On the off chance you're not completely convinced by those scientifically sound and entirely accurate gauges of public opinion, popularly known as polls, then the bad news being reported about the tourism business ought to persuade you that U.S. policy planners are losing the international public relations war.
The Associated Press reported last week that America's $91 billion foreign tourism industry "is in peril because of a growing perception overseas that the United States has become 'Fortress America.'"
In the year following the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, 66 million fewer visitors tried to enter our well-guarded borders. That's 66 million pockets that the tourism industry couldn't access.
Even if you figure only $20 from each of those foreign money-spenders, it amounts to 1.3 billion greenbacks a year. Granted, it's only 1/350 the size of the Defense Department budget, but it's still a lot of T-shirts and postcards we're talking here.
Imagine the shame that must be felt by our sharp and witty PR pros, knowing that in the global propaganda prizefight, America is losing. What's the world coming to?
We can sell bottled water, even label it naive spelled backwards, and make a profit, but we can't change the negative perceptions that billions of Third World residents have about the greatest country ever?
They've got CNN in the West Bank. There's no Arab nationalist news stations in my cable listings. Yours? The point is: America put the me in media and still we're losing on the PR front?
Ask any Third World kid to name a Hollywood star and I'd bet the kid could tick off 10 names faster than you can spell Immigration and Naturalization Service. But ask an avid Entertainment Tonight fan who the homegrown pop culture heroes are in Brazil and India and you're likely to be asked if you can make it a multiple choice question with a "lifeline" and access to the Internet.
So where did this misperception of "Fortress America" come from - the threats to civil liberties in the USA Patriot Act, widespread anti-Arab sentiment, pre-emptive war doctrines and plans of missile shields notwithstanding?
More importantly, what war (metaphorically speaking, of course) can we initiate to set the international record straight?
Let's appoint Henry Kissinger to head a federal PR commission who will recommend ways we can capture the hearts and minds of "them," following the example set by generations of war propagandists.
You're familiar with some of their greatest hits: mangled and mutilated civilian corpses are called "collateral damage."
Now they've got this new phrase in circulation. The phrase? "Dual-use targets," which are targets marked for military destruction that are vital to the function of enemy armies, and just so happen to be essential for the survival of the civilian population, i.e. water-treatment facilities and electric power plants, including those plants that supply electricity to civilian hospitals.
To do my patriotic part in propaganda perpetuation, I offer this unoriginal idea. Seeing as how President Bush is reorganizing the federal government, creating new cabinet posts and what not, he should change the Defense Secretary's title back to War Secretary and create a cabinet position called Secretary of Peace whose mission would be to advance the theory and practice of nonviolence and supervise an all volunteer peace brigade of some sort.
Critics will say that nonviolence only works against benevolent regimes. But I've got two words for them: Philippines 1986 - when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by a nonviolent revolution.
The truth is no one, to my knowledge, has done a comprehensive study comparing nonviolent political action with military campaigns to determine which has the better track record in achieving political objectives. Until that research has been done, denouncements of nonviolence are nothing more than historically ignorant guess work.
And this brings us to tomorrow being the traditional birthday celebration of the Prince of Peace, the father of nonviolent tactics.
Two years ago, when I was traveling throughout Israel and Palestine, I stood on a hillside near the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As I stood there taking it all in, I thought about Jesus' last visit to Jerusalem.
The gospel of Luke says: "And when he came near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, 'If only you knew...the things which make peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come when your enemies will make a trench around you...and your children with you. And they shall not leave one stone unturned because you knew not the time of your visitation'."
Now I'm beginning to understand what No. 43's favorite political philosopher was talking about concerning peace-making.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. His column runs on Tuesdays. Call him at 508-775-1200, ext. 719, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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