we have to search for the truth; there are times when relying on others to relate and interpret the world for us is very dangerous.  Whenever the press or a government works very hard to demonize a person or a nation, we should at least stop and ask why before we pick up our guns and march off to war.  When we march to another person’s drum beat we march blindly and we  always march into dangerous territory.


2 Responses to “Manipulated emotions, marching to another person’s drum beat”

  1. 1 Bill Hanigan April 11, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Frankly I think the best response would have been to ignore the poem, which I think is a little more anti semitic than you suggest. He suggests that Israel is planning an attack on “The nation of Iran” ie extermination. And I qualify this by an interpratation from Jeffrey Goldberg from “The Atlantic”.
    Meir Dagan ex-Mossad chief also voices concerns re Netanahyu’s sabre rattling.
    Thinking of this drama in a chess environment what would you see ? What If Iran gains a nuclear capability ? Would it be worse than a pre emptive strike ? Perhaps the sanctions will achieve the desired result in the status quo which may eventually lead to regime change from within.

  2. 2 Ken Adams April 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

    With that I agree – it did not rise to the level of internation importance until governments started to comment. As to the Israeli threat, the world press made it sound imenent for the first three months of the year – the Israeli history of premptive strikes is really scary in a nuclear world – Iran with a bomb is frightening, but so is Pakistan, India, North Korea, China, Russia and the United States – living as they do in a world where some of their regional counterparts have one and their chief enemies also, it is a suprise they want one?

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