This article is from Vol. 1, Issue No. 1 pages 23-33 (Winter 1999/2000)
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Fighting the Battle
For Our Minds

By Susan Bryce

Noam Chomsky, the veteran critic of 20th Century government propaganda has described the war on drugs as an instrument of population control. In an interview with journalist John Veit, Chomsky describes the way in which the everlasting battle for the minds of men is fought.

“This engineering or manufacture of consent is the essence of democracy, because you have to insure that ignorant and meddlesome outsiders—meaning we the people—don’t interfere with the work of the serious people who run public affairs in the interests of the people.”1

The war on drugs is a perfect example of the manufacture of consent, according to Chomsky. “One of the traditional and obvious ways of controlling people in every society, whether it’s a military dictatorship or a democracy, is to frighten them. If people are frightened, they’ll cede authority to their superiors who will protect them—so the fear of drugs and fear of crime is very much stimulated by state and business propaganda.”2

The government benefits from the use of these strategies, as the crime control industry is a state industry, and is publicly funded. The construction industry, the real estate industry, and also high-tech firms. "Its got to [such] a scale...that high-technology and military contractors are looking to it as a market for techniques of high-tech control and surveillance, so that you can monitor what people do in their private activities with complicated electronic devices and super computers-–in fact, the time will probably come when this superfluous population can be locked up in private apartments, not jails, and just monitored to track when they do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, go the wrong direction,” Chomsky predicts.3

Young Minds

The present government campaign to get “Tough on Drugs” is about shaping the minds of young people. Australian Federal Police commissioner, Mick Palmer, addressing the First International Conference on Drugs and Young People4 said “Our aim must be to fashion opinions, particularly in the young, change behaviors and reduce demand:” not simply “health protect” the victims and prosecute the traffickers. But if we are to be effective and give perhaps new and innovative demand reduction strategies the time to bite, then enforcement must continue to play a role. We have to deal with the “now” while we prepare for the “future.”

The American Experience
and the War Fighting Strategies

How can we achieve the “fashion[ing] of opinions, particularly in the young?” The answer lies in the American experience and US Drug War fighting strategies.

In war it is necessary to know the enemy. In the War on Drugs, the enemy of course is drugs and people who use them. Knowledge on drugs is easy to obtain, but knowledge about people en masse—their psychology and behaviors, is a lot harder to come by. So, who then, knows the people best? Who understands them? Who is best able to be employed in order to shape opinion about the ‘drug problem?’ The answer of course is the advertising industry.

In any war, it is also necessary to demonize the enemy. And the more the enemy is demonized, the more likely people are to reject and condemn him (or her) without examining the evidence. The more an enemy is demonized, the more we fear him, and the more likely we are to ask others to protect us. In the war on drugs, who is best able to demonize the enemy? The answer of course, is the advertising industry.

On average, American children are exposed to media at least eight hours per day through television, radio, movies, recorded music, comics, and video games. By his or her eighteenth birthday, an average adolescent will have seen 100,000 television commercials for beer and will have watched 65,000 scenes on television depicting beer drinking.5 An industry that can popularize one type of drug can demonize another.


Leaders in the entertainment and sports industries and others whose influence reaches every neighborhood and country can play a role in safeguarding our most precious resource: our children. The U.S. National Drug Control Strategy articulates the priority given to protecting sixty-eight million children from toxic, addictive substances. Our Leaders in the entertainment and sports industries and others whose influence reaches every neighborhood and country can play a role in safeguarding our most precious resource: our children. The U.S. National Drug Control Strategy articulates the priority given to protecting sixty-eight million children from toxic, addictive substances. Our National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign recognizes the centrality of the media in any national effort to educate the next generation about the dangers associated with underage drinking and smoking, abuse of psychoactive substances, and all illegal drugs.

recognizes the centrality of the media in any national effort to educate the next generation about the dangers associated with underage drinking and smoking, abuse of psychoactive substances, and all illegal drugs.

Barry R. McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy.6

In America, the government agency, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) develops and delivers policy strategies to wage the War on Drugs. The ONDCP works in partnership with community organizations, principally, the Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA). ONDCP chief, Barry McCaffrey announced recently that the magazine industry had pledged to match the federal government ad-for-ad in a public service campaign to spread the word about the dangers of drugs. Executives of the American Magazine Conference, held at Walt Disney World, agreed to put the might of their 200 members, covering 1,200 magazine titles, behind the War on Drugs.7

The offer by the magazine industry, is actually a response to a request made by the ONDCP itself. The ONDCP initially suggested that the advertising industry might support the War on Drugs by agreeing to match, dollar for dollar, government advertising contributions. The federal government is putting up a lot of money for hard-hitting anti-drug ads, worth $US1 billion over the next five years.

What will happen in this joint initiative between the media and the government? Publications will participate in a “roadblock” where every magazine on a newsstand during a particular week or month will carry some anti-drug message. The magazine industry will allow the campaign to target even more specific audience, such as teens who read Seventeen or their parents who read The New Yorker. Magazines will also run stories, in tandem with advertisements, describing the devastation caused by illicit drugs in our community.

This strategy requires close inspection for it is a very significant gain, for the government, in the propaganda War on Drugs. The government has, through the pledge of $US1 billion worth of advertising, “bought” the media, or at least a substantial sector of it.

Further research into the American War on Drugs, leads us to inquire into the “Partnership for a Drug Free America,” and the Advertising Council Inc., the so-called Advertising Partners of the ONDCP. The Partnership For a Drug Free America, touts itself as a nonprofit coalition of professionals from the communications industry—in other words, public relations experts. The Partnership oversees and implements the creation of all paid advertising used in the war on drugs campaign. What this means is that the Partnership vets all advertising which is submitted as part of the War on Drugs to ensure that advertising conforms to government prescription.

The Advertising Council is the other “partner” in the War on Drugs. The Advertising Council is America’s largest provider of public service communications (i.e., government advertising). Accordingly, its role in the War on Drugs is to “screen all ads submitted and ensure that they fit within the overall communication strategy, and meet all broadcast and print quality standards.”8 Thus continuing the cycle of propaganda.

The US magazine of investigative journalism The Nation, has delved into the people behind the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the supposed, nonprofit organization. A probe by The Nation revealed that the Partnership had accepted $US5.4 million in contributions from legal drug manufacturers, while producing ads that overlooked the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and pills.9 This “drug free” crusade is actually a silent partner to the drug industry, condoning the use of “good drugs” by targeting only the “bad” ones.

The Nation’s report discusses how the pharmaceutical and advertising industries have long been intertwined. James Burke, who resigned as chair and CEO of Johnson and Johnson in 1989 to become Chair of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, engineered the classic campaign to restore public confidence in Tylenol after the cyanide scare.

The Partnership’s funders are usually kept secret, but investigation by The Nation revealed that from 1988-1991, pharmaceutical companies and their beneficiaries contributed as follows [in US dollars]:


The J. Steward Johnson, Sr. Charitable Trusts ($11,000,000)

Du Pont ($150,000)

The Procter & Gamble Fund ($120,000)

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation ($110,000)

Johnson & Johnson ($11,000)

Smith Kline Beecham ($100,000)

The Merck Foundation ($75,000)

Hoffman-La Roche ($30,000)

Also $150,000 each from Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch and RJR Reynolds, plus $100,000 from American Brands (Jim Beam and Lucky Strike).


Partnership ads rely on scare tactics and are often highly exaggerated. One example quoted by The Nation is that of a print ad which showed a preteen in a denim jacket under the headline “What she’s going through isn’t a phase, It’s an ounce a week.” The ad copy alerts parents to the dangers of pot smoking. How many 10-year-olds could afford an ounce a week, let alone smoke it and stay on their feet?

It is not the first time the Partnership has been caught out with regard to incorrect information (some would say propaganda). The first advertisement run by the Partnership in 1987 depicted the brain wave of a 14-year-old smoking pot. It later revealed that the brain wave depicted was that of a coma patient.

The advertising industry, and the mass media, of course, benefit innumerably from their support of the government’s War on Drugs. Not only do they receive financial rewards, but they also receive an ego massage. Creative directors get to show off, giving their ads titles like “Candy Store” and “Tricks of the Trade,” and submitting them for industry awards. The actors get exposure and media outlets can pat themselves on the back for contributing to a good cause.

The Corporate Connection

Chair of the ONDCP, Barry McCaffrey has said “Corporations whose productivity depends on healthy, drug-free employees can lend financial backing as well as public endorsement.”

This of course, strikes at the very heart of the War on Drugs. People that are buying drugs, and particularly illegal drugs, are pouring money into the ‘black economy,’ so to speak, not into the pockets of multinational corporations.

By supporting the War on Drugs, corporations are in a win win situation. The media corporations get government-paid advertising pledges, while other corporations benefit because they end up with money that would otherwise be spent on the purchase of illegal drugs.

The other benefit to corporations of course, is that the War on Drugs, particularly illicit drugs, promotes the idea that you need to be “cool”— that you need to get an “image” and a “lifestyle”—primarily a consumer lifestyle.

A large proportion of early teens (69 percent), and close to half of all teenagers (42 percent) do not use drugs and believe that drug use is risky according to a 1994 PDFA survey. The Partnership refers to these non drug using adolescents as their “loyal franchise” and suggests that the “franchise” should be maintained by affirming their choice.10 Affirming choices to stay off drugs, of course, means more advertising, and specifically, advertising a “cool” lifestyle.

It is the part of the stated communications strategy of PDFA “to promote the image that teenagers need to be ‘cool,’ socially attractive, and earn the respect of peers.”11 “They should also be part of a close-knit circle of friends and share new and exciting experiences, earn the respect and trust of parents and siblings, work towards one’s academic and career goals, stay fit and perform well in sports,” the PDFA says.12

In other words, the Partnership for a Drug Free America would like children to be model citizens/consumers, and not rebel against the “system.”

Here is a quote from the PDFA about how the “need to be cool” can be projected:

Positive messages are likely to be effective in reinforcing adolescents' anti-drug attitudes and in affirming their commitment to refrain from drug use. The tone of these messages should be spirited and celebratory rather than preachy. A strategy that has proved highly successful for many major marketers (e.g., Reebok, Nike, Coke, and Levi) is to depict a desirable image and lifestyle, and then associate that image with their product subtly and obliquely. Drug non-use can be marketed in a similar way by creating a highly desirable image of attractive, smart, and successful drug-free teenagers.13

The use of this strategy is graphically illustrated by the Partnership’s advertising, and also by its use of the Internet.

One example is the Web site Freevibe, in the “related links” of the ONDCP Web site.14 Freevibe, which appears also to have a link to the Disney Corporation, offers young Americans “better things than drugs.” The number one thing Freevibe advises teenagers to do as an alternative to taking drugs is to make money. This, Freevibe says, can be accomplished through having a garage sale, starting a business, or selling off old CDs and books. “Your whole life you’ve depended on your parents for cash. And let’s face it, it’s never enough! Now’s the time to break out and make your own ducats, and spend ‘em the way you want to,” Freevibe advises.15

Other ideas that people may like to take up instead of taking drugs, are (in numerical order): sports, volunteering, arts, writing (keeping a journal), enjoying the outdoors and building Web sites.

Freevibe regularly features a “celeb.” This month’s Celeb, happens to be Cameron Dias—“The most promising blue-eyed blond—who confounded Hollywood—a shrewd and savvy actress, who—does the occasional high-paying modeling job,” Freevibe says, enticingly.

Freevibe’s other feature is called “Cool Incarnate,” this is an interview with an anonymous young girl, known only by her nickname, “Penny Dreadful,” (a nickname once given to Marilyn Monroe—that other all American blue-eyed blond!). “Penny” is the antithesis of an advertising profile, used to target market “cool” products to youth culture.

Where does Penny live? She lives with her parents, who are still married, has a sister, two dogs and a hedgehog.

What does Penny think “makes you cool?” She’s a fashion advice columnist for a funky clothing catalogue on the Web. She is not paid, but works at a daycare. Dressing differently and people who chase their own goals even if it means ridicule, are the sorts of things that make you “cool” according to Penny.

Who does she admire? Penny admires her father’s work ethic, her mother’s no-nonsense strength, sister’s charm, and her a friend’s practicality. She also admires Tori Amos for her power-femme image, Courtney Love for honesty and Drew Barrymore for her flower-child free-spiritedness.

Penny’s goals are to enroll in an English literature course at college and get married and become a mother (even though it is, as she says, rather 50s passť).

Penny’s thoughts on drugs: Drugs get people pregnant because they get high and have unprotected sex or contract fatal diseases from dirty needles it can happen and will happen if you’re not careful, Penny warns. “Trust a grrrl who knows,” she says. A girl, a stranger, who won’t even tell us her real name!

And finally, asked for her words of wisdom on life, Penny says patronizingly, “be kind to your fellow human beings, despite their financial status, race, sexuality, religion, clique, etc. Be free and never shut your mouth!”

Look at the central elements of Penny’s discussion, and of Freevibe itself, in terms of propaganda analysis. Apart from being drug free, Penny is advocating several other things. The work ethic, voluntary labor, reproduction of the species, further education, and of course, fashion.

Freevibe is encouraging teenagers to “look up to” superstars and fashion models. Why not encourage teenagers to look up to people who are campaigning to save the environment, curing disease or working for peace? Surely these would be better role modes. But then again, these sorts of things are not as socially attractive or glamorous as “being cool.”

Could it be that the Partnership for a Drug Free America is running two advertising campaigns? One to demonize illicit drugs, the other to turn teenagers into unthinking consuming robots?

Another aspect of the War on Drugs that is worth mentioning is the use of sporting heroes. While some may balk at the following analysis, it deserves consideration, given the insidious and Orwellian nature of the War on Drugs.

The ONDCP has launched what it calls, an “Athletic Initiative Against Drugs”—the catch cry, “If you use, you lose.”16 The ONDCP says this initiative is “[b]ased on the premise that the athletic world can be used to educate children about the dangers of drugs and keep them away from drugs.”16 The fact that the athletic world is well known for its use of performance enhancing drugs appears to have been conveniently forgotten.

Part of the ONDCP strategy involves “Coaching kids away from drugs—to build self esteem and character and learn that their futures are too bright to waste on drugs.” “Athletes can also help us in our drive to shape attitudes because young people emulate and look up to them,” the ONDCP says. The Athletic strategy is designed to be a mentoring program - “many of our nation’s strongest adult mentors and role models wear whistles and call plays when they aren’t teaching life-long lessons. Coaches are looked up to by children—as mentors coaches are winners.”17

Think about this statement carefully. If you have children, do you want them to respond to whistles and obey other peoples calls to “play”—or do you want them to develop freely and of their own accord? What other people do you know that wear whistles and call plays? What organization requires its members to be fit and athletic? The answer: the military. Are we training a generation of warriors? After all, that was what Hitler Youth was all about.18

Propaganda and the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs in America is indeed waging a three-pronged attack on society.


It is brainwashing and propagandizing a generation of young people so that they become consuming robots.

It is encouraging people to become model citizens, to be non-rebellious and intolerant of other peoples choices.

It is bringing society one step closer to the inevitability of a police state.

In Australia, we are being “Tough on Drugs.” So far, many of our policy initiatives are adapted from the American experience. We too, are adopting the three-pronged attack on drugs. Educating people against the “perils” of drug addiction, “effective” treatment programs and harsher law enforcement.

Many Australians will no doubt be concerned by the insidious implications of drug-control strategies, that are being implemented to “reduce the damage done by drugs to our families and communities.” Getting “Tough on Drugs,” is but one example of the way that democratic governments use propaganda against us. Other areas such as health, finance, education, foreign affairs, welfare, law and order, justice and the environment are also subject to government propaganda campaigns.

It was a wise grrrl that once warned it can and will happen if you’re not careful!




1 Noam Chomsky commenting on the Drug War Industrial Complex, in the magazine High Times. Interviewed by journalist John Veit.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Palmer, Mick., in the speech “Young Australians face an increasing battle with illicit drugs,” at the First International Conference on Drugs and Young People, Melbourne, March 1999 ( [Accessed 24 January 2000.]

5 Remarks by Barry R. McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. In the same speech, McCaffrey also discussed the benefits of ‘vaccinating’ adolescents against drugs through the media. Available online at [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

6 Ibid.

7 Mike Schneider “magazines Offer to Join Drug War, October 19, 1998, The Orlando Sun-Sentinel ( [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

8 See, [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

9 Cotts, Cynthia, “The Partnership: Hard Sell in the Drug War,” The Nation, March 9, 1992 ( [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

10 This is a quote from the Public Relations Plan prepared by the ONDCP’s advertising partners. Titled, National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, Communication Strategy. The full text is available at: [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

15 [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

16 [Accessed: 24 January 2000.]

17 Ibid.

18 Anyone who cares to research, even a little, the future trends of the military, will find that the future lies in urban combat. In the streets, suburbs and garages where we live. Not in remote jungles or desert outposts.

Susan Bryce is the publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter Australian Freedom & Survival Guide. This article is part of a larger article reprinted with permission from Bryce and the original publisher New Dawn Magazine of Australia ( Bryce can be reached at