Edward Bernays was the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, the creator of the field of psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories are deeply rooted in attributing the role of primate instincts in determining human motivations and thus resultant human logic and behaviour.

Bernays has been credited as the ‘Father of Public Relations’. He is, perhaps, one of the least recognized cultural influencers of the twentieth century. His most well-known book is entitled Propaganda (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_) in which he outlines his views of the need for societies’ elites to manipulate the masses through public relations techniques for the betterment of these societies.

Bernays used his famous uncle’s psychoanalytical theories to make a small fortune for himself as a public relations consultant to industry and government. He was ingenious at developing advertising campaigns to meet the marketing needs of his clients.

He is known for two particularly renowned campaigns. The first is the marketing of women smoking in public on behalf of his client the American Tobacco Company during the nineteen twenties, which he entitled ‘Torches of Freedom’. The other was to engineer a coup of the new government of Guatemala by the United States on behalf of his client the United Fruit Company, now renamed Chiquita Brands International.

The goal of the ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign was to increase his client’s market share of women smokers by breaking the social taboo of women smoking in public. Bernays staged an Easter parade in which women emerged from Manhattan churches holding aloft their lighted cigarettes to join in the parade. Bernays had consulted a psychoanalyst who reported to him that cigarettes represented “torches of freedom” for women whose feminine desires were increasingly suppressed by their role in the modern world. The march went as planned, as did the ensuing publicity, following which women would now prominently smoke openly in public across the country.

Regarding his work in Guatemala for his client the United Fruit Company, the company faced a crisis related to the expropriation of its banana fields by a new Guatemala president, precipitating a threat to the company’s production capacity.

Collaborating with journalists and congressmen, Bernays was able to successfully engineer a coup of the new Guatemala’s presidency through the subterfuge of the CIA. The coup was based on portraying the new Guatemala government as a ‘Communist Menace’, even though there was no evidence to back up the claim, with resultant restoration of his client’s asset.

Public Relations is a culturally mediated industry and therefore, as such, one of its main techniques is the telling of stories. In these two examples, Bernays uses the technique of telling two stories with happy endings. In ‘Torches of Freedom’, the now publicly emancipated women have gained a greater degree of freedom. In the Guatemala campaign, the honourable American banana companies’ rightful property is restored from the thieving ‘Communist Menace’.

The Canadian International Air Show has also created a story that it likes to tell. It is the story of happy families gathering around the lakeside together year after year to enjoy the exciting yet harmless spectacle of airplanes playing in the afternoon sky of a bucolic September afternoon. In this story, there is a particular emphasis on the longevity of this tradition and how central it is to family life. These emphases speak to the cherished values of permanence and community.

But those who do not want to live within this story, enjoying together the daredevil feats of the handsome young fool-hardy brave pilots of our courageous American and Canadian air forces, are not welcome at the lakeside. Those that would carry placards and shout objections to this well-meaning spectacle serve only to show a lack of good, spirited patriotism inherent in this lakeside story.

The environmental and peace movements have a different story to tell.  Theirs is not a happy one.  It is a story of annihilating destruction. Of toxic pollution. Of depletion of resources. Of nuclear war. Fundamentally, it is a story of planet-destroying greed, the greed that feeds the fossil fuel industry and the military-industrial complex.

As the environmental and peace movements challenge the lie that is the story behind the CNE Air Show, the show’s sponsors will stick to their version of the truth. They will say that they are only motivated by wanting to make Canada a safer place in a dangerous world, and that their intentions are well-meaning and have nothing to do, whatsoever, with the debased worlds of profit and money.


Mark Leith is a retired psychiatrist and a past national board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada and a SCAN member and a member of the Culture and Innovative Tactics Committee.

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