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

“The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear” is a three-part documentary that explores the use of fear for political gain, given the lasting impact of 9/11 and with media sensationalism at an all-time high.  This is not about nightmares, but instead about people in power who give us nightmares for their own benefit.  The first film, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” examines historical aspects of international threats, and explains how the American government over-hyped the danger of the USSR.  The second film, “The Phantom Victory”, looks at how two disparate groups, radical Islamists and US neoconservatives, apply similar tactics.  Both sides claim there is an evil creeping into their world that threatens their existence, and both sides call for aggressive strikes against the enemy as protective measures.  The third film, “The Shadows in the Cave”, asks the question, “Is organized terrorism an illusion?”  It challenges the idea that Al Quaeda is a single cohesive organization, and argues that Al Quaeda is not truly a major threat.  Of the three discs, the last one is probably best.  In this BBC series, Adam Curtis combines interviews, historical film clips, and narration to explain the current situation between the Middle East and the western world, specifically America.  It pieces together key figures beginning in the mid-20th century who have shaped current relations involving the Middle East, with interviews of political, academic, and religious leaders, former high-level CIA and military leaders from many countries.  The series shows how we got where we are today, resulting in the Middle East in total shambles.  Beginning in the 1950’s Cold War period, the series studies the political machinations in the Western nations, the Middle East, and Russia that eventually led to the political climate of the Bush presidency and the 9/11 attacks.  The aftermath of 9/11 and how our leaders made political capital out of the terrible events are well addressed.

The documentary-maker’s premise is that since modern humanity has lost faith in government and stopped trusting officials, the new leaders are using fear of exaggerated enemies to control the masses:  “Although we in the West face a serious terrorist threat, the apocalyptic vision of Al Qaeda portrayed by politicians and the media is both a distortion and an exaggeration.”  It points out that the fear-mongering strategy neocons use to scare us about radical Islamic conservatives that supposedly want to attack the U.S., is overblown or a myth.  He advances the thesis that leaders have ceased trying to offer ideologies of edifying ideals for a better life to their people — and instead employ messages of fear, especially dread of future attacks.  The leadership sees this messaging useful for keeping populations anxious and in line.  If the masses believe the leadership is keeping them safe, then people will be less likely to vent their frustrations when the leadership’s corruption and blunders are brought to light.  I have always suspected that politicians were using fear to get across their views, but nobody ever pointed it out as well until this series.  And I always thought that President George Bush II was using fear to get support for the Iraq war against Saddam Hussein.  The overall message of these films is that post-WWII American governments have manufactured enemies and wars as an excuse to legitimize power grabs.  The series focuses on the 30-year political history from 1980 on into the new millennium, through a prism of two groups — Islamic fundamentalist and the U.S. NeoConservatives (neocons).  This looks at the possible threat of Islamic extremists, and the US politicians who justify their actions by exaggerating this threat through fear-mongering.  It makes a powerful argument that radical Islam and U.S. neocons employ similar fear-mongering tactics to achieve their political ends.  This outlines the development of the neoconservative movement in the U.S. from its philosopher-progenitor, Leo Strauss, through its flowering during the Reagan and latter Bush eras.  Strauss taught his acolytes to create powerful myths in order to drive the conservative agenda, and the far-right wing of the Republican Party has done just that by parading a series of bogeymen in front of the American public in order to advance its goals and a constantly growing military-industrial complex.  And for people who previously did not understand what “neoconservatives” are, they will after watching this.  The neocons who have formulated U.S. foreign policy give the American public simplified ‘good’ and ‘evil’ icons to keep us supporting the war machine (by their own admission, as discussed lucidly in this series).  Neoconservatives have helped to create the idea of an eternal enemy called “Terrorists” to keep us in fear of a next attack.  While there are many Muslims, fortunately there are relatively few terrorists, but the neoconservatives don’t want you to know this.  Critics of neoconservativism see it as an attack on freedom and the U.S. Constitution, and criticize the neoconservatives for causing a war unrelated to the 9/11 attacks and fought for wrong reasons.  I was riveted by the monstrous things that have been done in the name of freedom and democracy.  After watching this three-part series, you may recoil from the unnecessary carnage inflicted around the globe by the neocons — and their utter disregard for truth, reality, and even common decency.  The deep parallel histories of the neocons and the Islamists are striking and well explained.  On the Muslim side, the film details how the West has been demonized by radical Islam, and how through events such as the Soviet-Afghan war this demonization has gained traction with Muslims worldwide.  The doc does a great job in connecting the historical antecedents that led up to the WTC attacks and the Iraq war.

The facts revealed by this excellent documentary series are very interesting and will change your perception of what they call the “War on Terror”.  This shows how the industrial-military complex exaggerates the threat of enemies to keep Americans in a constant state of fear, and in a series of so-called “Wars”.  First it was the Russians & the so-called “Cold War”, then the so-called “War on Drugs”, now the so-called “War on Terror”.  The series has critical information about how this country evolved from a mentality of “let us alone and we’ll let you alone” into becoming a first-strike interventionist under the neocon influences and the mega-power Military-Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned of.  It is really disgusting how so much of US foreign policy is built on lies to justify massive military spending.  The USA spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined, even though it is a country bordered only by two oceans, Mexico, and Canada.  For sure there are terrorists out there, but it is hard to gauge the truthfulness of what the American public is being told these days.  Particularly revealing is a fundamental aspect of neo-conservatism in America that explicitly calls for deceiving the masses.  This amazing documentary matter-of-factly shows just how much we’ve been lied to, and why those lies were created in the first place.  It traces how powerful myths have been intentionally concocted and spread to impact voting, spending, and killing around the world.  What we are “fed” on a daily basis by the government and media is only part of the story.  Did you think you knew everything about the corrupt politics of the Bush years?  Would you believe that the Bush era has been merely a culmination of decades of failed neoconservative policies, and that this is not the first but merely the most recent attempt to put America in perpetual war, to brainwash the public, and to create an Orwellian enemy that doesn’t exist?  I learned so much I had no clue about.  From the incredible root of radical Islamists, the phony character-attacks on Clinton, and the phantom Al-Qaeda “mountain bunkers”, this series is jaw-droppingly fascinating.  Some of the material I knew, but many more facts were new to me.  This is a helpful and important perspective on modern politics in the “post-911” milieu, and a must for anyone trying to get an intelligent take on politics today.  These are some of the most remarkable films I have ever experienced – and the effect is mind-expanding.  Even for someone widely-read, who feels they keep up-to-date on what’s going on, this is very informative — albeit horrific, shocking, and profoundly disturbing.  Very essential documentaries, if you can handle the rage you’ll experience from the knowledge you acquire.  Learned quite a bit and was very entertained by the style and presentation.  Watch and learn.  One lesson we again learn from this great documentary is that politicians and administration policies must be continually scrutinized and analyzed by the public.  And journalists, rather than fueling the fire of empty or untruthful rhetoric, must lead the way to prevent ill-conceived ideas from being used to misguide the nation.  The only way to stop it is to understand it, and this documentary can give anyone who watches it the tools to break free of the propaganda.  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”   And if we are not afraid, they’ll manufacture fear to control us.

This is an outstanding British series which unfortunately would never get aired on American corporate broadcast networks.  So you’ll never see anything like this on American television, and indirectly the programs themselves tell you why.  This series is an example of how much the BBC surpasses America’s network journalism.  If anybody wonders why America’s younger generation is turning to the internet, to alternative media, or to comedy news shows to get their information, one reason is that American Mass Media lacks the objectivity and honesty and courage that the BBC apparently does not.  This came out in 2004, when the neo-cons were in power.  After that, a new and supposedly moderate administration has been elected in the US (in part due to widespread revulsion towards the predecessor — and opposition to war).  But many of the aggressive foreign and draconian domestic policies have only intensified.  So although this series was originally broadcast in 2004, it has not lost relevance in the present.  This excellent documentary on the politics of manipulation remains compelling viewing.  I think it’s more important than ever to see this film.  Its one of those rare documentaries that seems to keep popping up in my consciousness as I watch the news.  Wow.  An astoundingly good series.  Utterly fascinating.  Highly recommend it.  This series presents an important story that I wish I could convince everyone to watch and discuss.  See this film, then share it with anyone and everyone you can.  Everybody should see it.  No matter what age, gender, race, ethnicity, political party or religion, this series is a must-see.  Should be mandatory viewing.  Watch it and tell others to watch it.  I’m tempted to say that you really can’t have a well-grounded opinion about world events, economics, America, or politics unless you’ve seen this series.  Whether you’re a liberal, conservative, or moderate — I think you will find cause for reexamining your attitudes about terrorism and conservative politics after watching this.  However, this is not something you would watch if you want mindless entertainment; but if you want something that is thought provoking, and if you can look beyond liberal or conservative labels, you will not be disappointed.  I found the material complex and fast-paced — sort of like getting the Cliff Notes for “A History of Terrorism, Fear and Politics, from the Cold War to now”.  I admit that I had to watch each disc several times to fully absorb the what, how, and why of this material.  Documentary series 2004 NR 180 minutes.  Currently Netflix members must order each hour-long disc separately.  You can google this series and watch them instantly, albeit with somewhat diminished quality.

(If you like this film series, Adam Curtis has made others that are just as great.  One in particular that I love is “The Century of Self”.  Also “It Felt Like a Kiss”, or “The Trap”.  All are great…very insightful.  Google Video has them all.)


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