Every country can be told by the type of its parades. Soft power, like that of the United States, relies on soft–Macy’s November Thanksgiving Day parade–spectacle to convince those in doubt of the American superiority. Not that the weapons don’t go into the US convincing process, Mickey Mouse or Spiderman do come first.
This soft, though patriotic, power was on display this 4th of July. It’s 239th Independence Day, nothing to write home about. And yet after a 5-year hiatus Macy’s stepped up, stepped in and underwrote some stunning fireworks. It was indeed a spectacle–colors, shapes, sequences…
Surely, the financial crisis has eased up, and businesses can have a party. But politics always lurks on the background of society, culture and all else. This year America simply had to respond in a patriotic although popular kind to the Islamic State and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who display their own propaganda power–hard rather than soft (although I am not equating an assertive Russia with an all-destroying terorism of IS)–through beheadings as in IS case, or the military might of Putin. In the last year we’ve seen columns of Russian tanks in Ukraine or a May 9th parade of thousands of troops and equipment on the Red Squire in commemoration of World War II Victory with spectacular fireworks complimenting that hard power display.
Soft powers uses propaganda softly. The White House won’t be sending humvees to American streets on Independence day, as hard Russia would have done, but its symbol of commerce and comfort–Macy’s–did its own propaganda display, in which overwhelming fireworks were a show of the American soft force. Of course there is also hard power of which Barack Obama spoke at the Pentagon just a day after the 4th of July, but even he admitted that ultimately IS will unlikely be defeated by guns. As Richard Nixon once shrewdly explained to Nikita Khrushchev, “The power of butter is stronger than the power of guns.”