U.S. Military to Conduct Psychological War Operation Against Residents of Toronto, Ontario, September 3-5, 2005

On Labour Day Weekend, the U.S. Military will be conducting a sustained psychological warfare operation (PSYOP) against the residents of Toronto as well as all those attending the annual aerial War Show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). These operations have also been conducted under the guise of similar "air" shows across Canada and the U.S. this summer.

Thusfar, there have been no statements from the Canadian government expressing concern that a foreign military power is targetting Canadians as the subject of this psychological warfare operation. In fact, Canada is actively participating through its own military.

According to Psychological Operations, a United States Air Force (USAF) Doctrine Document dated August 27, 1999, "PSYOP are an integral part of today's aerospace strategy...Air Force PSYOP forces support US national and military objectives through planned operations to convey information to target audiences. PSYOP provide a low-cost, high-impact method to deter adversaries and obtain the support of friendly or neutral target audiences."

Major Toronto media outlets that enthusiastically print or broadcast celebrations of the war show are part of this psychological warfare operation. The USAF doctrine advises that the military should "use transmission medium or media which are reliable and readily accessible by target audiences. US forces must ensure message media are tailored for the local populace. Media can range from leaflets, to posters, to radio, television, and digital broadcasts. Planners should ensure transmission media can reach and be understood by the target audience."

And so the annual articles predicting "thrills and chills" for spectators will appear in Toronto dailies this weekend, each celebrating the tools of terror, such as B-52 and CF-18 bombers.

"Air" shows such as the annual warfest at the CNE fall under psychological warfare operations in a category called "Military Operations Other Than War," and are useful because they "support the elements of US national policy objectives, national security strategy, and national military strategy; modify the behaviour of selected target audiences toward US and multinational capabilities; gain and sustain foreign popular belief in, and support for, US and multinational goals and objectives; increase foreign popular support for US and multinational military operations; diminish the legitimacy and credibility of the adversary political system," according to the US Air Force doctrine.

At a time when the world's major military powers are incessantly searching for new reasons to come up with newer and more sophisticated killing machines, the role of air shows is a key component of psyops targetted at North American audiences. By building support for these planes as an inevitable means of solving world conflicts, war shows can perform a vital role, as the related document entitled Public Affairs Operations notes, to "support the warfighter [and] gain and maintain public support for military operations, and communicate US resolve in a manner that provides global influence and deterrence.

"Commanders should consider community relations activities as a fundamental part of building public support for military operations. Public affairs operations bring together Air Force people and the civilian community through events such as air shows that feature the US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron (the Thunderbirds [similar to Canadian Snowbirds]), open houses, anniversary activities, civic leader tours, support for local community activities, and recruiting efforts. Effective community relations create mutual acceptance, respect, appreciation and cooperation between the Air Force and civilian community."

Indeed, even what may seem innocuous -- the presence of an air force band -- is nonetheless part of a larger strategy, as bands "capitalize on music's emotional appeal to promote morale, encourage recruitment, and build public support for the armed forces." Hence, it is no accident that popular rock music plays when the warplanes take to the skies at air shows -- it's all part of the package that portrays war as glamorous, adventurous, and sexy.

A number of years ago, during the trial of the 22 people arrested (eventually acquitted) for protesting the Hamilton war show, former War Show Chair Wayne Thompson admitted in court that the war show "has no interest in showing the ugly side of war," a statement well in keeping with the psyops conducted by the air force, which advises that "commanders should consider the possible advantage of releasing selected information." Thus, while we learn about the potential power of a B-52 bomber in Toronto, we will not learn that it has been used to murder millions around the globe.

The ultimate purpose of the annual aerial War Shows -- as well as the thousands of similar shows across the world and their historic precedents in the USSR (massive May Day parades of military might) and Nazi Germany (the Nuremberg rallies) is outlined in the statement from the US Air Force which points out, "Public affairs operations support a strong national defense, in effect preparing the nation for war, by building public trust and understanding for the military's contribution to national security and its budgetary requirements. These operations make taxpayers aware of the value of spending defense dollars on readiness, advanced weapons, training, personnel, and the associated costs of maintaining a premier aerospace force. With public and congressional backing, military leaders are able to effectively recruit, equip, and train airmen to perform the full spectrum of military operations."

In a world that continues to spend over $800 billion annually on weaponry (and in Canada, the war budget is ballooning towards $20 billion annually) while social service needs which could be met for a fraction of the cost are ignored, the role of such war shows is to convince us that we are on the right path when we increase military budgets, dress up our children as soldiers, and continue to study war as a natural and inevitable part of life.

But imagine, for a moment, how it might look outside of our "culture" in North America. Imagine that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein held an annual display at the Baghdad War Fair showing how scud missiles blew up Israelis during the 1991 Gulf War or celebrating helicopters dropping poison gas on civilians. Or perhaps a neo-Nazi commemoration of Xyklon-B, the chemical agent used to gas millions of Jews in the concentration camps.

Both scenarios would, hopefully, cause alarm and outrage in the community, just as any celebration of the instruments of mass murder might evoke a certain sense of shock.

Yet every Labour Day weekend, visitors to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto marvel at the acrobat feats of warplanes which have recently, and historically, have been involved in the murder of millions of people in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Panama, Haiti, and numerous other places across the globe. Indeed, the CNE traditionally closes its summer with an exhibition of historic and contemporary warplanes which fly above, do certain maneuvers, and win applause from an awe-inspired ground audience.

These same planes drop napalm and cluster-bombs on human beings half a world away. For those with short memories, let's remember what, exactly, napalm, created by DOW Chemical, does. Writing in Ladies Home Journal in January 1967, Martha Gellhorn commented: "Before I went to Saigon, I had heard and read that napalm melts the flesh, and I thought that's nonsense, because I can put a roast in the oven and the fat will melt but the meat stays there. Well, I went and saw these children burned by napalm and it is absolutely true. The chemical reaction of this napalm does melt the flesh, and the flesh runs right down their faces onto their chests and it sits there and grows there...These children can't turn their heads, they were so thick with flesh...And when gangrene sets in, they cut off their hands or fingers or their feet; the only thing they cannot cut off is their head..."

While for some Torontonians, Labour Day weekend is the last holiday at the cottage, those of us who spend it in the city are all-too-familiar with the sonic booms and searing jet engine sounds above our heads.

While these sounds can be a major annoyance for those of us born and raised in a country that has never experienced the horror of aerial bombardment, they might have a completely different effect for the many refugees and immigrants who have escaped war-ravaged countries to find peace here. To them, the sounds of warplanes roaring overhead do not represent a pleasant afternoon's entertainment, but rather may act as a trigger that might make them worry about where their children are, the location of the nearest bomb shelter, and whether their family will be in one piece for dinner time.

One of the most haunting images of the Vietnam War is of a little girl running down the roadway, burned naked from napalm and crying her eyes out. That girl eventually came to Canada, and today Kim Phuc lives in the Metro Toronto area.

What does our culture say to Kim Phuc when every Labour Day, she must endure the sounds of the very warplanes which pummeled her homeland and dropped napalm on her and so many other people in Vietnam? Moreover, what does our culture say to her when people sitting on lawn chairs by Lake Ontario CHEER for these tools of terror, many of which carry fresh bloodstains from their latest assaults on the people of Iraq or Afghanistan?

In her honour, and in honour of the horrible memories of war that must consume the thousands of survivors of war who live in our area, perhaps we can stop these annual celebrations of warplanes and find something more peaceful to do on our holiday weekends. This would not please the planners of Air Force psychological operations who want us to "get over it" and enjoy. Who knows? Perhaps cancelling the CNE War Show and related celebrations of murder weapons across Canada and the U.S. would mark one step towards the elimination of the militarized culture which undergirds the war shows that are all too real to the people of Baghdad and Kabul.


(story by Matthew Behrens of Homes not Bombs. Homes not Bombs is proud to have been part of the Hamilton-based Father's Day Coalition for Peace, which after three years of festivals of life that included civil disobedience actions, helped force the closure of the annual Hamilton war show.)