Don’t turn into a buffalo

They say propaganda is the art of persuasion.

During World War II, American propaganda greatly influenced support for the war and the nation's pledge for victory for its allies. And it was effective. Civilian moral went up, as did the sale of war bonds and the general sense of patriotism – the wave-a-flag-wherever-you-go kind of patriotism that's as American as apple pie and baseball.

In fact, propaganda posters proved so effective during the World War II era that more were made in the United States than any other country involved in the war. They were proudly fastened in every home, business, apartment building, car, wheelchair, Red Flyer wagon and family cat people could get their hands on. Pro-war propaganda eventually spilled over into other sources of media, including television, radio, movies, newspapers, leaflets, and comic books (even Walt Disney got into the war propaganda scene with more than 30 animated shorts while he was under government contract).

As the drum of war in Syria beats a little louder, it comes as no surprise to see propaganda again playing a hand in America's desire to take military action. But of course, today's propaganda isn't that of mid-20th century war-torn America. American propaganda has gotten a 21st century facelift to make it suitable for Generation Y. This week, I came across a Facebook post that said “Like if you support military action in Syria. Keep scrolling if you don't believe in freedom.”

That hardly seems like a fair ultimatum to me. Hey, here's another good one: “Would you rather support military action in Syria or be attacked by a pack of rabid wolverines?”

But I digress. The fact that propaganda taking on new forms to appeal to a larger, younger crowd persists and it's standing in the way of people making their own decisions about the Syrian conflict. Propaganda, by definition, has long been a way of swaying one's political opinion by spreading skewed information. Unfortunately, as we wrap up another week of speculation (which I personally believe will end with military action overseas), all this political hearsay is clouding the judgment of people who should be thinking for themselves.

This is not a slight to Fox News, political cartoonists or the like, but rather a plea for people to think for themselves (which I know is asking a lot. I sometimes tell people I got married just so I wouldn't have to make my own decisions). What it comes down to is that this propaganda – even that spread on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook – amounts to overly simple thinking for not so simple situations. It's taking a convoluted issue and shortening it to nothing more than a label or a hackneyed idea to prove a point without explaining the bigger picture. And people fall for it.

With impending military action in Syria on the horizon, the pull from both pro-war and anti-war activists is bound to grow stronger by the minute. This is the time to come to your own conclusions, ignore the slander and the propaganda, and make decisions regarding our influence in the Middle East based on what you believe – not what you're told to believe.

In middle school, my Social Studies teacher told me of how Native American hunters used to a simple trick for killing buffalo. He said buffalo run without looking forward. When a few buffalo are startled, they run and the rest of the herd just follows. Hunters learned that if they scare buffalo into running toward a cliff, most of the heard would stampede over the edge.

My advice? Don't let propaganda turn you into a buffalo.

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