The knack of turning a phrase was explained by Theodore Roosevelt to his young aide, Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur, in 1906. MacArthur had asked the President to what he attributed his popularity, and Roosevelt replied, “To put into words what is in their hearts and minds but not in their mouths.” (“Hearts and minds” later became a slogan of sorts, as what had to be won in Vietnam.
And if the U.S. wants to win hearts and minds, “You have to pursue Gen. McChrystal’s strategy. If you say that’s not acceptable and costs too much, it takes too long, we don’t have our allies — then you come up with a counterterrorist strategy, which means you’re going to start killing people and thereby risk killing a lot of innocent civilians, thereby creating more insurgents.” – Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen
“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” – John Adams February 13, 1818
Not a new concept nor a new phrase, eh? This whole “hearts and minds” thing. We are very good at talking about it, and some of us really do get it. Sadly, some of us really get it at a level that is only manipulative. That is the propaganda level. And, sadly, we are failing in some very important ways.
I have been thinking about this a lot this week in a lot of contexts. It was that final quote that started the thought process really. No matter how much lip service our politicians and “leaders” give, many Muslims at home and around the world feel that the so-called “war on terror” is, in fact, a war on Islam. We are completely failing to “win the hearts and minds” of Muslims.
I have a friend who in many ways is an intelligent, reasonable, educated man, and yet, he totally discounts Al Jazeera as a legitimate news source, simply because he believes that they are Muslim biased. That’s it. Yet, he will cite Alex Jones, one of the most popular conspiracy theorists on the right wing circuit, as though he is a reliable and credible news source, and then, my friend will consider himself to be non-biased. I eventually had to tell him that I will not even look at any link that comes from an infowars.com address. If he wants me to look at it, find it in another source. If it has any legitimacy, it will be somewhere else. Let’s be clear about this. Alex Jones has as much actual credibility as David Icke, which is to say none. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
That is, unless, of course, you believe that the British royals are actually shape shifting lizards.
We build bridges and roads. We build schools, and reach out to children and their parents in these countries that we are occupying. And, then, we bomb them, and kill those same children. Why then, do we wonder that we create enemies?
“What have you done for me lately?” When the answer is buzzing my towns, blow up my bridge, destroy my schools and homes, and kill my daughters and sons, then I am going to forget that you built those bridges and schools. I am going to forget that you said, “We are not at war with Islam”, when all I see is you killing other Muslims. I am going to forget you said that when I see a disproportionate support of a state that is repeatedly violating the mandates of the same organization that you said was one of the reasons you were invading Iraq, while that same state carries out murders around the world and imposes apartheid conditions on those who are like me.
Our words and our actions have to be in line if we are going to “win the hearts and minds”. Until then, we are simply continuing the same hypocrisy that we have exhibited for years in our support of dictators around the world, and in countless other ways. Worse yet, until then, we will continue to fail.
We show that we don’t even believe these words ourselves, at home. Despite our recent “revelations” we are still a reasonably open society. Our internal words and thoughts are posted openly for not only our own citizens to see, but also for pretty much the whole world to see. So, when our warts are exposed, they are really exposed. That is really as it should be. That gives us the opportunity to treat them.