was a rough thing to accept twenty years ago; and is no easier today. Or maybe it is? After all, I’m older and more accepting and grateful – to still be here.
Or is it something else? complacency? burn out? hopelessness?
Here’s the story
My favorite intellectual, Robert Wright, just posted a reflection and look back at all the pieces he wrote following 9/11 and the march to war – The War On Terror. His position is pretty much the same now as it was then. He’s all about what he calls “progressive realism”. I call it a pipe dream.
Anyway, his look back prompted my own. Like him, I was against the Iraq invasion and the war on terror in general. I, too, wrote about it. In fact, after closing my bookstore (because of the public’s self-imposed shutdown due to the Orange Flag warnings of more terrorist attacks and generalized anxiety); I decided to write and publish my first book, Sounding Off In Echo Hills.
Like today, very few people cared what I had to say. I sense Mr. Wright feels the same way. He went so far as to dig up all his old articles, published in the then on-line magazine Slate, and link them in his current on-line newsletter Nonzero. I read them. He’s right about a lot of things, wrong about others.
Below is one essay I wrote. Is it possible that it’s more true today than it was then? You decide and let me know in the comments.
IN BED WITH BUSH: the selling of war and other assaults on democracy
The war is going well we are told by CENTCOM, and so it is, as we can see for ourselves thanks to the video clips and reports of the “embedded” journalists. What we aren’t told or shown is anything half resembling an accurate portrayal of what is truly happening over in Iraq these days, or elsewhere for that matter.
But that seems to be the way things are now, over here in America. We rely on “experts” to inform us on what is true and what is not. Be they Supreme Court Justices, Wall Street analysts, embedded journalists, radio talk show hosts, or “fair and balanced” TV news anchors. We accept these views because it’s easy and quick. That allows us to get on with what we really like to do, pursue our hedonistic well being.
And these mostly men of authority have our best interests at heart, right? They wouldn’t really take advantage of innate drives toward feeling good and being right for their own self-interest, would they? They couldn’t possibly be corrupted by the lure of power and wealth, right? No way a man of authority would use the populace to advance his grandiose fundamentalist, unilateral, militaristic, economic agenda, would he? Especially one who is an elected official in a democracy, right?
WAR, WILL, LIES AND THE MEDIA
In his book Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat, retired US Army four star general Wesley Clark, makes the point that: imperative to victory is the ability to convince your adversary that they have no chance what so ever of defeating you. To the contrary, you must do everything in your power to break his will so that he will surrender.
In today’s world of around the clock satellite television coverage, with not only your current enemy but all future enemies watching, the strategy to implement that is obvious—be unwavering and ruthless in your confidence with all coverage by the media. Moreover—lie, exaggerate, deceive, do whatever you can to project the image that the enemy’s defeat and annihilation is inevitable.
Furthermore, for good measure declare, over and over that you are a bastion of truth and have “embedded” those always annoying skeptical journalists (the ever present enemy – the eyes and ears of the citizenry of a democracy) with your forces to prove it. That’s a clever way to defeat your military and political enemies.
The US Military has always been at the forefront of the application and exploitation of psychological knowledge. What happens in this case is, the journalists bond with their big, strong, powerful, benevolent protectors (“I love a man in a uniform”); and, of course, all reporting has to be cleared with command—for security reasons.
We who have watched the coverage see the evidence of this in both the words of the reporters, who cannot hide their zeal and awe (the real “shock and awe campaign”) and the pictures. Which are mostly of enormous columns of tanks and artillery, often with guns blazing.
Of course those of us in America can smile and chuckle because we don’t see the carnage on the other end of all that firepower, just cheering troops and proud parents— nationalism at its finest. However, present and future enemies know all too well what the death and destruction looks and feels like. They tremble and hope for mercy. Which, of course, the US military is all too happy to provide evidence of.
It’s easy to be kind when all is going well, while beyond the range of the cameras the relentless aggression intensifies. The result of this most effective of all campaigns is—demoralization and defeat of both your military and political enemies. Hail to the Chief.
The only problem with this is: What if it isn’t a “just” war. What if the reasons given for the war are suspect. Well, everybody loves a winner. Chances are the short-term benefits to the victor (“the thrill of victory” “spoils of victory”, rising stock market, etc.) will overshadow any costs. And under the umbrella of “The War on Terror” questions and questioners can be easily attacked also, even accused of being traitors.
All the ambiguities disappear. Half-truths and prevarication are justified and morph into truths. In such an environment, how does one find accuracy and truth? One has to be diligent and seek it out from other sources, ones not under the influence of, or “in bed with” those in command and control. Yet this will become harder and harder as time goes by, as the momentum and power intensifies of those men in authority.
Consider the words of a retired military colonel embedded with the Fox Network as an expert analyst. On Thursday evening he reported from his “inside sources” that in the last 24 hours this particular unit had killed 10,000 Iraqi soldiers. [In fact] “Scooped them up, put them in trucks, and were knee deep in body parts.” He told the audience that Saddam Hussein (seen the next day walking the streets of Baghdad) was on life support in the city of Mosul.
The following night he [the expert analyst] no longer referred to the Iraqi fighters as soldiers—but “rag-tag Iraqi idiots”. The stunned TV anchor then tried to give the expert a chance to restate what he said, suggesting a different choice of words. The Colonel ignored the opportunity and kept up his diatribe.
Not only does the violence escalate in war, but sentiment and reality also. Then there was Fox Network’s “man at the Pentagon” (really just a boy) who said he had “exclusive” information. An interim civil government was all ready being formed back in Kuwait! Bill O’Reilly, the host, was ebullient at this, telling the audience that “our man” would get back to us as soon as he had the names of the officials. This was old news, however, being reported in a story in The New York Times, the day before—complete with the names and the positions.
[Irony alert] The previous guest on the show, along with O’Reilly, had just been denouncing the NY Times as anti-American and that it was sure to be on Bush’s “enemy list”. Perhaps it will, as Bush has long adhered to the Nixonian doctrine of advisor Karl Rove: that you are either on the team, or you’re the enemy.
This is what is troubling me. Under the empowering halo of “War Time President”, this president has begun to shape our democracy into something unrecognizable as such. And remember, fully two-thirds of the registered voters in America did not vote for George W. Bush! Nor did he receive a majority of votes of those citizens who did vote!
Here in Colorado, Bush got exactly fifty percent of the votes cast, but took all eight electoral votes. He became President by a margin of five electoral votes. There is something terribly wrong going on here.
I did not want this war. Most Americans did not want this war. If one takes their responsibility as a citizen in a democracy seriously (to educate oneself as to public affairs and give voice to that education) one will discover that there is a small group of un-elected advisors to this president who did want this war, as far back as a decade ago.
The world is being re-shaped by the President of the United States, using the power of his office as Commander in Chief of the most powerful military force the world has ever known. Power that is now enhanced because of war.
[More Irony] Those that we in this democracy entrust to keep us informed, are now “in bed” with the instruments of power—the enforcers. I have my own retired military “expert” and he told me of an old military expression that I think applies here — “screwed without a kiss”.
is maybe things are getting worse. For sure, the rich are getting richer. But, maybe things aren’t that bad. After all.
Maybe a rising tide tide does lift all boats.
Whadda I know? It’s been a while. Either way. With or without a kiss.