Saturday, August 05, 2006

War is not a video game

Posted by McCamy Taylor in General Discussion
Fri Aug 04th 2006, 07:13 PM
This is a special request (someone asked me to make a thread out of something I posted in response to another thread).

When I was growing up in the 1960's and 70's, the scenes we saw on the CBS nightly news coming out of Viet Nam were horrific. They shocked me, a young child, and they shocked this nation where civilians had not witnessed unfiltered scenes of the brutality of war since the American Civil War. Most of us have an image indelibly fixed in our minds of a naked young girl running down a road, screaming as her skin burns from chemical weapons that WE used against her. We watched in horror as the film crews recorded our boys being mowed down before they even had a chance to experience life. Their expressions were not those of soldiers gallantly risking their lives for a noble cause. These were scared kids whose eyes said "What am I doing over here?" Americans count on being able to tell right from wrong, but My Lai proved that right and wrong had lost all meaning in Viet Nam. The Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire seemed to be the only ones whose actions made any sense. In their dying, they said very clearly "Heed this warning, all this war will accomplish is suffering and death."

The televised coverage of Viet Nam changed everything. Two American presidencies failed, because the men in charge could not extricate themselves from the Viet Nam War. The war changed the way that Americans feel about military imperialism, which had been on the rise for a century. The notion of fighting the spread of communism abroad fell out of favor. War was no longer something patriotic. It was no longer noble. War was quite literally hell.

George Bush Sr. and CNN changed all that. When Bush signalled to Sadam Hussein that the US would look the other way if Iraq invaded Kuwait, the stage was set for the first in a series of war spectacles. Operation Desert Storm was launched like a mini-series, complete with slogans, theme music, star fighters and reporters. Americans watched from their living rooms as the script was played out to its logical conclusion and they applauded at the end. CNN went from being an oddity to an established news giant.

An unexpected change of administrations robbed CNN of more opportunities to show off its flair for foreign war coverage. For a few hours, it looked like the Oklahoma City bombing might provide an excuse for a second war, with right wing extremists leaping to the conclusion that it must have been Iraqi terrorists and demanding that we should bomb Bagdhad in retaliation (This despite the fact that the bombing occured on the anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy and in Oklahama City, a place middle eastern terrorists were unlikely to target since they would stand out like sore thumbs). By accident, the real bombers were caught, and no Iraq War began during the Clinton administration.

All that changed after the Supreme Court selected George W. Bush to be president. His backers were planning all along to invade Iraq, as described in The Project for the New American Century and later in the Baker Report. The plans for the invasion of Afghanistan had already been drawn up before 9-11. Bush-Cheney were itching to go to war, they just needed an excuse. And when they found it on 9-11, they had three 24 hour news networks to back them up.

The documentary "Weapons of Mass Deception" describes how all three of the 24 hour news networks worked together with the Pentagon to choreograph the invasion of Iraq. This includes MSNBC, which has since turned against the war in Iraq and has been squarely against invading Iran since sometime after the 2004 presidential election. Back in 2002 and 2003, all three of the Big Three were solidly pro-war. They had slogans, theme music, star reporters, embedded reporters. Every cliched war story was presented to us. "The soldier who got left behind." "The toppling of the dictator's statue." We had W.'s staged event on the aircraft carrier with the Mission Accomplished banner. It was more than a mini-series this time. It was a three ring circus.

However, there was something different between this administration and the first Bush administration. Bush-Cheney did not want a quick war and then a return home. Cheney needed an ongoing war so he could invoke Article 2 just like Dick Nixon did to justify the spying program and other executive branch changes he was making. Halliburton needed reconstruction contracts. The Neo-Cons wanted control of Iraq and its oil. And as the inability of a bunch of failed businessmen from Texas to handle the running of the US government became increasingly clear, the administration needed something to distract US citizens.

The Roman Emperors gave their citizens the Collesseum and gladiator battles to distract and amuse them when things got politically hot in Rome. It was like pro-wrestling except with more blood and gore. It gave them a chance to vent some of their anger. It reminded them that the world outside Rome was a scary place (many of the gladiators were barbarian captives) so for all his faults, at least the Emperor was keeping his citizens safe. Watching so many deaths, eventually they become numb to the suffering of others. It began to seem right that the strongest survived and the weakest died. They controlled the outcome of the battles through their cheers, which gave them the illusion that they still controlled their own lives.

Now, jump ahead two thousand years. W. promised he would take our war "Over there." When they heard this, how many Americans asked themselves "Who lives over there?" The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently reported that in modern warfar, 90% of the people who die will be CIVILIANS and ONE HALF of those will be CHILDREN. That means that for every soldier or enemy combatant or terrorist who dies, 4-5 children will die, in someone else's country. And it is all being broadcast for us on our 24 hour TV networks, packaged like a pro-wrestling match, except with more blood and gore.

What is the difference between what you see now and what CBS showed us in the 70's? The Pentagon is choreographing this TV production. No caskets draped in American flags, that might make people think about their sons and daughters. The journalists who report on the activity of the troops are "embedded" with the troops. That means they are essentially part of the unit. You are not going to get any negative stories from one of the soldiers' buddies. The enemy is always referred to as something less than an honorable soldier. Call him a terrorist, and you never have to worry that your audience will feel sorry for him. Or his mother . Or his kid sister.

When Iraq got unpopular with the audience, because it was too old, too depressing or maybe just made Americans feel too damn guilty, the Big Three switched to a newer, fresher war, the one between Israel and Lebanon. Now, we have round the clock coverage of the missiles hitting a few targets in Israel (so that we never forget that Israel is acting in self defense) followed by the more spectacular scenes of Lebanon being reduced to rubble interspersed with film of children with facial burns, elderly being forcibly evacuated from their homes. There are slogans---"Blame Iran" and "Mideast War is Inevitable". There are media stars and would be stars, like NBC's Brian Williams flying in a helicopter over Lebanon so that the film crew can photograph him flying over Lebanon in a helicopter.

What is woefully lacking is a voice of compassion. I read them on the internet, but I do not hear them on the TV news or read them in the newspaper. The politicians talk politics. They support Israel. They condemn terrorists. They blame Bush for being incompetent. They blame Iran for supporting terrorists. Meanwhile, the 24 hour news networks continue the macabre news coverage that always go "100 Missiles hit Israel today. Now, our reporter in Lebanon to show the latest scenes of destruction."

There was a scene from one TV news story which I watched, a massive Israeli bomb landed on a sofa in an apartment in Lebanon but did not detonate. Chances are somewhere on that bomb is a US logo. I like to imagine that somewhere journalists exist who would film that bomb more closely and show the audiences in America something besides the gladiatorial battle which they tuned in to see. However, even if the cameraman filmed it, the tape would end up on the cutting room floor. The 24 Hour Networks---and the Bush Administration--do not give us TV War to educate us about the United State's role in the world or to help us understand the plight of those less fortunate than us. They give us TV War to keep us glued to our chairs, so that we won't miss the next commercial or do anything stupid like think.
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