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The War Nerd: The long, twisted history of beheadings as propaganda

Stashed in: Pants on fire!, International Incidents

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What the cutting edge empires, particularly the Anglos, had learned, was that when it comes to beheadings, it is better to receive than to give. Better to let the foolish, old-school warriors try to inspire their troops by making videos of themselves holding up a Westerner’s head. It’s the best propaganda the West could ask, in the run-up to massive air strikes.

The high point of this new strategy was the waning British Empire’s brilliant propaganda campaign against the Kikuyu in Kenya during the Mau-Mau Uprising of the 1950s. If you watched English-language media, all the beheading, mutilating, and other low-tech bloodshed was on the hands of the Kikuyu rebels. The Empire was merely trying to restrain their bloody hands. After a few scare movies and hysterical, blood-soaked radio broadcasts, “Mau-Mau” meant sheer terror.

Only when Caroline Elkins looked back at the records of the rebellion did the truth come out. The Kikuyu, driven from their lands, revolted with minimal violence, killing only 32 British colonists over the whole war. The Empire killed or maimed 90,000 Kikuyu over the same period, and still came away with the role of peacemaker, restorer of order.

And that is the essence of propaganda: to make the 32 deaths seem much worse than the 90,000. 

"Cutting edge empires" - just me?

That does seem like an odd word choice given the topic.