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In addressing the problem of national security, the Argentine joint staff guidelines prohibited information that would "produce panic, is against national unity, detracts from the credibility of, or contradicts official information, upsets internal order, generates aggressive attitudes toward the country's British community, affects the relationship with other countries, or coming from abroad, tends to facilitate the achievement of the opponent's psychological goals."
Regardless of that stiff policy for news correspondents, the point should not be overlooked that, indeed, the Argentine junta allowed British correspondents to stay on in Buenos Aires. And as one might expect of a democratic nation, Great Britain had no aversion to allowing Argentine correspondents to continue their work in England. It is worth recalling, however, speaking of democratic societies, that the United States was not as open-minded about Japanese correspondents between 1942 and 1945.
The Argentines did not have the infrastructure necessary to conduct formal censorship as the British tried to do. What they tried to do with the foreign press was what reportedly they do ordinarily with their own news media. That situation has been described by correspondents who were in Argentina during the war as a veiled semicensorship, backed up with at least harassment, if not violence. The possibility of government dissatisfaction and retaliation was not lost on the approximately 700 foreign correspondents reporting the war from Buenos Aires. An American TV news producer stationed in Buenos Aires for the war admitted that all the news organizations there "were virtually mouthpieces (for the government) in many cases. Our coverage was a bit contrived and a bit controlled." He added that the government effectively sent a message that "you'd better watch yourself, you'd better watch the kind of stories you're doing, you'd better watch who you intimidate and who you are going to insult, because we're very sensitive."
Is it the proper role of the press to intimidate or to insult? Many newsmen would say yes, if it is necessary to put a news subject off-balance in order that he might provide more information. My personal and professional attitude as a potential interviewee is that, I wouldn't stand for it and don't think any news interviewee should have to.
The Road to War. The task of preparing the Argentine public for a Malvinas invasion began late in December 1981, according to correspondents from The Times of London in their book War in the Falklands. That was after the takeover by the new president, General Leopoldo Galtieri. His foreign secretary, Nicanor Costa Mendez, met with a select group of Argentine journalists and discussed the government's intentions. According to The Times writers, Galtieri was determined to regain the Falklands-by diplomacy if possible, by force if necessary. Several weeks later, Argentina's premier newspaper,
La Prensa, printed a column that addressed the problem of the defense of the South Atlantic and said that taking the Malvinas by force was an option "which would enjoy an international consensus." A week later the same columnist who, it may be surmised, was speaking for his government, added in this regard that "the United States. . . would support all acts leading to restitution (of the Malvinas), including military ones. . . . "That kind of public preparation for this war continued until the invasion on 2 April 1982.
Triumphalism. The view the Argentine government gave to its citizens and the world from the time of the invasion until the last days of this short war was reflective of its psychological action plan. It was a view of extreme triumphalism, even though the joint staff said that they were trying to avoid that. Starting with the approach of the British task force, through at least the Bluff Cove engagement in June, the Argentines were saying that their forces were invincible and the British would be sent home with a bloody nose. The vast majority of the Argentine public felt that their case was right and just and therefore were predisposed to accept a lot of the triumphalism.
During the course of the war, the Argentine public was perhaps more predisposed to believe the triumphalism espoused by the junta than they would have been to support the triumphalism of, say, a given economic or agricultural policy. Nothing can take the people's minds off a collapsing economy like a popular war. When the Ministry of Economy says the rate of inflation will be kept down to 100 percent this year and the people know it is going to be at least 300 percent, they make their own judgment on the ministry's information. The public was ready for a national victory of sorts, something upbeat for a change, having struggled with a brutally inflated economy for so long. So, when they kept hearing reports of their military forces triumphant in battle, they believed them, besides the general feeling that their case in the Malvinas crisis was right. But after the war, and here is a key point, there was a widespread revulsion and questioning of the triumphalism that was peddled by the junta via the Argentine press. The Argentines are understandably cynical and disllusioned. What little faith they had in the nation's institutions dissipated when, at the end of the war, they learned that they had been deceived by the military and the news media into thinking they were winning. A national television news show that bills itself as "The Hour of Truth" is now popularly called "The Hour of Lies."
Argentina's handling of war news demonstrates that lying to your people costs more in the long run than it gains in the short run. The country was bound up in a state of, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, national selfdeception. A hungry public was quick to swallow the junta's triumphalism. The misstatements of war information were readily believed when the public read them as official communiques from the joint staff. Conversely, when anything was going badly for the Argentines, the British reports to the
contrary were laughed off as propaganda or psychological warfare. It is not surprising, then, that the public and many in the military were at first stunned when news came of the British landings. The public and many members of the armed forces thought they were winning until the last moment when they lost. The Argentine psychological action plan would not even allow reports of the 250 dead at Goose Green and 1,400 taken prisoner, even as the British troops were taking Port Stanley.
While there is no credit due the Galtieri junta for trusting its public with good and bad news of the war, the Thatcher government can be accused of the same shortcoming. But, as can be seen from the experience of the Galtieri regime, the government that blatantly lies to its people cannot ultimately endure. Thus we can end this chapter with a bit of morality and philosophy from Sissela Bok: "The language of enmity and rivalry is not suited to moral inquiry. If we want to produce excuses for lying to someone, these excuses should be capable of persuading reasonable persons, not merely some particular public locked in hostility to a particular group. Entering into hostilities is, in a sense, to give up the ability to shift perspectives. But even those who give up the language of morality during a period of hostility and adopt that of strategy instead, may do well to remember Mark Twain's words: 'When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends."'"*
A Better Route, A Better Destination
he conflict in the South Atlantic in mid-1982 between Argentina and
ment and its effects on public opinion in a crisis situation.
Some of the conclusions I've developed as a result of this study of the public affairs aspects of the Falklands war are:
• To maintain popular support for a war, your side must not be seen as ruthless barbarians;
• If you don't want to erode the public's confidence in the government's war aims, then you cannot allow that public's sons to be wounded or maimed right in front of them via their TV sets at home;
• You must, therefore, control correspondents' access to the fighting; • You must invoke censorship in order to halt aid to both the known and the suspected enemies;
• You must rally aid in the form of patriotism at home and in the battle zone but not to the extent of repeated triumphalism;
• You must tell your side of the story first, at least for psychological advantage, causing the enemy to play catch-up politically, with resultant strategic effect;
• To generate aid, and confuse at least the domestic detractors, report the
*Lying-A Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Pantheon, 1978), p. 145.
Public Affairs in the South Atlantic War 71
truth about the enemy and let the enemy defectors tell their horror story. • Finally, in order to affect or help assure “favorable objectivity," you must be able to exclude certain correspondents from the battle zone.
Now that the first South Atlantic crisis of the century has been through "Hot Washup," the PAO armchair quarterbacks can conclude all of those things that I have just said, knowing there will be flak damage to repair domestically in a free-information society. But, “objectivity can come back into fashion when the shooting is over.”
Though the conclusions I've presented are derived from the strategies and tactics of both South Atlantic belligerents, there were some marked differences in their approaches.
• The disinformation from the British was intended to deceive the Argentines;
The disinformation from the Argentine junta was intended to deceive the Argentine public;
• Both countries facilitated their disinformation through censorship but in different forms:
The British controlled their news largely by control of journalists' copy from the battle zone and by allowing speculation at home,
Whereas the Argentine junta controlled their news at the source of information, and that source was in Buenos Aires.
• The Argentines had a public information plan and a psychological action plan for this war;
• The British, like their operational efforts, were ad hoc in their approach to public affairs;
• The British particularly lacked technique and, therefore, training in their censorship program.
The war in the South Atlantic last year serves to remind us that information matters are an intrinsic part of war and should, therefore, form part of the planning for war.
War is something we train for with the hope of never having to do it. Public affairs in crises is something we often do but rarely, if ever, train for. Public affairs elements must be incorporated in military exercises in such a way that every level of command has to deal with the problem.
The field commander knows that he will be allowed less flexibility in decision-making the shorter the crisis is. That same decision-making process will have a vital impact on public affairs matters. We can read postmortems, but they will do us little good unless we train and prepare in every warfare specialty, including public affairs.
Lieutenant Commander Humphries, a public affairs specialist, is a student at the Naval War College and a member of the College's Falkland Islands study group.
Communications and the Law
JACK A. GOTTSCHALK
"Consistent with Security"... A History of American Military Press Censorship
Jack A. Gottschalk is with the
Press Censor. He is an adjunct professor
at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In 1649 Parliament passed a law permitting the Secretary of War to license all army news. If no other purpose was served by the act, it was a precedent for censorship in the American colonies that officially began on May 13, 1725, when a Massachusetts Order-In-Council required that:
The printers of the newspapers in Boston be ordered upon
Given these actions, it is surprising that no censorship occurred during the Revolution, a point recalled by Thomas Jefferson in an 1813 letter where he
The first misfortune of the Revolutionary War induced a mo-
For whatever reason, although government-media relations in the nation's
JAMES RUSSELL WIGGINS, FREedom or SecrECY, 94 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
2. Ibid., 94-95.
Communications and the Law 35