So I'm driving around yesterday and listening to CBC radio. Donald Rumsfeld is on, complaining about news coverage which compared yesterday's bombing with campaigns of lore in Europe during World War II. "Nothing like this has every happened before in history" he says. Then he actually said, without even a hint of a laugh or giggle, that the precision bombs are more "human." I think he meant that it was better for human beings, but I kept thinking that unfortunately it was all too human to kill, all too human to give killing some noble rhetoric, all too human to pretend something else besides killing is happening.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It is better to hit so-called "military" sites over civilian sites, but battlefields where soldiers meet and fight like "civilized men" haven't existed for sometime. There is no such thing as a humane war. Human beings die. That is the way of war. As miracle Max said in The Princess Bride, anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
And they really are trying to sell something in this made-for-t.v. war -- GI Joe. As I listened to the radio, I heard a term that threw me at first. A general talked about the "embedded journalists." WTF? After returning home, I researched this a bit and found out what he meant. Even as Rumsfeld was complaining that no one's perspective on this war represented the truth because it was only a "slice of the battle" not the whole picture, it turns out that is by Rumseld's design. Want to cover the war? The only way you can is to travel as an embedded journalist. You get to see GI Joe up front and personal. No more General H. Norman Schwarzkopf as the famous front to the war. No more General Colin Powell to admire. In The Gulf War, version 1.0, we only got to see top brass on our television (and to listen to CNN's "Boys of Baghdad" on their cel phones describing the bombing "as it happened").
Media coverage changed during the first Gulf War as media organizations took the scraps offered them by the military without challenging them. Journalism has continued to become more malleable, bending to government and corporate wishes since then. I found a report online that was interesting in light of the media's embedded relationship with the American and British military: America's Team: The Odd Couple, A Report on the Relationship Between the Media and the Military. I couldn't find out if this document was actually commissioned or read by the US military. If it wasn't, the report certainly captured the intent of the US military. Reading the executive summary and the recommendations were enlightening. Limited censorship and media pools are called for by the report.
On the surface this seems like a compromise between battle conditions and freedom of the press, but whether intended or not, this kind of coverage has the affect of unmarking the military and political hierarchy that controls the battle. Tish wrote today of the ridiculous contention that protest is a lack of support for the troops. This kind of embedded coverage of the war works well with that anti-protest rhetoric. We see the war from the eyes of those troops and we sympathize, forgetting who put these troops in harms way.
It is the way of war. It is the language of war. I don't want to forget that as I search the channels and try to see if someone, somewhere will tell me what I want to know. I want to know that it is over. My guess is that it will never be the same.
General William Westmoreland: "Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind."
Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia and, as Hitler's designated successor, the second man in the Third Reich: "Naturally, the common people don't want war ... but after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."