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    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-23 – Dr. Alexander G. Lovelace – “Tomorrow’s Wars and the Media”

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-23 – Dr. Alexander G. Lovelace – “Tomorrow’s Wars and the Media”

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    Audio by Kristen Taylor 

    U.S. Army War College Public Affairs

    Distilling lessons from the author’s book, The Media Offensive: How the Press and Public Opinion Shaped Allied Strategy during World War II, this podcast provides applicable suggestions for the US military today. As in World War II, the press is both a weapon and a possible vulnerability in modern warfare.

    Read the article:

    Episode Transcript

    Stephanie Crider (Host)

    Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.

    The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

    The guests in speaking order on this episode are:

    (Guest 1: Alexander G. Lovelace)

    Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Alexander G. Lovelace, author of “Tomorrow’s Wars and the Media,” which was featured in the summer 2022 issue of Parameters. Lovelace is a scholar-in-residence at the Contemporary History Institute of Ohio University. His first book, The Media Offensive: How the Press and Public Opinion Shaped Allied Strategy during World War II, is being published by the University Press of Kansas in 2022.


    It’s great to have you on Decisive Point, Alex. Thanks for making time for us.


    Thank you for having me.


    Let’s jump right in. Your essay offers practical suggestions for how the press can be used by public affairs officers, commanders, and policymakers to achieve victory in coming conflicts. You say these lessons are applicable for today’s wars, even when they’re fought on TikTok. So give us some historical context. How did we get here?


    The Second World War was a media war for two big reasons. The first one is that all sides really tried to harness the media as a weapon during that conflict. This really came out of the philosophical and technological mindset of total war. There’s a real philosophical shift where warfare is suddenly not so much something you do to the enemy army, but also has to involve the enemy population.

    That grows from the French Revolution up to World War II, and it’s accompanied also by a technological shift. Warfare is becoming much more deadly, particularly for civilians. At the same time, the media is also part of this change. You have technology such as telegraphs and photography which has a military use but also has a civilian use and a media use for civilian press.

    So by World War II, which is the first total war, at least the first one that is openly fought as such, the media is going to play a big role in that. So that’s one reason.

    The second reason is even as commanders are trying to use the media as a weapon, they’re also being susceptible to it influencing their decisions on the battlefield. You have these two things: the media as a weapon and the media being used by commanders, influencing commanders’ decisions, and it creates a model of military-media relations which survives total war. We haven’t fought many total wars lately, but, in the era of limited war, the media is still a big factor. Vietnam becomes a television war, and there’s a big debate over how much that influences. But you see this throughout the war on terror (war on terrorism) and up to the current conflict in Ukraine, which some commentators have called a TikTok war because a lot of Americans and a lot of news is being shared on the latest information-sharing platform.


    Can you explain in a little bit more detail how the news influences commanders’ battlefield decisions?


    The news really influences commanders’ decisions in, I would say, three big ways.

    The first one is maybe the most obvious to Hollywood. It’s the general who’s media-obsessed, wants publicity, wants to make a name for himself, and that’s probably a little less common than one would suppose, but it does happen. The second way that commanders use the press is to create political support for a policy or their theater or campaign. And the third type of influence the press can extract from a commander is more insidious, and that is the commander doesn’t really know it’s happening, or he’s letting it happen because he thinks he has to.


    Today’s media is different from the press of, let’s say, World War II. And you say that’s OK. How so?


    I would say there’s two main factors. The first is methodology. The press during World War II is often seen as somewhat more subservient or respectful of authority. Many reporters and news organizations today see themselves as international companies, not necessarily American companies. Exxon’s a massive, worldwide company. CNN is too, so there’s that shift when it comes to methodology.

    The second real difference is technology. Today you have 24-hour cable news. You now have a plethora of blogs and Internet sites. The media is very different. I think one way technology really changes how news is reported was the onset of television where editors and paper owners and media company stockholders have a lot less influence when it comes to the editorial opinions of, say, anchormen. Suddenly, Walter Cronkite has a lot more editorial freedom than he might have had if he was just writing for a newspaper and having to get his stories past editors. So that’s one of the big changes. That’s even more different than today; there’s many different news sites, and they tend to be more focused towards specific audiences. There’s a very interesting study the RAND Corporation put out a couple years ago that talked about the focus of how news is becoming more focused towards select groups.

    However, one of the big things is that the problems are different, but a lot of the issues are not. One of the big myths of the Second World War is that the press was kind of a lapdog of the government or the military, America was all united, and that wasn’t true at all. There was an opposition press to the Roosevelt administration before and leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II. That doesn’t go away. A lot of military journalists were also free to question the military. I mean, there was censorship, but censorship was not used to prevent criticism.

    The press wasn’t necessarily always promilitary during the war. Another thing is that commanders during World War II were also dealing with new technology. They were dealing with radio. They were dealing with newsreels. They were dealing with magazines that dealt with photographs, and they had to learn to adapt to this kind of new technology. Likewise, the speed of news increases during the war.


    Talk to me about the press as a weapon and TikTok wars.


    Well, during World War II, the US military tried to use the press as a weapon in several ways. First, they understood that a democracy at war had to have an informed public. They did a lot to encourage reporters. They have accreditation. They do have censorship, but it does tend to be of a fairly mild variety. So an informed population is one.

    An informed soldiery is another. A lot of commanders believe American soldiers fight better, particularly when it’s a draft Army, when they know what they’re fighting for. So there’s also a big effort to get news to soldiers. Some commanders, George Patton is one, also tried to get news of ordinary soldiers back to hometown papers and to praise subordinates in the press in a big way. And the Army near the end of the war eventually catches on and begins institutionalizing that.

    And there’s some attempts to use the press for deception during D-Day. It’s funny to see how the final announcement is worded: “Landing has begun on the northern coast of France.” Well, what does that mean?

    There’s another way that the press is used and that is to not necessarily always give good news. By 1943, George Marshall and others in the military are worried that the American people are going to take the war for granted—that it’s already been won and we can sort of slack off. And Marshall and the Pentagon begin trying to make sure that bad news isn’t hidden. Mid-1943, they begin releasing pictures of dead American servicemen to show that the war’s still pretty serious.

    Now, that’s World War II. Let’s talk about TikTok. TikTok is, first of all, not a social media app. There’s not a whole lot that is social about it. It’s an information-sharing platform. Now, the information might be goofy videos, but it also can be news, and some of it, I would argue, is somewhat sinister.

    And I would say that for three reasons. Last September in 2021, the schools across the United States were hit by something called a TikTok challenge called ”devious licks,” in which the challenge was to vandalize your school’s bathroom or steal something and then videotape yourself doing this on TikTok. I couldn’t find any estimates of how much damage this caused. It must have been well within the millions of dollars. There were many arrests of children.

    It shows just how powerful this app is, and it’s powerful for a number of reasons. How it works is it’s trying to figure out what you like so you can go on and you see these short little videos. And if you linger on one, TikTok knows it. It will try to feed you more videos like that.

    Out of professional obligation, I opened TikTok for an hour. I decided I was going to try to see how fast I could get on stuff with Ukraine. It opens up, you see a goofy video. You see another goofy video. I found something with gas prices, I lingered there. I found something else on gas prices, I lingered there. 15 to 20 minutes in, I was getting all Ukraine stuff.

    One of the things this algorithm does is that it also tends to be addictive. You’re seeing things you like in a way that is flashing at you, kind of like a (Las) Vegas slot machine. So it’s really hard to get off. And, finally, TikTok is a company that is run by a regime which is fairly hostile to the United States. And I don’t think that it was any accident that the third or fourth video I found on Ukraine was also the Chinese foreign minister explaining the Chinese position on the war.

    To tell you the truth, I’m concerned about TikTok. It may be a little too late to ban it. I think it’s harmful in ways that go well beyond armed conflict. But it is something that policymakers and military commanders are going to have to be aware of. It also has been used in a good way in Ukraine. President (Volodymyr) Zelensky has used it incredibly well to rally international support and promote the legitimacy of his cause, and I don’t think this war would be the same without it. So that’s a good thing. At the same time, the next war may not be the same situation.


    You offer several suggestions, though. What can US military officers and policymakers do to prepare for tomorrow’s media war?


    First, I think policymakers and officers need to understand that media is going to be used as a weapon, and they are susceptible to having their own decisions influenced by media pressure. I would say one of the best things you can do is try to understand how the media has worked in the past and how the media works today.

    One of the things I do in this article is talk about how things that seem like they are public opinion actually are not. Twitter is a great example of this. A lot of times, you’ll see news articles saying Twitter blew up over, I don’t know, Johnny Depp or something like that, and you’ll read it and you’ll just see a bunch of Twitter posts from people you’ve never heard of. And that’s the news story. It’s just what some people said on Twitter. That’s something, and it lends to elite policymakers, such as if a US senator or a US president is on Twitter—that’s going to make news, and that’s going to influence other news outlets.

    But at the same time, just because a lot of loud people on Twitter does not necessarily represent public opinion, commanders need to basically train themselves that they probably have a better understanding of what is happening on the ground. They have to make judgments based on the best military training and just sometimes ignore public opinion.

    I do not want anyone to walk away thinking that wars are won in the media. Wars are won on the battlefield and through violence. The media is just one area of what commanders have to deal with. And I guess one final lesson to take away is for commanders to try to take time to create good relations with reporters and news outlets. I think the military actually doesn’t do such a bad job of that these days, and I think it’s well worth the time.


    Thank you, Alex. This was a really good time.


    Thank you so much, Stephanie.


    Listeners, if you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, the author offers interesting insights and examples in the article. You can read it at Look for volume 52, issue 2.

    If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, look for us on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or any other major podcasting platform.

    Author information:
    Dr. Alexander G. Lovelace is a scholar in residence at the Contemporary History Institute of Ohio University. His first book, The Media Offensive: How the Press and Public Opinion Shaped Allied Strategy during World War II, is being published by the University Press of Kansas in 2022.



    Date Taken: 06.30.2022
    Date Posted: 06.20.2023 15:09
    Category: Newscasts
    Audio ID: 74937
    Filename: 2306/DOD_109717774.mp3
    Length: 00:13:21
    Artist US Army War College Press
    Album Decisive Point – Season 3
    Track # 23
    Year 2022
    Genre Podcast
    Location: US

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