Freedom Fries and Other Propaganda
Propaganda and spin control are probably as old as humanity, starting with the serpent in chapter 3 of Genesis when he convinced two gullible humans to eat a certain piece of fruit.
Following the snake’s example, humans started doing silly things like spreading the idea that kings had a “divine right” to rule. Somehow, the art of propaganda even led to the apocryphal story that the Iraqi government scared American soldiers during the Gulf War by telling them that Bart Simpson was making love to their wives back home.
To be sure, American history is full of incidents where “our side” has dabbled in spin control. Perhaps the first was Paul Revere’s famous carving depicting the Bostom Massacre. The picture shows a line of British soldiers being ordered to fire, unprovoked, on “innocent” colonists.
In fact, the entire incident started with a civilian named Edward Gerrish taunting and insulting a British officer, and throwing rocks at the officer and a British sentry, so the colonists weren’t exactly faultless.
My favorite example of over-the-top propaganda is, of course, the “Freedom Fries” episode. A few days before the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, two Republican congressmen decreed that Capitol cafeterias would no longer serve French Fries.
Instead, they would now serve Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, following a trend started by a North Carolina restaurant. To his credit, one of the congressmen later spoke of the episode and said, “I wish it had never happened.”
The French, in typical French fashion, had something to say about the episode; shortly after the Capitol’s menus changed, the Embassy of France in Washington, DC pointed out that French Fries actually come from Belgium, and that, in any case, the world was dealing with a serious crisis and they were “not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.”
Interestingly, back in 1945, when American forces were busy liberating Western Europe, our government was fighting to improve Americans’ opinions of the French. Due to cultural differences and general friction, many American soldiers in France viewed the French as dirty, lazy and dishonest mooches.
This resulted in an entertaining piece of propaganda called 112 Gripes about the French being published by the U.S. Army to help promote cultural literacy; it’s an entertaining read, and many of the “gripes” would sound familiar to someone who has heard U.S. soldiers talk about Iraqis or Afghans.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time people blatantly changed some words to suit their purposes. There are many examples from the past, but here are some of the more interesting ones:
- During World War 1, Americans renamed dachshunds “liberty pups” and Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage” to reflect the country’s anti-German sentiment.
- In the same vein, we renamed German measles, turning them into the most patriotic disease ever, liberty measles.
- In 2006, some Iranian bakers renamed Danish pastries, calling them Roses of the Prophet Mohammed to show their displeasure with Denmark over the Jyllands-Posten newspaper’s cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.