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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Unnecessary persuasion

WHILE Congress debates whether an Air Force general would wield undue military influence as CIA director, the Pentagon continues to use taxpayer money to extend its sway over the civilian population.

That's a polite term for propaganda, which is the unmistakable purpose of a video being shown to passengers on recent United Airlines flights.

The 13-minute video, titled "Today's Military," purports to show U.S. military personnel in unusual, service-oriented jobs, none of which involves combat. One example: an Army animal-care specialist engaged in humanitarian work in Thailand.

Because the film carries no direct attribution as to its source, the captive audiences aboard the planes don't know that they're watching what is essentially a government press release, produced by a consultant on the taxpayers' dime. The Department of Defense - you, the taxpayer, by extension - is paying United $36,000 to show it for a month.

Not that we have anything against the military. We just happen to believe that the best use of scarce tax money doesn't involve forcing Americans to finance propaganda to change minds that don't need changing.

Indeed, according to a poll late last year by the respected Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 82 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the military. It is, and has been for eight years now, the most popular public institution.

Animus against the military that arose during the Vietnam War is largely a thing of the past. The American public generally supports the troops even if they don't believe in the war in Iraq.

Some experts hypothesize that the video is intended as a subtle influence on parents and other adults who might help persuade young people to join the military at a time when enlistments are down.

No one could object to a recruitment advertisement, openly stated and above board, but we believe the Pentagon is trying to be too clever by half with its rather obvious propaganda effort.

And shame on United Airlines for playing along.

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