7.4.3.2 Reputational Damage

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7432.htm)

A government which has launched attacks against people in another country loses legitimacy with its own population, suffers damage to its international reputation and provides other countries with propaganda that they can use in several ways.

Bad publicity saps both domestic and international support for a government which is using force.  Wars invariably cause civilian deaths, provoking moral outrage – especially in extreme cases.  The My Lai Massacre, as reported by history.com for example, “fueled anti-war sentiment and further divided the United States over the Vietnam War” and it also sparked a “firestorm of international outrage”.

This reputational damage diminished America’s ‘soft power’ (6.7.7.3), reducing its capacity to influence other countries.  The propaganda material can be used by other countries for their own purposes, as reported by Quartz for example in 2016: From My Lai to Ferguson, China blasts US human rights abuses in a new documentary.  The same report cited hundreds of “Civilian victims in US drone strikes” (7.3.2.3).  America has often criticised China’s record on human rights, but China has been able to contest America’s right to make such criticisms.  Chinese leaders are also politically strengthened by positioning the US as an enemy (6.3.6).

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