By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart
Current events have caught up with this post. It started when I bought my son, who was studying for his brevet exams – here in France the brevet is your ticket out of middle school and into high school – a review workbook for his Civics exam. The educational system being highly centralized in France, the curricula are nationwide and schoolbook publishing is a lucrative industry. Which may explain why French capitalists and their friends in politics tend to take an interest in it… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My son began studying the book and at one point came and showed me the caption on a picture in a section entitled Les menaces pour la paix et la sécurité (“Threats to Peace and Security”). The picture is of a missile being fired, and the caption reads “Un missile à capacité nucléaire iranien” (“A nuclear-capable Iranian missile”). The picture was one of several “documents” that are supposed to serve as a basis for “reflection and discussion by students.” The strong implication is that Iran has a military nuclear program, and even nuclear warheads. This is being presented to my son and his generation of French middle-school kids as a simple fact.
Yet a little reading in the mainstream information media will demonstrate that it is anything but a fact. Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of surveillance of compliance with that treaty, has rejected “allegations” (mostly coming from the US and its allies) that Iran is pursuing development of nuclear weapons1.
The fact is that the United States and its allies, including France, have been exerting pressure on Iran to cease its program of uranium enrichment – to which it is entitled under the terms of the aforementioned treaty –, supposedly as a guarantee of Iran’s intention not to pursue development of a nuclear weapon. In the meantime, the NATO/US military machine has been stepping up its presence in the region, as if it were doing everything in its power to push Iran towards developing a weapon for purposes of deterrence.
So I looked to see who the publisher of the workbook is. The publisher turns out to be Hachette Éducation, the largest publisher of textbooks in France, with 1.052 billion euros in sales in 2007. Hachette Éducation is a division of Hachette Livre, which is part of the Lagardère group. The Lagardère group originates in the takeover of the French press-publishing giant Hachette by arms manufacturer Matra in 1980. The group today has a co-controlling share in EADS, which in 2010 ranked seventh in the list of the top ten weapons merchants, with 12.3 billion euros in sales. “Among EADS’s divisions is Matra BAe Dynamics, formed in 1996 via a merger of the missile business of BAe (BAe Dynamics) and half of the missile business of Matra Défense. (The other half remained as Aerospatiale Matra Missiles).”2
So a textbook writer working for Hachette would probably have little trouble finding stock photos of missiles to fill in a page in a Civics workbook…
According to the Reference for Business Company History Index3, in the controversial 1980 takeover of Hachette by Matra “[then French president] Giscard d’Estaing’s government supported Matra, its principal arms supplier” amid fears that “The publishing industry [was] gradually losing its financial and intellectual independence…” Were those fears justified? Well, today, 70% of the French press is controlled by arms manufacturers Lagardère and Dassault4. A 2004 article in The Economist5 expressed concern over the increasing influence of armaments makers on the French press and publishing industry. Isn’t it disturbing to see that the largest textbook publisher in France is part of an arms manufacturing group? And, given the incestuous relationship between business and government in France, that taxpayers’ money is being used to produce these textbooks?
As I said, current events have caught up with this post. The workbook dates from a couple of years ago, and so was published under the Sarkozy regime. Sarkozy, of course, is alleged to have long-standing ties to the US in general and to the CIA in particular. “Sarkozy the American” was the man who ended France’s tradition of keeping the US and NATO at arm’s length by returning France to NATO’s integrated military structure after a 43-year absence6,7. Sarkozy also demonstrated a taste for military adventurism when he spearheaded the 2011 attack on Ghaddafi’s Libya.
When a Socialist president was elected last year, the issue of France’s participation in NATO and her military adventurism was very much a part of the campaign, and current president François Hollande, playing on his pacifist political inheritance, had promised “to re-examine the NATO question.” He has been accused by his political opponents of wanting to slash France’s military budget. But today he has shown himself to be as eager as Sarkozy was to “prove his mettle as a leader” and engage his country in war – for purely “humanitarian” motives, of course. And the mainstream press, unsurprisingly, has furthered that narrative.
Taking the train into Paris yesterday, I noticed that the billboard frames that line the tracks – usually devoted to yogurt or cheese or the latest vampire movie – were mostly displaying advertisements for France’s modern army. The billboards depict fit young men and women in camouflage, training in combat techniques or young men in Robocop-like crowd-control gear standing on a railway platform holding assault rifles, “protecting the population.” The French Army is recruiting 10,000 young men and women. Meanwhile, the French auto industry plans to fire 11,000 workers between now and 2015 – with the consent of the unions and the government.
It made me realize that in fact nothing has changed. France is one of the world’s leading armaments producers. And countries whose economies depend heavily on the production of weapons of war need to remain in a constant state of war. That state of war needs to be justified to the population, and the population needs to be provided with an enemy from whom it needs to be protected. Or else the war-waging needs to be sanitized, as is now being done with Syria and Mali, and as was done with Libya and earlier with Serbia/Kosovo, by convincing the population that what is being done with its tax money is “humanitarian intervention.” And that is where the press comes in.
Examples of how the press promotes the enterprise of war can be seen every day. During the preparation for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 they were ubiquitous and egregious. The lesson of the Vietnam war was learned well. No reporter is allowed direct access to a combat area, and the information they have access to is kept under strict control. The mainstream press now supports the official narrative of what is happening wherever the US/NATO intervenes – currently in Syria and Mali. Is that surprising, given the degree of control the warplane makers have over the press?
But it goes farther than that. The culture of war is etched in myriad ways into the official and popular culture of countries where armaments are the lifeblood of the economy. Nick Turse, in The Complex, reveals how the Pentagon provides support for the development of computer shooter games and war movies. The recent film Zero Dark Thirty is reportedly the result of direct collaboration with the Obama administration8. What passes for entertainment – some would even call it art – is in fact metaprogramming, designed to ensure that the message Obama sent to the world in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech – that it’s going to be business as usual – is not forgotten: “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”
Presumably – in France, at least – violent conflict will be on the menu into our children’s lifetimes, too, and our textbooks need to condition them to accept that. Why? Is it because Obama’s words are, sadly, true? Or is it for another reason? Is it because the publisher of the textbooks is also a merchant of death?