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April 07, 2006

The Enemy Within, II

In light of this week's news, I'm doing something I rarely do: reprising an old post rather than repeat myself. This morning I read, in an MSNBC article, a few paragraphs of breathtaking callousness:

The video also clearly showed the bloodied, burning body of a man being dragged by other men through a field. Before the body was moved, the camera zoomed in on what appeared to be his waistline, which showed a scrap of underwear with the brand name “Hanes” on it. The man also appeared to be wearing camouflage fatigues.

The U.S. military said it had recovered “all available remains found on the scene, given the catastrophic nature of the crash.”

In political developments, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he won’t abandon his bid for a second term to break the deadlock over a new government, and more than 1,000 of his supporters rallied in the holy city of Karbala, urging an end to “U.S. interference” in Iraqi politics.

"Moving right along...." Perhaps in some alternate universe someone can explain to me how the media rationalize showing videos like this? Surely they know the men who shot that helicopter down had a purpose in giving that video to the American press? Certainly it must occur to anyone with a pulse and an IQ above 50 that they are fulfilling that purpose in airing that video? Or that the family and friends of that downed pilot will certainly see it? But apparently they are not owed the same consideration as the family and friends of Jill Carroll. After all, they are not "insiders".

******************************************************

The fog of war: I have always found this a particularly apt term for the confusion and chaos that result when men contend on the field of battle. As the daughter of a Navy captain and wife to a Marine, war has been a constant refrain in my life, a song playing in the background: mostly quietly, at times receding to a barely-heard whisper; then suddenly, without warning growing to a menacing roar before subsiding to a gentle murmur again.

I grew up with Vietnam. If anyone asked me a few years ago, I'd have told them it had little effect on me. I was just a child, you see. I'd have been wrong.

During the election when John Kerry simply would not shut up about Vietnam I was surprised to feel a growing anger. Where did it come from, this cold rage, this bitter sorrow that overtook me when I least expected it? Why did I care? I was so small then. I didn't really understand it until Laura Armstrong, another service junior, contacted me and I did something very strange: I decided to attend the KerryLied rally in DC. I didn't want to go, really - I can't stand that sort of thing. But I felt compelled, somehow, to be there. And standing in a crowd of people I did not know that sunny day, at times with tears running down my face, it all came flooding back. How I felt as a little girl, watching my parents' black and white TV set as the news anchor read the body counts.

Because that was the war, for me. The magic of television brought the war home, right into my living room. Through the fog that permeates battles going on half a world away, that is all we can ever know of bloody struggles taking place in places we will never see. And it was enough. It was more than enough.

I remember, at times, leaving the room silently and curling up in my bed and trembling, just thinking of all those brothers and daddies who would never come home. I wasn't afraid, really, for my Dad: he was 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. Dads are that way. They fish monsters out from under your bed and fix your bike when it doesn't work; a tiny country in SouthEast Asia ain't no big thang to a dashing hero with a battleship and gold braid on his uniform.

I cringed at the body counts and sterile recitations of battle statistics. But towards the end of the war when journalists began to discover activism, I discovered there were worse things. I hated the napalm pictures and the graphic pictures of the wounded and the way nothing good ever seemed to be reported. I noticed that, even as a child, because my Dad was in the Navy.

Today's coverage of the war is so different. It's even more pronounced because as an "insider" I know more about the successes we're having and I see so few of them reflected in TV and newspaper accounts of the war. Where does this "news" go? What filter separates the good from the bad, allowing only the dismal and discouraging details to penetrate the fog of war? Bob Herbert is disturbed about this filter, too:

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.

Mr. Herbert is a master of the anecdotal, fact-free rant. He has a recipe. He churns out editorials with cookie-cutter precision. Take a single sob story (this week it's the sad tale of Marla Ruzicka, a humanitarian aid worker killed by a suicide bomber) and expand it into a metaphor that encompasses all the agony and pathos of an intrinsically unfair world. Now for the killer twist: a dash of bitter irony only the NY Times can bring to our doorsteps each morning. Though Marla died at the hands of terrorists, by the time Bob gets done with the story we know who's really to blame: the Bush administration. Bam! She placed herself in danger to draw attention to the sad plight of innocent Iraqis. Now let's kick it up another notch. Rub some salt in the wound: the indictment of an uncaring silent partner who, through inaction, must share the blame. The press is complicit in her death - according to Mr. Herbert - because they don't care enough about "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqi war victims.

Jason van Steenwyk refutes Herbert in detail, but I have a simpler question for him. He celebrates the heroic life and sad death of Marla Ruzicka, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqis who he says are dying (at the hands of terrorists). Why, then, does he not celebrate the heroic lives and deaths of the American military, who travelled to Iraq to bring attention to the sad plight of 400,000 innocent Iraqis? And those are just the ones we've found, so far.

Don't they matter, Mr. Herbert?

As we sit in our homes, all we know of war is what they tell us: the media. Mr. Herbert believes they're not telling us the whole truth. I happen to agree. After 9/11, the media decided we shouldn't see images of people falling - jumping, really, in an act of mad desperation - from the Twin Towers. They said it was out of respect for the dead, which is odd since they seem to have no compunction about showing images of our dead servicemembers. Some said it was because the images were too "shocking".

Too shocking. Really? Then what explains the decision to air this footage:

The man in the dark blue flight suit lay face-up in the tall scrub grass looking up nervously at the video camera. Above him stood men with Kalashnikov rifles who had tracked him down to the only cover near where his helicopter had been shot down in the desert.

"Stand up! Stand up!" a voice in Arab-accented English said from off-camera. "I can't. It's broken," the man in the flight suit answered, also in English, with a soft Eastern European accent. The man, in his 40's, with graying hair, raised his head slightly as he spoke and motioned to his right leg. "Give me a hand," he said. "Come here, come here," the off-camera insurgent said, reaching out a hand to pull him up.

Insurgent groups in Iraq have made heavy use of the Internet, posting videos showing ambushes, bombings and beheadings. Many of the videos have been chilling, showing in graphic detail the killings of captured Iraqis and foreigners. In this helicopter crash, the importance attached to videotaping was clear when the pilot was discovered lying in the grass. "Is the recorder on?" an off-camera man asked in Arabic.

These videos obviously have enormous propaganda value to the terrorists. They're not making them as souvenirs: they are calculated to put political pressure on coalition governments and increase opposition to the war on the domestic front. More than one coalition nation has already withdrawn due to the efforts of the kidnappers after widespread public protest forced a showdown. The strategy is working.

All due to the videotaping (and subsequent broadcasting of these videotapes) by the media.

All of which raises disturbing questions about the role of the media during wartime. DOD has made unprecedented efforts to allow embedded journalists liberal access to the military. This implies a certain trust, and a corresponding responsibility on the part of the media since they are, by their very presence, endangering the lives of US forces. Recently a CBS cameraman was arrested on suspicion of insurgent activity. Dorrance Smith asks some hard questions about media culpability during wartime:

As the war continues, more hostages will be taken and acts of murderous violence committed -- leading to more videos for Al-Jazeera and the networks. Isn't it time to scrutinize the relationship among Al-Jazeera, American networks and the terrorists? What role should the U.S. government be playing?
Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in Al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S. This partnership is a powerful tool for the terrorists in the war in Iraq. Figures show that 77% of Iraqis cite TV as their main source of information; 15% cite newspapers. Current estimates are that close to 100% of Iraqis have access to satellite TV, 18% to cell phones, and 8% to the Internet. The battle for Iraqi hearts and minds is being fought over satellite TV. It is a battle today that we are losing badly.

The collaboration between the terrorists and Al-Jazeera is stronger than ever. While the precise terms of that relationship are virtually unknown, we do know this: Al-Jazeera and the terrorists have a working arrangement that extends beyond a modus vivendi. When the terrorists want to broadcast something that helps their cause, they have immediate and reliable access to Al-Jazeera. This relationship -- in a time of war -- raises some important questions:

What does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorist organizations in order to get consistent access to their video?

Does it pay for material?

Is it promised safety and protection if it continues to air unedited tapes? (No Al-Jazeera employee has been killed or taken hostage by the terrorists. When I ran the Iraqi Television Network, seven employees were killed by terrorists.)

Does Al-Jazeera promise the terrorists that it won't reveal their whereabouts and techniques as a quid pro quo for doing business? Is this bargain in the guise of journalism a defensible practice?

What it all boils down to is this: are American networks protecting, aiding, and abetting the terrorists in return for easy access to terrorist tapes?

During the election, ABC withheld 15 minutes of tape from the CIA on which there was a credible threat of a terrorist attack. Their "rationale" was that if the word got out, it might throw the election to George Bush. A private news network chose to place the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk to satisfy a political agenda. There was no media scrutiny of how ABC got this tape, the ethics of paying terrorists for video during wartime, or why they felt they had the right to imperil the lives of their countrymen.

We hear a lot from the media about the public's "right to know". Strangely, the media seem to feel entitled to decide for themselves what we are entitled to know: a major terrorist threat to our lives is, apparently, not something we have a "right to know".

When young men and women, our sons and daughters whose salaries we pay with our tax dollars, win battles and perform feats of astounding bravery on the field of battle, when they build schools in Iraq or teach children to play soccer or bring a deformed baby to America for desperately needed surgery, this too is something we all too rarely have a "right to know". If they make a mistake in the heat of battle, if ten Marines or soldiers are killed in a firefight, the death count is, of course, page 1 news. The fact that we killed 50 insurgents and won the battle is not.

Images of our brothers, sisters, fathers leaping from a tall building taken from a distance after a horrific terrorist attack are "too shocking" for our consumption. Images taken by psychopathic killers - our enemies - expressly to be used against us in a propaganda war somehow are not.

To paraphrase a famous character, I find the media's lack of faith in America disturbing.

I find their willingness to barter with our enemies unforgivable.

I question our "need to know" some of the things they show us. Did I need to see Margaret Hassan's humilation and fear as she begged for her life? Could they not have afforded her some dignity in the final moments of her life? The terrorists reduced her to a babbling semblance of a human being. I surely did not need to see that, not because it made me uncomfortable, but because, were I her, I would not want that to be anyone's final memory of me.

We can all break, under unbearable stress. This was not "news" - any idiot knows it. That the terrorists are animals, that they could do this to a human being was not "news". It was sensationalism.

And it was calculated to do one thing and one thing only: arouse a desire to rescue her at any cost. To weaken our resolve. To put fear and revulsion in our hearts. To make us question whether any of this is "worth it". And so we are left with this question: if it is not "news", if it conveys no new information, if the only purpose it serves is the one expressly designed by its creators, our enemies, why are American news media airing these videos?

Even through the fog of war, some things are crystal clear.

CWCID: Two things inspired this post. Many thanks to spd rdr for the WSJ piece that got me thinking in the first place, and also this post from CW4BillT.

To Fiddler's Green.

Posted by Cassandra at April 7, 2006 08:54 AM

Comments

There is no other rational explanation for the type of behavior we witness from so-called elites than a new application of the phrase -"Fog Of War". Actually their fog is self-imposed and based on the superficiality of their shallow existence.

This existence of theirs is overshadowed by a haunting spectre of personal failure everpresent on the horizon. The only way to keep it at bay is to promote anti-Americanism as a cover for self-loathing and cowardice or the politically correct version-lack of commitment.

I recently had a discussion during a drive that started out with said driver saying how great Jane Fonda was. When I explained my reasons for questioning the integrity of Hanoi Jane he was surprised and defended his position of supporting the troops but not supporting the mission. I told him you can't have it both ways because he was condemning their sacrifice to a lost cause. It never occurred to this person that by trying to have it both ways he was telling our true patriots that they were sacrificing in vain.

A true patriot understands that there are ideas and causes more important than the health and safety of oneself. It follows that there is evil in the world whether it be the carjacker in the mall parking lot or a terrorist blowing up innocents.

If a person believes himself to be unworthy of all we have to be thankful for in this country and to understand that we need to fight to protect it, that person will never measure up to the principles of patriotism.

That is the only thing that makes sense to me as I read the self-loathing pieces that disgrace the MSM media today. I am a vet from the 60's and I understand fear. I do not understand the kind of fear that drives people to weaken our way of life!

IMHO
David

Posted by: vet66 at April 7, 2006 10:41 AM

Here's a little nit to pick with the report:

Anyone who's spent any amount of time around military aviators would know that they don't wear camoflage fatigues, nor do they wear clothing with separate trousers/shirts, at least when they're flying.

They wear single-piece Nomex coverall flightsuits, which are a solid sage-green color. Army helicopter crews wear the same ones as Air Force flight crews.

Posted by: Heartless Libertarian at April 7, 2006 01:21 PM

I read a comment on another blog that was talking about the story of Jesus asking Judas to betry him. They said that the press was now portraying Judas as a hero. I thought to myself "why not, thats the very role that they have been playing themselves lately."

Posted by: wilky at April 9, 2006 07:45 PM

Marla Ruzicka was murdered exactly a year ago:

Civilian Victims of War.

She did advance U.S. interests:
Marla: Reconciliation

Posted by: Jorg at April 15, 2006 06:28 PM

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