NATO member flags outside of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO member flags outside of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Credit: GPA Photo Archive / Flickr Credit: GPA Photo Archive / Flickr

Edward Bernays was the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, the creator of the field of psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories are deeply rooted in attributing the role of primate instincts in determining human motivations and thus resultant human logic and behaviour.

Bernays drew on these theories to create the then nascent field of what came to be known as Public Relations. He is, perhaps, one of the least recognized cultural influencers of the twentieth century. His most well-known book is entitled Propaganda,  in which he outlines his views of the need for societies’ elites to manipulate the masses through public relations techniques for their betterment. 

Bernays used these theories to make a small fortune for himself as a public relations consultant to industry and government. He was ingenious at developing advertising campaigns to meet the marketing needs of his clients.

One of his major campaigns was to engineer a coup of a new government of Guatemala by the United States on behalf of his client the United Fruit Company, now renamed Chiquita Brands International.

Regarding his work in Guatemala, his client the United Fruit Company, faced a crisis related to the expropriation of its banana fields by a new Guatemala president, precipitating a threat to the company’s production capacity.

Collaborating with journalists and congressmen, Bernays was able to successfully engineer a coup of the new Guatemala’s presidency through the subterfuge of the CIA. The coup was based on portraying the new Guatemala government as a ‘Communist Menace’, even though there was no evidence to back up the claim, with the resultant restoration of his client’s asset.

Public Relations is a culturally mediated industry and therefore, as such, one of its main techniques is one in which the elites tell stories, stories which should ultimately end in a happy ending. In the Guatemala campaign, the honourable American banana companies’ rightful property is restored from the thieving ‘Communist Menace’.

In 2014 in a meeting in Wales at the urging of the United States to correct a “security vacuum”, NATO member nations pledged to spend arbitrarily two per cent of their GDP on military spending. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created as an alliance to militarily contain the Soviet Union after World War II. Thus, since its inception, it has been invested in increasing its military might and membership rather than developing the vastly more economical diplomatic skills required to resolve conflict. 

Since the 2014 Wales meeting, the mainstream Canadian media including the Globe and Mail, the CBC, CTV, Global, the National Post, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun amongst others have become pre-occupied with endless handwringing about Canada’s “failure” to meet NATO’s two per cent GDP target for military spending. There has been bitter self-castigation about our failings as a nation and exhortations to do better.

In this story Canada is cast as the errant younger brother, a younger brother who hides behind big brother America’s military skirts for protection, who should know it can and must do better but for some unknown reason, willfully refuses.

The father of the family of this story is Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, who tries patiently to urge Canada to meet its duty. Stoltenberg contrasts with the bullying older brother, America, who impatiently berates young Canada for its grievous dereliction of duty and responsibility, scolding Canada for its foolish naivety in not facing up to a world that can only be safe if it is filled by America’s weapons.

The chorus of the mainstream Canadian media bemoan their embarrassment with their native country for its failure to spend the money regardless of other Canadian government spending priorities and further are troubled at how the other big boy countries like Australia no longer want us to join in their new military alliances. 

The story is not about absconding with the public trust of a sizable portion of Canadian tax revenue but rather it is a story of national shame and threatened status. This is the story that the Canadian media elites tells the Canadian public. They say the real story is about keeping national face and so questions as to other major public expenditures such as the climate emergency pale in the face of these threats.

So, like most stories, this story too could have a happy ending. Young Canada could come to its senses and pay its NATO allotment and become the respected country we always knew it could be. Arm in arm and armed to the teeth with all its fellow NATO good friends and right-thinking buddies fighting against anyone we deem to be the enemy.

Mark Leith

Mark Leith is a retired psychiatrist and a past national board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada and a member of Seniors for Climate Action Now.