Oil War: Propaganda and Root Causes

David M. Boje, Ph.D.  February 2, 2003 in PeaceAware.com 

What is the difference between propaganda and causality? To answer this question I explore thirteen types of causal claims used in stories for peace and stories for war. I conclude that both the War and the Peace movements need to pay more attention to the types of causal claims. An understanding of narrative causal claim making and counter-claims allows us to trace the flimsy stories, the bits of what I call antenarratives, that have us on the brink of war. I think storytelling theory has something to contribute to our understanding about how both War and Peace movements use propaganda and make causal assertions. 

Propaganda - Storytellers construct and reconstruct history to fit the state's agenda. Propaganda is defined as the process of deliberately spreading ideas, information, half-truths, lies or stories for the purpose of helping or injuring the public opinion of an institution, nation, person, or campaign. Chomsky (1987-88), says, "as early as World War I, American historians offered themselves to President Woodrow Wilson to carry out a task they called 'historical engineering,' by which they meant designing the facts of history so that they would serve state policy. In this instance, the U.S. government wanted to silence opposition to the war. Propaganda is what Walter Lippmann called the "manufacture of consent." Two kinds of storytellers, the "Hawks" and the "Doves," wrote stories for the mainstream media during the Vietnam War. 

Hawks said, "If we keep at it we can win." The doves said, "Even if we keep at it, it would probably be too costly for use, and besides, maybe we're killing too many people."

Chomsky points out that Doves and Hawks agreed that the USA had the right to carry out aggression in Vietnam, and both refused to state that aggression was taking place, instead substituting the Orwellian phrase, "defense of Southeast Asia.."  We were attacking Vietnam since 1962 with bombing and defoliation, just as the Soviets later attacked Afghanistan, before we attacked it after 9-11, and now propose to attack Iraq in Feb-March 2003. The plan in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and now Iraq is to drive millions of people into detention camps. In fact, 12 years of sanctions against medicine and food supplies have turned Iraq into a concentration camp. In Vietnam we protected the people from an official enemy, the "Viet Cong," (formerly anti-French resistance) now we protect them from the official enemy, the "al Qaeda" (formerly anti-Soviet resistance). In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the USA sets up a new regime that has no legitimacy and little popular support. USA killed 70,000 Viet Cong in a terror campaign before invasion in 1972. And in Iraq, the USA killed 1.5 million civilians in a 12 year  terror campaign of sanctions before invading in 2003. As in Vietnam the Doves, do not argue war is wrong, they argue as pragmatic utilitarians against the potential costs ($200 to 400 billion) and dire consequences (escalation into World War III).  As with Vietnam, the Peace Movement is not invited to recite peace poetry in the Whitehouse or contribute to mainstream media. Mainstream reports undercount attendance at marches and rallies, and quote people whose views do not represent the center of the Peace Movement. Reporters find someone who has thrown a brick through a window. In Las Cruces, the Jan coverage of our Peace Vigil took more quotes from children, than from parents. 

One reason that propaganda often works better on the educated than on the uneducated is that educated people read more, so they receive more propaganda. Another is that they have jobs in management, media, and academia and therefore work in some capacity as agents of the propaganda system--and they believe what the system expects them to believe (Chomsky, 1987-88).

The point is that in USA official mainstream propaganda there is no such as an "invasion of Vietnam" (Chomsky, 1987-88) or an "invasion of Iraq." Rather, we are told, "it is right we invade Iraq, patriots do not argue with their country's foreign policy." And they never say, "the USA is engaged in one more genocide." The Peace Movement seeks to break the grip of the propaganda system on the USA public by claiming causality.

Causality - Storytellers construct and reconstruct causality over time (Boje, 2002: 93). Underlying the growing Peace Movement is a story of cause and effect: that the Bush administration war on Iraq is motivated, in part, by (1) a grab for Iraq's oil reserves, (2) deflect attention of the public away from growing military budget, (3) deflect attention away from a recession economy, (4) deflect attention away from calls for Enrongate investigation --including GAO's failed attempt to obtain Cheney's energy meeting notes with Enron and other energy and oil executives, and (5) Bush has surrounding himself with Hawks from Bush Sr. administration in a classic example of groupthink. In sum, the Peace Movement does not believe Iraq causes any significant threat to USA survival; the war is caused in part by oil, in part by militarism, in part as a way to deflect attention in order to retain power, and as a form of groupthink. Here I will focus upon oil and war. Every Peace Vigil and Peace March I attend has several signs with narrative causal assertions that read, "Iraq is an Oil War," "No Blood for Oil." Frederick Nietzsche (1967; #477) said in about 1885:

'Causality' eludes us; to suppose a direct causal link between thoughts, as logic does--that is the consequence of the crudest and clumsiest observation.

To the war machine, to suppose a direct causal link between war and oil, is logically the crudest and clumsiest thought. To the peace movement, oil industry has a will to power, even a will to empire, that is the cause of most war in the Middle East. War is happening, oil must be the cause. 

Stories explain why, what caused a series of events to unfold, and end they way the did. For Nietzsche (1967: 551) causality is a narrative invention, a projection of our will onto an event, the imposition of story that posits a cause that must be producing an observed effect. The war on Iraq and the Peace Movement are narrated in chains of causal assertions, storied systems of claims and counter-claims. 

What are types of cause? According to Aristotle, every event has four causes, or aitiai in Greek (Boje, 2001: 96-97):

  1. Material cause —what anything is made of (“the oil reserves of Iraq are the second largest in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia” And "Oil is the most important commodity in the world, vital for both industry and the military" (Jasper, 2003, Counter Punch),
  2. Formal cause —what a thing is, the form or pattern that made the event happen ("oil is a scare resources that promotes competitive behavior"),
  3. Efficient cause — what immediate agent is acting to product the work or form (Some examples -- "oil executives met with V.P. Cheney to fashion energy policy; oil corporations contribute money to elect governments. For example, ExxonMobil contributed $1.2 million to the Republican Party. The new post-war Iraqi regime is proposing to grant USA oil companies $1.1 trillion in contracts" -- Boje, 2002 Oil Wars),
  4. Final cause—why the event happened, the motive for the sake of which war is produced. For Aristotle, the final cause was god ("Bush called the Afghanistan war a "crusade"; one motive of the Iraq war is to procure oil reserves for USA economic security; another motive is the greed of ExxonMobil, Unocal or ChevronTexaco for those reserves").

To Aristotle's cause typology, we can add several additional generative causal types (adapted from Boje, 2001: 97-98). In generative causal narrative, pool is explained as the cue stick tapping the cue ball that then hits say the six fall, bounces off a rail, and sinks the eight ball. For Socrates and Aristotle (then Hobbes & Newton's mechanistic science) every effect must have a cause.  Generative causality narratives identify prior events that are connected to and cause subsequent events. 

  1. Sufficient cause — can produce an effect by itself. Aristotle's causes (1 to 4) are sufficient ("oil scarcity can prompt a nation to go to war to appropriate that resource. since the military industrial complex runs on oil, oil constitutes a strategic resource; and the auto industry runs on oil, and blocks fuel efficiency and counteracts the search for alternative energy sources).

  2. Necessary cause — must be present for the effect to occur, but by itself cannot product the effect ("oil scarcity, for example, is necessary to produce war, but by itself cannot. Other factors are needed: a culture socialized in militarism, a pretext for invading another country, such as the war on terrorism"),

  3. Contributory cause — may lead to an effect but cannot product it by itself ("For example, ExxonMobil spent $47 million lobbying and contributing to election campaigns of the US Congress and Presidential Administrations since 1997; oil corporations together spent $26 million on the 2000 campaigns of Bush, Cheney and other republicans. Oil companies may contribute money to presidential campaigns, but systems of executive action and military deployment are also important. The Bush administration has put most of their personal investments, $144.6 million into oil and gas; this is a contributory, but not sufficient or necessary cause for war"),

  4. Proximate cause — various events happen close to the effect, but without being sufficient, necessary, or contributory causes ("the USA military is going to secure the oil fields in Iraq during its invasion, but that does not mean that oil is the objective of the war. Five former Enron executives work in the Bush administration. Enron contributed $736,800 directly to George W. Bush. Enron donated $888,265 to the Republican National Committee (Boje, 2003b, c). While Enron is proximate to the Bush administration, it does not mean it is a sufficient, necessary or contributory cause, which is when Enrongate did not become Watergate"),

  5. Remote cause — happens distant from an effect. The mechanism linking two events have not been specified ("oil is scarce and a valuable commodity, but mechanisms linking oil to war events in the Middle East have not been specified. Oil companies have contributed millions to presidential campaigns, and oil companies have met with the proposed post-war Iraqi regime, but links to war itself have not been specified. President Bush was senior executive from 1978 to 1990 in three oil companies, Arbusto Energy, Spectrum 7, and Harken oil. VP Cheney was CEO of Halliburton from 1995-2000, the world’s largest oil service company. Halliburton gave Cheney $33 million severance pay. These are remote causes, and neither necessary or sufficient causal connection to war).

The problem with the nine types of generative causal narratives is that we can forget to read the historical record, and reify a few simple events to represent the whole causal terrain. We must therefore add several narrative causal types.

  1. Psychological cause — can be a personality that cannot resist the addiction to, for example, gambling. There is a believe that in course of human and natural events there must be causal origins. After the event, there is retrospective sensemaking ("the psychological cause of USA war on Iraq is addiction to cheap oil" or "the psychological cause of junior Bush's war, is to vindicate his father's reputation after the first Gulf War" or "Andrew Fastow is to blame for Enron, and no one need look in the direction of the White House"), 

  2. Successionist cause — posits that causality is not a real phenomenon, it is either a fiction of mind or coincidence of co-occurring events. Successionist is a space between material/generative cause and psychological cause. In the case of co-occurring events, there may be no connection. Events may correlate, but not be causal ("the Bush administration maintains that while oil is a strategic resource, it is not the cause of war. The Peace Movement is making an attribution of causality without proof"),

  3. Chaos cause — suggests that effects are emergent from initial conditions, but the patterns vary from starting points. A given event may have any of a number of effects. Rather than linear A results in B, the effects can be non-linear or completely  unpredictable. Chaos is part of the new complexity theories of Einstein science ("The Peace Movement looks at initial starting conditions such as USA's earlier support of Saddam, providing Iraq with nerve gas and other weapons of mass destruction to fight Iran, then connects the dots to argue the USA is reaping what it has sown, and just did not foretell the unanticipated effects of its own terrorism"),

  4. Antenarrative cause — In narrative texts, there are frequent constructions of a causal nature. What is Antenarrative? The antenarrative is a bet that some future pattern of events will emerge from storytelling. The antenarrative is a bit of pre-story, not yet a very coherent tale. Antenarrative causality "would call into question mechanical as well as successionist (and psychological & chaos) accounts of causality" (Boje, 2001: 102). The focus is on how causal antenarrations get produced, distributed, and consumed. The task is to recover the pre-storied circumstances of causal attributions. ("Saying Oil causes Iraq War is too tidy. Peace Movement and War Machine storytellers pick different historical events. We know three USA oil companies met with post-Iraq war regime candidates. There is anticipation that this event is linked to Gulf War II.").

I want to summarize the propaganda and root causes concerning the relation of oil and war on Iraq.  Both the War Machine and the Peace Movement produce, distribute, and consume a series of material, generative, psychological, successionist, chaos, and antenarrative causal narratives. For example, Bush administration, promoting the War Machine, says that the USA is going to war on Iraq because Saddam Hussein has amassed weapons of mass destruction which he intends to hand off to terrorists who will repeat a 9-11 attack on the USA (Boje, 2003a Deconstructing Bu$h State of the Union). Working in the Peace Movement, I make connections between Bush and the oil and arms regime, which has become a subgovernment ruling over an American democratic facade (Boje, Oil Wars 2002). The Peace Movement and the War Machine accuse each other of not providing evidence of a causal connection between events. The Peace Movement says there is no evidence that that these weapons exist, Saddam has been opposed to al Qaeda fundamentalism, and if he were to hand off so much as a 22 shell, the pentagon plans to annihilate Iraq with mini-nukes. The War Machine says there is no evidence linking oil lobby contributions to the President's decision to declare war on Iraq. 

Is oil the fundamental root cause of the war on Iraq. There are many causes for this war. Oil is not the only cause, but it is an important one. For example, the Peace Movement narrative constructs a generative view of causality that holds that the nature of the Bush administration as a Hawkish (militaristic) government determines what specifically will happen in a given set of circumstances, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq. THe Bush administration defends an anti-successionist view of causality, that there is no relationship between Bush or Cheney's oil background and the Iraq war. The Peace Movement uses all thirteen types of causal narratives, while deconstructing any causal claims posed by the Bush administration. For example, rather than Iraq being an immanent threat to USA security, the Peace Movement talks about how the Bush administration has failed to make a convincing case for its claims.  For Bush, the Peace Movement storytellers make psychological causal claims, that have no material basis. 

Both the Peace Movement and the War Machine have linear and circular theories of time. In linear theories, A leads to B which leads to C. In circular theories, history repeats itself. In chaos and antenarrative theories of time, relations between events emerge in non-linear patterns. Both sides frame their stories to situate small events into major stories of the global political economy. Bush tells stories of aluminum tubes that could be used to construct a rocket. He links Iraq to the axis of evil, and sends FBI and CIA to find links between al Qaeda and Saddam.  The Peace Movement tells stories of about the lived experiences of a nation living in what is nothing more than a refugee camp. 

Together the stories and counter-stories set off chaos patterns. The mainstream media tells a story of two arrests out of thousands of demonstrators converging on Washington D.C. Activists claim huge numbers, 500,000 in DC, 200,000 in San Francisco, a million demonstrators around the world. It is difficult for both sides to make material or generative causal traces of linkages between events. Spectators are left to fill in the blanks. Each day the other claims the causal linkages narrated by the other side are bogus. One claims the consequences of war are just the opposite to what the other claims. Each blames the other for getting the facts wrong. Each sees the other as a propaganda machine. The War Machine places the blame for a lack of social support for war at the feet of the Peace Movement. The Peace Movement places the blame for war at the feet of the Bush administration. 

I think both sides need to get clearer about causal assertions. I am trying to be clearer. I have not arrived. I think each side needs to look carefully at the causal attributions the other is making. The challenge is to trace the construction of causal claims, their distribution, and the way in which they get consumed. There are linear, non-linear and non-relationships between events being storied. Storytelling is a way to make meaningful connections between events. An antenarrative analysis of War and Peace narratives can dig below the storied surface to trace the emergent dynamics of causal constructions. Both sides are putting fragments of story together to craft causal assertions. Very few are necessary and sufficient, most posit remote causes without specifying the points between. It is time to trace the antenarrative dynamics in play. The battle field between war and peace is messy and often unfathomable. The acts of narration present fictive and plausible causal chains. As Nietzsche (1967: #477) claimed, causality "eludes us"


Boje, David M. (2001). Narrative Methods for Organizational & Communication Research. London: Sage Publications. See Amazon to order book and/or read book review. See on line QM study guide on Narrative Causality http://cbae.nmsu.edu/~dboje/qm/6_causality.htm For more on Antenarrative see What is Antenarrative?

Boje, D. M. (2002). Oil and Empire: Say No to the Oil War. Presentation to Oct. 28 Teach-In Speak-Out at New Mexico State University. See www.PeaceAware.com 

Boje, David M. (2003a). Deconstructing Bu$h State of the Union. See www.PeaceAware.com 

Boje, D. M. (2003b).Oil Empire Strikes Back: Marketing Iraq Oil War Sequel. To appear in Business Research Yearbook

Boje, D. M. (2003c). Oil Empire Strikes Back: U.S. Postmodern War with Iraq. To appear in Business Research Yearbook.

Chomsky, Noam (1987-88). Propaganda, American-style.  Propaganda Review (Winter 1987-88). It is also an essay from Chomsky's book Radical Priorities, edited by C.P. Otero (1984).

Jasper, Phil (2003). Are SUVs the reason for Bush's Iraq War? Counter Punch.

Nietzsche, Frederick (1967). The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale. NY: Vintage books.