James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Where "Mission Accomplished" came from

Sometimes, the Bush White House's habit of borrowing intimidation and propaganda techniques used by earlier...ahem...authoritarian regimes sets some of us to rooting in our memories.

Since May 1, 2003, I have been annoyed by repeated thoughts of George W. Bush, in flight suit, landing on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (supposedly having co-piloted the plane that brought him in), striding across the flight deck with a similarly clad Navy pilot and then giving his smirking “success” speech.

In the background was a huge banner with the words “Mission Accomplished.” Remember? And around and before him, strategically placed, were military men in uniform dress, though not in all cases standard uniforms. Colors were chosen for effect.

I learned not long after that event that it had been staged by a team of television experts: Scott Sforza, former ABC producer; Bob DeServi, former NBC cameraman and lighting expert, and Greg Jenkins, former Fox producer.

Of course, much of America is annoyed and angered by that memory. When a clip of the performance is shown, some of us shout at the TV set. “Mission accomplished” has come to mean exactly the opposite for most of us, something more like “Wrongful action hopelessly bungled.”

But for me there has been the additional annoyance of knowing that I have, at some time in the past, seen almost the identical scene elsewhere, probably in a movie, but being unable to recall the exact circumstances. Every so often I've chewed at the memory for awhile, trying to bring it to the forefront.

Then, as I neared the end of Naomi Wolf's essential book, “The End of America,” there it was. She knew, and in a discourse on propaganda, press intimidation and faked news, she wrote it. I recalled the images instantly, after she reminded me.

The scene in which we saw George W. Bush was created by Leni Riefenstahl, a young woman film maker in the 1930s, a powerful if conscienceless artist who was invaluable in creating the public image of Adolf Hitler as an invincible, almost godlike leader.

Under commission from Hitler, Riefenstahl made one of the three or four most successful propaganda films ever. It is “Triumph of the Will,” released in 1935.

In the film, Hilter arrives at a gathering of supporters by airplane. The plane swoops down through beautiful clouds and lands. Hitler emerges from the plane and is greeted by a crowd of admirers, including some in paramilitary uniform. He reviews uniformed troops who stand at attention in rows. Also in an impressive uniform (of his own devising), he addresses his massed, obviously adoring troops. There are banners held high and, behind Hitler, designed by his architect, Albert Speer, a gigantic eagle which bears the swastika. Right where the “Mission Accomplished” banner is in the Bush knockoff.

Even worse, Hitler asks for support “for the accomplishment of this mission...for ours is a great mission.” (There are English subtitles on some prints of the film.)

I saw the whole film once, and have seen bits of it, notably parts of the speech and Hitler stepping from the aircraft, many times in television documentaries.

Slap of the forehead.

As I have said on several occasions, it is obvious beyond argument that the people who created this Bush presidency have closely studied the methods of Hitler's propagandists, and those of Benito Mussolini, too. But I can't recall another such a complete and open theft.

Riefenstahl lived long. She died in September 2003. If she'd hung on just a bit longer, perhaps she could have sued for copyright infringement or some such.

Oh, yeah: Like Karl Rove, Bush and all of that lot, like Speer and a number of other servants of the Nazi elite, she refused to admit, ever, that she had made a mistake or had done anything really wrong.