War as entertainment

War as entertainment

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

If there’s one thing Americans are good at, it’s marketing. No matter whether the commodity is soup, cars, houses or war, we know how to package and sell it.

In fact, in the case of war, which now illumines our TV sets nightly, the line between reality and showbiz has been neatly blurred. As Michael Ryan, who covered several wars for Time, including the first Gulf War, puts it: “It’s getting hard to tell the news from an episode of JAG.”

We are met with the jargon of this conflict as well as the packaging. Reporters are “embedded” with military units and speak of “coalition forces.” In actuality, these khaki-clad clones are little more than cheerleaders for the military.

We learn very little of the reality of this campaign. What is relayed to the American public is what the administration and the military want you to know.

Ryan said: “Much of what we’ve seen is not news. In the last Gulf War, which I covered for Life magazine, even those of us who weren’t favored by the first Bush regime got to see Bradley fighting vehicles racing across the desert, multiple rocket launchers, Marines and all kinds of neat stuff.

“But back then, the media were cranky and dyspeptic—the military tried to keep us from doing our jobs. Now, we have morphed into some strange sort of courtesans. It is four in the morning in Kuwait: Zero One, Zulu Time, one CNN report began.

“I’ve seen American troops in action, but I’ve also seen fear, uncertainty and doubt. Our military are mainly working class young men and women being sent to fight a war which they might not even believe in if they knew the geopolitics involved.

“We don’t get that part of the story. Instead, we get an ABC correspondent interviewing a CBS correspondent and an editor from the Atlantic (Monthly). We hear journalists telling each other how thrilling it all is, what smashing equipment we have. Body bags, civilian casualties and disabled veterans haven’t made it to the news front—yet.”

Civilian casualties, which are dismissed as “collateral damage,” are barely mentioned. We are told our high-tech bombs and missiles are so accurate that few civilian areas are hit.

Try telling that to the small children filling Baghdad’s hospitals, ripped and torn by shrapnel; too young to comprehend who did this to them or why.

U.S. media have abandoned any pretext of objectivity or truthfulness. They tell us our troops are forging ahead, against growing resistance and are being greeted as “liberators.” Only the BBC on National Public Radio seems to be approaching the truth.

As of last Saturday, they had not even reached the boundary of the southern No Fly Zone, a line along the 32nd parallel. The troops were crossing territory that is essentially secured by air coverage.

By inference, we are to understand that all troops and military families are “gung ho” about Bush’s war and consider all casualties as heroes.

The fact is that a growing number of military families are opposing Bush. One group has launched a “Bush Countdown” through the Internet, marking the days until Bush leaves office. A young Marine from Baltimore died that morning.

The family was presented on the Today show where Katie Couric tried to give it the old flag-waving spin but came up short. The young man’s father held up a picture of his son. “I want President Bush to get a good look at this, really good look here,” he said. “This is the only son I had, only son.” Then he walked off, tears streaming down his face.

The family is African-American. A large number of those facing Iraqi arms are minorities and the poor. They bear the brunt of wars while the rich men’s sons watch safely from afar. It has been reported that of the 535 members of Congress, only one has a son or daughter in the military in Iraq.

Coverage of anti-war demonstrations has been blatantly biased and distorted. Comparative numbers are never given. At the height of last week’s protests, as millions took to the streets around the globe, AOL called the turnout “mixed reaction to war around the world.” As one observer said, that’s like calling Vermont, which has hardly any non-white residents, a melting pot.

Anti-war protestors outnumbered pro-war demonstrators by about 100,000 to 100. The largest pro-war rally was near Valley Forge, Pa., where some 6,000 demonstrated. Later it was learned that demonstration was financed by media giant Clear Channel, revealing it as a right-wing, corporate sham.

The lies go on and on. Some are beginning to wonder: where are the weapons of mass destruction? It may be too soon to know if Saddam has them.

In Baghdad, despite the horrific bombardment we all witnessed, the telephones still work, electricity is available and the bridges across the Tigris are intact.

What has been spared is not a gift to the Iraqi people; it is for the benefit of Iraq’s supposed new masters.

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