excerpts from the book
War Made Easy
How presidents and pundits keep
spinning us to death
by Norman Solomon
John Wiley and Sons, 2005, paper
Looking toward military action overseas, the president initiates
a siege of public opinion on the home front-a battleground where
media spin is the main weapon, and support for war is the victory.
From the outset, the quest is for an image of virtual consensus
behind the commander in chief. A media campaign for hearts and
minds at home means going all out to persuade us that the next
war is as good as a war can be-necessary, justified, righteous,
and worth any sorrows to be left in its wake.
Clara Nieto, one of Columbia's UN diplomats, 1965 regarding US
action in overthrowing Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch
"A messianic and interventionist
fever gripped the majorities in the United States Congress. In
September by a vote of 312 to 54, the House of Representatives
approved a resolution authorizing the government to intervene
in the affairs of other nations, including armed intervention,
where there was a risk of communist subversion, thus legitimizing
the Johnson Doctrine."
... "With imperial arrogance, Johnson
kept the troops and special advisers in place and intervened in
the country's affairs at his whim, including placing former president
Joaquin Balaguer once again in the presidency; living in exile
in New York, Balaguer had served as an adviser to Johnson during
the invasion. " For the next few decades, in and out of office,
Balaguer thrived while Dominican society as a whole sank farther
into dire poverty.
Stephen J. Randall a dean of social sciences at the University
or Calgary about the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in
" ... the first direct military intervention
by the United States in Latin America since the late 1920s ...
the direct result was the establishment of a repressive political
regime under Balaguer and the repression of Partido Revolucionario
writer Lantigua (2000) several decades after the US invasion of
the Dominican Republic in 1965
"After the invasion, Balaguer stayed
in power for many of the next 28 years, winning one tainted election
after another. And the legacy of 1965 lives on. Dominican leaders
still rule on behalf of a privileged social class and foreign
Since the 1960s, the USA's favorite wars have been quick and-for
most people back home, anyway-" successful " at generating
some sense of national accomplishment 29 With the clear exceptions
of Vietnam and the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, modern wars
have not been terribly divisive in the U.S. political arena. As
matters of popular perceptions, we nicely took care of the Dominican
Republic, Grenada, and Panama in the hemisphere; likewise, farther
away, the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. Smaller and more
fleeting interventions-the bombing of Libya in 1986, the firing
of missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998, or the ill-fated
expeditions to Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993-are praised
as missions accomplished, denigrated as inadequate actions, or
ruefully written off as experiments with bad results. Unless the
president bites off more than the Pentagon can effectively chew,
most Americans have found Uncle Sam's military ventures to be
suitable for acceptance, if only in the form of passivity. Unhappiness
festers and grows when the war cannot be wrapped up in weeks or
months-with the commanders in Washington finding that they cannot
"win the peace" without prolonged and difficult involvement
of U.S. troops, while the justifications for the war become increasingly
suspect to the public-when in short, might hasn't made everything
The tragic invasion of the Dominican Republic
highlights some chronic elements of how)the people of the United
States have been sold a succession of wars, in their names and
with their tax dollars, time after time. Whatever the pace of
agenda- building-whether the rationales for a war suddenly burst
into news media or gradually percolate into daily coverage-the
executive branch policy players, their congressional supporters,
and varied media enablers come to insist that military action
is necessary to prevent all manner of calamities, such as the
killing of American citizens, the further triumph of tyrants,
or the development of weapons of mass destruction in the wrong
hands. Any number of mainstream journalists seem willing to take
the administration's word for it when "intelligence"
is in the air. Skepticism and harsh judgments, if they come at
all, tend to emerge quite a bit later: after bombs have fallen
and after soldiers have marched into battle, some never to return,
many more to go home with wounds to body and spirit. As for the
people at the other end of America's cutting-edge weaponry, their
lives, too-in far greater numbers-are also shattered.
Intense public controversy may precede
the onset of warfare, but the modern historical record is clear:
No matter what the Constitution says, in actual practice the president
has the whip hand when it comes to military deployments-and if
a president really wants a war, he'll get one. That can hardly
be said about congressional passage of landmark domestic legislation.
(A comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health-care system,
for instance, is likely to be more elusive than another war.)
In matters of war and peace, the White House is much less constrained
by other branches of government.
When the president of the United States
is determined to go to war, a vast array of leverage and public-relations
acumen can and will be brought to bear. Consent of the governed
takes form as deference, active or tacit, gained at least long
enough for the war to proceed. What comes to the surface later-including
evidence of prewar deceptions and wartime distortions-may cause
us to feel that we live in a society with freedoms sufficient
to make sure the truth will shine through, sooner or later. But
war happens in the interim-after widely told lies are widely believed
and before the emergence of some clarity in the mass media. The
information that comes out later does not come out soon enough
to prevent the unspeakable. No matter how much we follow the news,
we rarely know more than little of the j human consequences.
While he played ball with Washington, the strongman (Noriega)
was a good man. But later in 1986 and in 1987, signs increased
that Noriega was no longer a reliable helper. 38 Noriega's noncooperation
and even interference with the Contra war led to a falling-out.
"Noriega was a means to an end," columnist Haynes Johnson
recounted a couple of days after the invasion began. "In
this decade, the desired end has been to provide secret help to
U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra forces. For years, Noriega had been
a Central Intelligence Agency 'asset.' In the Reagan era, he established
a personal relationship with William J. Casey, the late director
of central intelligence. What Casey wanted, and received, from
Noriega was his assistance in facilitating arms shipments to the
House member Ron Deilums, who provided some context scarcely
noted in news accounts: "Manuel Noriega is a direct creation-and
consequence-of our hemispheric militarism. A CIA 'asset' for almost
20 years, he was one of the 'tools' employed by the Reagan administration
to help destabilize another foreign nation-despite the fact that
he was a known drug thug who plays a central role in international
drug trafficking. On a similar note, Representative Don Edwards
described the invasion as "a trigger-happy act of gunboat
diplomacy that continues our mindless, 100-year abuse of small
Central American nations."
Whether you're selling food from McDonald's or cars from General
Motors or a war from the government, repetition is crucial for
making propaganda stick.
News outlets may feature arguments about the wisdom of going war
in a particular place at a specific time, but these are usually
differences over tactics and priorities. (While the administration's
upper echelons might be fiercely criticized as ideologues, bunglers,
myopic policy wonks, or dissembling politicians,) the media assumption
largely remains that Washington has laudable motivations. Unlike
certain countries that object to U.S. military actions, Uncle
Sam does not march to the beat of crass ulterior motives, or so
the conventional wisdom goes; the grave matters of foreign policy
and war are not mainly about American self-interest, much less
about corporate interests. While there are enormous geopolitical
advantages to be gained and massive profits to be made as consequences
of exercising Pentagon muscle, the media discourse customarily
excludes drawing attention to such dynamics as major factors in
deployment of the country's armed forces.
One of the punditocracy's leading hawks with intellectual plumage,
Charles Krauthammer, reiterated in late spring 2001: "We
run a uniquely benign imperium. This is not self-congratulation;
it is a fact manifest in the way others welcome our power."
But the results of global surveys rendered such claims increasingly
laughable. A year after the invasion of Iraq, "discontent
with America and its policies has intensified rather than diminished,"
said an international study released in March 2004 by the Pew
Research Center, which reported that "perceptions of American
unilateralism remain widespread in European and Muslim nations,
and the war in Iraq has undermined America's credibility abroad.
The very war that had been promoted, in part, as necessary for
maintaining American "credibility" was, in fact, severely
But belief in the capacity of U.S. military
might to bring salvation to benighted portions of the world was
a type of patriotic faith-so intense and so deeply held that it
could be understood as a form of religiosity. To its adherents,
the doubters were the rough political equivalents of heathens,
no matter how much the ranks of the unfaithful continued to swell.
Extreme gaps in perceptions between people in the United States
and the rest of the world were markers for the ease with which
the American public was apt to accept rationales for going to
war that were widely rejected elsewhere on the planet. Gauging
attitudes in the United States and three historically allied nations
(Britain, France, and Germany) as well as in Jordan, Morocco,
Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey, the study by the Pew Research Center
found "there is broad agreement in nearly all of the countries
surveyed-the U.S. being a notable exception-that the war in Iraq
hurt, rather than helped, the war on terrorism." The disparities
of outlooks foreshadowed any number of scenarios when the United
States, with its window on the world tinted red-white-and-blue,
could engage in warfare that the vast majority of the world renounced.
In American media and political arenas,
it is routine to ascribe lofty motivations to U.S. foreign policy,
a mind-set that tends to limit outcries even when White House
policies are undergoing harsh criticism. In contrast, the Pew
research findings were clear: "Publics in the surveyed countries
other than the United States express considerable skepticism of
America's motives in its global struggle against terrorism. Solid
majorities in France and Germany believe the U.S. is conducting
the war on terrorism in order to control Mideast oil and dominate
the world. People in Muslim nations who doubt the sincerity of
American anti-terror efforts see a wider range of ulterior motives,
including helping Israel and targeting unfriendly Muslim governments
Charles Krauthammer lengthy essay "The Bush Doctrine"
in the Weekly Standard:
"Today, the United States remains
the preeminent economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural power
on a scale not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire . . . .
At the dawn of the 21st century, the task of the new administration
is to develop a military and foreign policy appropriate to our
position of overwhelming dominance . . . . By position and nature,
we are essentially a status quo power. We have no particular desire
to remake human nature, to conquer for the extraction of natural
resources, or to rule for the simple pleasure of domination. We
could not wait to get out of Haiti, and we would get out of Kosovo
and Bosnia today if we could. Our principal aim is to maintain
the stability and relative tranquility of the current international
system by enforcing, maintaining, and extending the current peace."
New York Times Magazine, Michael Ignatieff at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government, had this to say in its first edition of
"America's empire is not like empires
of times past, built on colonies, conquest and the white man's
burden. We are no longer in the era of the United Fruit Company,
when American corporations needed the Marines to secure their
investments overseas. The 21st century imperium is a new invention
in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony
whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy,
enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever
known. It is the imperialism of a people who remember that their
country secured its independence by revolt against an empire,
and who like to think of themselves as the friend of freedom everywhere.
It is an empire without consciousness of itself as such, constantly
shocked that its good intentions arouse resentment abroad."
Howard Zinn wrote in response:
"Only someone blind to the history
of the United States, its obsessive drive for control of oil,
its endless expansion of military bases around the world, its
domination of other countries through its enormous economic power,
its violations of the human rights of millions of people, whether
directly or through proxy governments, could make that statement."
Vice President George H. W. _Bush, during his successful presidential
campaign, offered this assurance in mid-August 1988:
"I hate war. I love peace. We have
peace. And I am not going to let anyone take it away from us."
Sixteen months later, he was ordering the invasion of Panama.
President Bush, August 8, 1990
"America does not seek conflict,
nor do we seek to chart the destiny of other nations,"
Daniel Ellsberg who'd given the Pentagon Papers to the press
"The American newspapers seemed
as willing to collaborate in this hoax [Iraq War 1991] - this
approach to war being carried on covertly - as they had been
25 years earlier, when I was in the Pentagon making plans for
the bombing of North Vietnam.
President Johnson, 1964
"Our one desire-our one determination-is
that the people of Southeast Asia be left in peace to work out
their own destinies in their own way. "
President Johnson, 1966
"I do not genuinely believe that
there's any single person anywhere in the world that wants peace
as much as I want it."
President Johnson, 1968
"But our goal is peace-and peace
at the earliest possible moment .... I wish-with all of my heart-that
the expenditures that are necessary to build and to protect our
power could )' all be devoted to the programs of peace. But until
world conditions permit, and until peace is assured, America's
might-and America's bravest sons who wear our Nation's uniform-must
I continue to stand guard for all of us-as they gallantly do tonight
in Vietnam and other places in the world."
I F Stone observed days after Nixon's inauguration
"It's easier to make when you talk peace.
On April 25, 1972, the White House taping recorded this noontime
dialogue among President Nixon, White House press secretary Ron
Ziegler, and Henry Kissinger
President: "How many did we kill
Ziegler: "Maybe ten thousand-fifteen?"
Kissinger: "In the Laotian thing,
we killed about ten, fifteen. . .
President: "See, the attack in the
North that we have in mind... power plants, whatever's left-POL
[petroleum], the docks .... And I still think we ought to take
the dikes out now. Will that drown people?"
Kissinger: "About two hundred thousand
President: "No, no, no... I'd rather
use the nuclear bomb. Have ' you got that, Henry?"
Kissinger: "That, I think, would
just be too much."
President: "The nuclear bomb, does
that bother you? ... I just want you to think big, Henry, for
Nine days later, while conferring with
Kissinger, Al Haig, and John Connally, the president said:
"I'll see that the United States
does not lose. I'm putting it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise.
South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose. Which
means, basically, I have made the decision. Whatever happens to
South Vietnam, we are going to cream North Vietnam .... For once,
we've got to use the maximum power of this country ... against
this shit-ass little country: to win the war...
New York Times reporter Jacques Leslie
was to write in a memoir.
"They met over a 10-day period in
December  and failed again. Then the Americans tried another
gambit: in return for [South Vietnamese premier] Thieu's signature
on the ceasefire pact, they pounded North Vietnam. They unloosed
the biggest bombing campaign in the history of warfare, striking
canals, highways, factories, air and sea ports, and three days
before Christmas they leveled a Hanoi hospital; in case the bombing
was perceived as unbecoming, they imposed a blackout on all news
related to it."
Daniel Ellsberg describes the U.S. government's late December
bombing spree this way:
"President Nixon sent B-52s over
Hanoi for the first time ever. In the next 11 days and nights-with
Christmas off-American planes dropped on North Vietnam 20,000
tons of bombs," amounting to "the explosive equivalent
of the Nagasaki A-bomb."
On January 20, 1973, just weeks after the massive Christmastime
bombing of North Vietnam's capital, Nixon said in his second inaugural
"Today, I ask your prayers that
in the years ahead I may have God's help in making decisions that
are right for America." He laid claim to the mantle of peacemaker:
"Let us be proud that by our bold, new initiatives, and by
our steadfastness for peace with honor, we have made a breakthrough
toward creating in the world what the world has not known before-a
structure of peace that can last, not merely for our time, but
for generations to come."
In early 1999, reporting about prospects of a U.S.-led NATO war
on Yugoslavia, the American media glided past a key aspect of
negotiations taking place at Rambouillet in France. The U.S. government
kept insisting on a provision-rejected by the Serb president,
Slobodan Milosevic, before the bombing began in late March-that
allowed for NATO troops to occupy all of Yugoslavia. It was the
kind of demand that no sovereign nation would accept without a
fight. But the major U.S. news outlets were silent about this
provision, failing to ,inform the public about appendix B of the
Rambouillet text, which (?,,,Yugoslavia] "NATO personnel
shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, '4 vessels, aircraft,
and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access
throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including
associated air space and territorial waters. This shall include,
but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet,
and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support,
training, and operations.
Appendix B also insisted:
* "NATO personnel shall be immune
from any form of arrest, investigation, or detention by the authorities
in the FRY."
* "NATO is granted the use of airports,
roads, rails and ports without payment."
* NATO shall have] the right to use all
of the electromagnetic spectrum. "26
Later, after more than two months of war,
the Washington Post mentioned some of those terms at the end of
a June 10 news story, on page A-24. The article noted that "a
provision of the U.S.-drafted peace agreement that Belgrade rejected
in February as especially unpalatable has been dropped from the
new military agreement." The story went on to say that appendix
B "would have limited the peacekeeping force to troops from
NATO countries" and "would have allowed the peacekeepers
to go wherever they wanted and do whatever they wanted throughout
Yugoslavia, not just in Kosovo." The article described it
as a "little-noticed appendix to that peace plan."
The appendix had been "little noticed"
because the Clinton administration, after slipping it into the
Rambouillet proposal as a poison pill, had no desire to highlight
it. And the U.S. news media, while reporting on the Rambouillet
talks as part of extensive prewar coverage of diplomatic maneuvers
and saber-rattling, had not informed the American people that
their government was, in effect, insisting on a far-fetched provision:
so war would seem like the only wise option after Washington's
supposedly good-faith negotiation efforts failed to culminate
with an agreement. It would be a mistake to blame only government
officials. The big U.S. media outlets did not cover appendix B-before
or during the war.
Appendix B was no secret. And information
about it continued to reach newsrooms, before and after the war
began. For instance, on April 16, fully eight weeks before the
Post described the appendix B provisions as "little noticed,"
my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy put out a news
release under the headline "Troubling Questions About Rambouillet,"
which went to well over a thousand U.S. reporters, editors, and
producers via fax and e-mail. "The Clinton administration
has repeatedly claimed that bombing is necessary because Milosevic
would not agree to negotiations, citing his refusal to accept
the Rambouillet text," the news release said. "But did
Rambouillet represent real negotiations or an ultimatum?"
The release pointed out: "The Rambouillet text of February
23 , a month before NATO began bombing, contains provisions
that seem to have provided for NATO to occupy the entire Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo."
The habitual American media reliance on official U.S. sources
predisposes most coverage to remain in sync with what is coming
out of high places in Washington. Time after time, during military
and public-relations buildups before a war begins, the press corps
keeps relaying the points that the administration wishes to emphasize.
American envoys are shuttling to foreign capitals. Dramatic speeches
underscore U.S. efforts to galvanize international support. The
White House warns that the United Nations, at this historic juncture,
must decide whether to take responsibility or risk irrelevance.
Washington stresses that the U.S. government does not need permission
to act decisively on behalf of freedom and security. As war appears
more likely, media coverage grows more intense. Tearful loved
ones say good-bye at ports, army bases, and airports. Poignant
interviews with soldiers, pilots, and sailors remind us how young
and brave they are. More American flags are on TV screens. Feature
stories elaborate on the capabilities of the Pentagon's latest
weaponry. The president offers assurances that innocents have
nothing to fear from us. While leaders of some other countries
express opposition to the probable attack, the White House explains
that not going to war is now the worst option.
As usual, during the prewar agenda-setting, reliance on official
sources dominated news coverage. Centers of power in the executive
branch were overwhelming. The Tyndall Report, a media research
outfit, crunched the numbers for ABC, CBS, and NBC-the three largest
broadcast networks-between September 2002 and February 2003. During
that six-month period, just before the war began, more than 90
percent of the 414 stories about Iraq had originated at the State
Department, the Pentagon, or the White House.
Our leaders never lie to us - unless you mean lying by omission,
lying with statistics, lying via unsupported claims, or lying
with purposeful obfuscation, misleading statements, and successions
of little white lies. Citizens make decisions based on information
from presidents, pundits, and their colleagues in government and
the news media. Often these esteemed public figures claim to have
special knowledge. Our trust may be essential to their plans,
but it is unwarranted.
The decade's huge quantities of U.S. media coverage about the
Balkans included scant mention of what happened in August 1995
when the Croatian government-with a bright green light from the
White House-sent in troops to inflict grisly "ethnic cleansing"
on large numbers of Serbs living in the Krajina region. The president
of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, ordered the assault. Dubbed Operation
Storm, it quickly drove at least 150,000 Serbian people from their
homes in the Krajina. Meanwhile, the American news media-taking
a cue from the Oval Office-just shrugged. "The entire offensive
was undertaken by the authorities in Zagreb with the support of
the United States government," Glenny wrote. "President
Clinton himself welcomed Operation Storm, suggesting that it may
open the way to a solution of the Yugoslav conflict. The rest
of the international community was visibly shocked by America's
encouragement of Croatia.
But the U.S. news media weren't shocked.
After all, the White House said the slaughter and expulsion of
Serbs from the Krajina was okay; nothing to be alarmed about;
no big deal. At the time Carl Bildt, who was a mediator for the
European Union and a former Swedish prime minister, made a statement
that years later was chilling to read: "If we accept that
it is all right for Tudjman to cleanse Croatia of its Serbs, then
how on earth can we object if [Boris] Yeltsin cleanses Chechnya
or if one day Milosevic sends his army to clean out the Albanians
... a Newsday editorial took issue with the key analogy that had
served as a very big PR flagstone on the garden path to war:
"Comparing Milosevic to Hitler is
a rhetorical stretch. Milosevic is a brutal tyrant and a rabid
nationalist intent on consolidating his hold on power, but he
has no territorial ambitions beyond what's left of Yugoslavia.
And Milosevic's ferocity against Kosovars is motivated as much
by his need to put down an internal insurrection as it is by ethnic
a New York Review of Books essay by Norman Mailer
"We have relieved the world of a
monster [Saddam Hussein] who killed untold numbers, mega-numbers,
of victims. Nowhere is any emphasis put upon the fact that many
of the bodies were of the Shiites of southern Iraq who have been
decimated repeatedly in the last 12 years for daring to rebel
against Saddam in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War. Of
course, we were the ones who encouraged them to revolt in the
first place, and then failed to help them...
... "Yes, our guilt for a great
part of those bodies remains a large subtext and Saddam was creating
mass graves all through the 1970s and 1980s. He killed Communists
en masse in the 1970s, which didn't bother us a bit. Then he slaughtered
tens of thousands of Iraqis during the war with Iran-a time when
we supported him. A horde of those newly discovered graves go
back to that period. Of course, real killers never look back.
In 2003, Amnesty International condemned the American and British
governments for engaging in a "war on terror" that was
actually emboldening many regimes to engage in horrible abuses
of human rights. Amnesty International's secretary-general, Irene
Khan, said that "what would have been unacceptable on September
10, 2001, is now becoming almost the norm"-with Washington
promoting "a new doctrine of human rights a la carte."
In 2004 the Amnesty International annual report described the
invasion of Iraq, and other actions taken under the rubric of
the war on terrorism, as part of a U.S. global agenda "bankrupt
of vision and bereft of principle." Secretary-General Khan
led off the report with a statement that stressed the damaging
activities of the U.S. government: "Sacrificing human rights
in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses
abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it
chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty."
Early in 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero pleaded with President
Carter not to send military aid to the brutally repressive Salvadoran
government. The assassination of Romero happened in March of that
year-on orders of Roberto D'Aubuisson, a United States-trained
military officer. Carter persisted with military and political
support to the regime in El Salvador, where throughout the 1980s
the government assassinated students, clergy, peasants, and union
organizers. Most military commanders were involved in atrocities,
and most were trained by the U.S. government. The gruesome war
went on until 1991, when the United Nations helped negotiate a
truce between the Salvadoran regime and the country's FMLN revolutionary
movement. The U.N. Truth Commission later documented the murders
of more than sixty thousand civilians by the Salvadoran government
and its paramilitary allies. In effect, the long war that brought
about those deaths in El Salvador was aided by a pattern of U.S.
media coverage, which conformed more with Washington's narratives
than with reports from human rights experts and journalists in
President Ronald Reagan, April 27, 1983, offering assurances about
U.S. policy in Nicaragua
"But let us be clear as to the American
attitude toward the government of Nicaragua. We do not seek its
Robert Parry, Associated Press and Newsweek, early 1980s
"If the American people knew that their tax dollars were
being used to arm brutal armies which were butchering political
dissidents, killing children and raping young girls, then support
for the Reagan-Bush policies would have evaporated."
The general consensus is that we shouldn't lose the peace by walking
away from a significant foreign-policy success," an unnamed
official in President George H. W. Bush's administration told
the Associated Press in June 1991, commenting on plans to keep
sending covert U.S. aid to Angolan guerrillas in 1992 despite
a new pact to end Angola's sixteen-year civil war. Ostensibly
reassuring, the statement of commitment from Washington that "we
shouldn't lose the peace" actually meant more war.
For people in Angola-already the world's
artificial-limb capital due to a profusion of land mines-the "success"
trumpeted by the White House became even more macabre. Central
to Washington's strategy to make sure it didn't "lose the
peace" was the ongoing pipeline of substantial aid to the
guerrilla army known as Unita, long backed by the U.S. government.
Fifteen months after the benevolent-sounding statement quoted
by AP, the Unita guerrillas lost an internationally supervised
election to Angola's ruling party. Unita immediately launched
a new military offensive.
Within a year and a half following the
election, five hundred thousand more Angolans had died, the British
magazine New Statesman reported in March 1994: "Inexorably,
month after month since the elections in September 1992, Unita's
reign of terror has worsened, outstripping in horror the familiar
scenes of starvation and factional or ethnic killing in Somalia,
Liberia, Sudan, or Burundi. Yet this is a war the international
community had the power to prevent.
With high praise that echoed through American
news coverage, President Reagan and President George H. W. Bush
had lionized Unita leader Jonas Savimbi as a "freedom fighter."
From the Oval Office, sustaining the Angolan war was a piece of
cake. It received a tiny fraction of the U.S. media attention
devoted to Bosnia-there was much coverage of Sarajevo's ordeal,
for instance, but virtually none about the horrible sieges of
Angolan cities such as Cuito, Huambo, and Malange-while the number
of deaths in Angola was much larger and American culpability was
The U.S. government was the latest in
a series of powers fueling Unita's insurgency. "First the
Portuguese colonists, then the South Africans in pursuit of regional
dominance, then the U.S. in the name of anti-communism created
and nourished Savimbi and his Unita," journalist Victoria
Brittain wrote in the New Statesman. With U.S. encouragement,
the United Nations had cooperated in appeasing Savimbi during
the previous two years. Brittain concluded: "Angola has been
destroyed by Unita leader Jonas Savimbi's determination to take
by force the power successive United States administrations promised
him, but which the Angolan people denied him in the polls."
Officials in Washington had made no secret
of their zeal to support Unita. But as spring 1994 began, nearly
three years after the Bush administration boasted of its "significant
foreign-policy success," the continuation of horrors in Angola
caused Brittain to write: "Every year since the mid-1980s,
I have interviewed dozens of displaced peasants who described
attacks on their villages by Unita, kidnapping of young men and
boys, looting, beatings, and killings, while in hospital beds
the rows of mutilated women bore witness to the mining of their
fields. Defectors from Unita told more chilling stories of mass
rallies at the headquarters in Jamba where women were burned alive
as witches. These were not stories the outside world wanted to
hear about Unita, whose leader was regularly received at the White
In October 1990, during the lead-up to the Gulf War, a Democratic
congressman from northern California, Tom Lantos teamed up with
an Illinois Republican to stage an informal hearing with enormous
impact. "It was a propaganda exercise for the national media.
and it succeeded wildly in mobilizing U.S. support for the war,"
media analyst john Stauber recalls. The audacity was notable:
"Tom Lantos knew that the lying 15-year-old girl who claimed
to have seen Iraqi soldiers kill 15 newborns by tossing them from
their hospital incubators [in Kuwaiti was in fact the daughter
of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., a member of the royal family.
Lantos kept her identity secret, and this PR scam became the defining
event that convinced the U.S. Congress to support the war.
President George H. W. Bush embraced the
incubator tale as a valuable part of the agenda-building repertoire.
At one midterm campaign stop in late October, he said that "they
had kids in incubators, and they were thrown out of the incubators
so that Kuwait could be systematically dismantled.
... when agents for human-rights groups
finally got to Kuwait after the war, Middle East Watch, a human
rights group, said the incubator story was 'totally false' ...
On August 15,1990-two weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait-President
George H. W. Bush expressed great concern about oil as the Pentagon
moved to deploy troops and weaponry to the Persian Gulf.
"We are ... talking about maintaining
access to energy resources that are key-not just to the functioning
of this country, but to the entire world. Our jobs, our way of
life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around
the world would all suffer if control of the world's great oil
reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein."
President George H. W. Bush autumn 1990. Confronted by protesters
while speaking at a fund-raiser in Des Moines
"You know, some people never get
the word. The fight isn't about oil. The fight is about naked
aggression that will not stand."
Addressing a Republican crowd in Vermont autumn 1990
"it isn't oil that we're concerned
about. It is aggression. And this aggression is not going to stand."
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, November 2003
"... this war [in Iraq] is the most
important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project
since the Marshall Plan... one of the noblest things this country
has ever attempted abroad."
September 15,2002, a Washington Post story carried the headline
"In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key
Issue; U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool."
September 15,2002, a Washington Post story carried the headline
"In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key
Issue; U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool."
former CIA director James Woolsey
"France and Russia have oil companies
and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of
assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the
best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies
work closely with them. If they throw in their lot with Saddam,
it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the
new Iraqi government to work with them."
Fadel Gheit, an ex on the oil industry for Oppenheimer & Company.
"Think of Iraq as virgin territory
. . . . It is the superstar of the future. That's why Iraq becomes
the most sought-after real estate on the face of the earth.
media critic Herbert Schiller
"In truth, the strength of the control
process [in the media] rests in its apparent absence. The desired
systemic result is achieved ordinarily by a loose though effective
institutional process ... the education of journalists and other
media professionals, built-in penalties and rewards for doing
what is expected, norms presented as objective rules, and the
occasional but telling direct intrusion from above. The main lever
is the internalization of values."
President Lyndon Johnson, 1966
"The exercise of power in this century
has meant for all of us in the United States not arrogance but
agony. We have used our power not willingly and recklessly ever,
but always reluctantly and with restraint."'
I F Stone, February 1968
"It is time to stand back and look
at where we are going. And to take a good look at ourselves. A
first observation is that we can easily overestimate our national
conscience... For all the poppycock about the Vietnamese war clashing
with our past traditions, we have long been an imperialistic people.
The Truman Doctrine and the Johnson Doctrine are only extensions
of the Monroe Doctrine, new embodiments of that Manifest Destiny
to which our expansionists appealed in a less cautious day. Bolivar
once said that we plagued Latin America in the name of liberty;
today we do it to a growing sector of the world. Everywhere we
talk liberty and social reform but we end up by allying ourselves
with native oligarchies and military cliques-just as we have done
in Vietnam. In the showdown, we reach for the gun."
Media reliance on official sources facilitated the Vietnam War,
as it would many other wars in the next four decades. Such reliance
was the professional norm-and a shoddy rendition of journalism.
As media researcher Hallin points out: "The assumptions and
routines of what is often known as 'objective journalism' made
it exceedingly easy for officials to manipulate day-to-day news
content. There was little 'editorializing' in the columns of major
American newspapers at the time of the Tonkin Gulf incident: most
of the reporting, in the best tradition of objective journalism,
'just gave the facts.' But they were not just any facts. They
were official facts, facts about what the president said and what
'officials here believe.' The effect of 'objectivity' was not
to free the news of political influence, but to open wide the
channel through which official influence flowed."
former war correspondent Sydney Schanberg during the Gulf War,
"We Americans are the ultimate innocents.
We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government
is telling us the truth."
Murrey Marder, a Washington Post reporter writing about the Gulf
of Tonkin in 1964
"Before I could do anything as a
reporter, the Washington Post had endorsed the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution." The news coverage of events in the Tonkin Gulf
"was all driven by the White House," recalled Marder,
who was a Post reporter from 1946 to 1985. "It was an operation-a
deliberate manipulation of public opinion .... None of us knew,
of course, that there had been drafted, months before, a resolution
to justify American direct entry into the war, which became the
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution." He told me: "If the American
press had been doing its job and the Congress had been doing its
job, we would never have been involved in the Vietnam War."
Daniel Ellsberg, on Face the Nation in 1964, about Senator Wayne
Morse objecting when journalist Peter Lisagor told him:
"Senator, the Constitution gives
to the president of the United States the sole responsibility
for the conduct of foreign policy."
Senator Morse responded sharply. "Couldn't
be more wrong," he broke in. "You couldn't make a more
unsound legal statement than the one you have just made. This
is the promulgation of an old fallacy that foreign policy belongs
to the president of the United States. That's nonsense."
When Lisagor prodded him ("To whom does it belong then, Senator?"),
Morse did not miss a beat: "It belongs to the American people
.... And I am pleading that the American people be given the facts
about foreign policy."
The questioner persisted: "You know,
Senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute
Morse became positively indignant. "Why
do you say that? ... I have complete faith in the ability of the
American people to follow the facts if you'll give them. And my
charge against my government is we're not giving the American
people the facts."
When war backers want Congress to defer to presidential enthusiasm
for sending troops into action, the repertoire of justification
often includes references to the ultimate information and judgment
residing in the White House. A week before the Gulf War began,
the avowedly moderate Senator Warren Rudman was serving as a loyal
Republican. "The president's personal relationships with
the leaders of the allied states are unparalleled," he said.
"Having masterfully forged a fragile multinational coalition,
he is the one who can best gauge its cohesion and durability."
On the same day, Senator Jesse Helms used the timeworn argument
of "national interest," saying that "the president
has dispatched over 400,000 American military personnel to the
Persian Gulf to protect the national interest. We must support
the president in the course he has laid out."
Democratic senator Joseph Biden on January 24, 1991, a week into
the Gulf War:
"Therefore, I believe, since I do
not have any moral objection to what we are doing-I just thought
it was less wise to do it this way than the way I preferred to
do it-that it is my obligation to do all that I can to support
the fighting women and men in the field. He is the commander in
chief. We gave him the authority. We gave him the constitutional
equivalent of a declaration of war. As the commander in chief,
he is required to exercise that responsibility as he sees fit.
I am not a military expert, and it would be presumptuous of me
to suggest how that war, now that it is under way, should be conducted,
and I will not. I will follow this lead and judgment on that."
Michael Kinsley, 2003
"The president's ability to decide
when and where to use America's military power is now absolute.
Congress cannot stop him. That's not what the Constitution says,
and it's not what the War Powers Act says, but that's how it works
in practice. "
Given the extent of shared sensibilities and financial synergies
within what amounts to a huge military-industrial-media complex,
it shouldn't be surprising that-whether in the prelude to the
Gulf War of 1991 or the Iraq invasion of 2003-the USA's biggest
media institutions did little to illuminate how Washington and
business interests had combined to strengthen and arm Saddam Hussein
during many of his worst crimes. "In the 1980s and afterward,
the United . States underwrote 24 American corporations so they
could sell to Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction, which
he used against Iran, at that time the prime Middle Eastern enemy
of the United States," Ben Bagdikian wrote in The New Media
Monopoly, the 2004 (edition of his landmark book on the news business.
"Hussein used ' U.S.-supplied poison gas" against Iranians
and Kurds "while the [ United States looked the other way.
This was the same Saddam Hussein who then, as in 2000, was a tyrant
subjecting dissenters in his regime to unspeakable tortures and
committing genocide against his Kurdish minorities."
Despite all the changes in news media since then, a filtration
process remains crucial. Strong economic pressures are especially
significant-and combine with powerful forces for conformity at
times of nationalistic fervor and military action. "Even
if journalists, editors, and producers are not superpatriots,
they know that appearing unpatriotic does not play well with many
readers, viewers, and sponsors," media analyst Michael X.
Delli Carpini has commented. "Fear of alienating the public
and sponsors, especially in wartime, serves as a real, often unstated
tether, keeping the press tied to accepted wisdom.""
Journalists in American newsrooms don't have to worry about being
taken out and shot; the constraining fears are apt to revolve
around peer approval, financial security, and professional advancement.
The attitudes of reporters covering U.S.
foreign-policy officials are generally similar to the attitudes
of those officials. "Most journalists who get plum foreign
assignments already accept the assumptions of empire," according
to longtime foreign correspondent Reese Erlich. He added, "I
didn't meet a single foreign reporter in Iraq who disagreed with
the notion that the U.S. and Britain have the right to overthrow
the Iraqi government by force. They disagreed only about timing,
whether the action should be unilateral, and whether a long-term
occupation is practical." After decades of freelancing for
major U.S. news organizations, Erlich offered this blunt conclusion:
"Money, prestige, career options, ideological predilections-combined
with the down sides of filing stories unpopular with the government-all
cast their influence on foreign correspondents. You don't twin
a Pulitzer for challenging the basic assumptions of empire."
Far from restraining the reliance on war
as an instrument of foreign policy, the widespread media support
for corporate "globalization" boosts the view that the
U.S. government must strive to bring about favorable conditions
in international affairs. The connections between military might
and global commercial market share are not shouted from Washington's
rooftops, but the links are solid. With matter-of-fact approval,
Thomas Friedman wrote in his 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive
Tree: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without
hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas,
the designer of the U.S. Air Force F- 15. And the hidden fist
that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to
flourish is led the U. S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
In January 1991, the Pentagon imposed strict curbs on journalistic
access to the Gulf War. American military activities in the region
were mostly off-limits to reporters. Defense Department censors
cleared photos, video footage, and battlefield dispatches. Reporters
were only allowed to travel in pools accompanied by U.S. military
escorts. A New York Times correspondent, Malcolm Browne, complained
that "the pool system is turning journalists into essentially
unpaid employees of the Department of Defense." The president
of CBS News, Eric W. Ober, was caustic: "The new guidelines
guarantee pack journalism-the worst form of reporting-and allow
the military to orchestrate and control the news before it reaches
the American people. 1120 But such objections amounted to little
more than grumbles as major American news outlets handled the
Gulf War to the evident satisfaction of the White House and the
Patrick J. Sloyan, who covered the war
as a Newsday correspondent, has recalled that once the air bombardment
got under way, "the media was fed carefully selected footage
by [General Norman] Schwarzkopf in Saudi Arabia and [General Colin]
Powell in Washington, D. C. Most of it was downright misleading."
And Sloyan described "limitations imposed on reporters on
the battlefield" during the war: "Under rules developed
by [Defense Secretary Dick] Cheney and Powell, journalists were
not allowed to move without military escorts. All interviews had
to be monitored by military public affairs escorts. Every line
of copy, every still photograph, every strip of film had to be
approved-censored--before being filed. And these rules were ruthlessly
enforced. But, then as now, the most pernicious restrictions remained
self-imposed. Whatever the journalistic grievances, workday concepts
of professionalism have included parroting Pentagonspeak.
News coverage of the Gulf War in U.S. media was sufficiently laudatory
to the warmakers in Washington that a former assistant secretary
of state, Hodding Carter, remarked: "If I were the government,
I'd be paying the press for the kind of coverage it is getting
right now. " A former media strategy ace for President Reagan
put a finer point on the matter. "If you were going to hire
a public relations firm to do the media relations for an international
event," said Michael Deaver "it couldn't be done any
better than this is being done."
When the media watch group FAIR conducted
a survey of network news sources-during the Gulf War's first two
weeks, the most frequent repeat analyst was ABC's Anthony Cordesman.
Not surprisingly, the former high-ranking official at the Defense
Department and National Security Council gave the warmakers high
marks for being trustworthy. "I think the Pentagon is giving
it to you absolutely straight," Cordesman said. The standard
media coverage boosted the war. "Usually missing from the
news was analysis from a perspective critical of U.S. policy,"
FAIR reported. "The media's rule of thumb seemed to be that
to support the war was to be objective, while to be antiwar was
to carry a bias." Eased along by that media rule of thumb
was the sanitized language of Pentagonspeak as mediaspeak: "Again
and again, the mantra of 'surgical strikes against military targets'
was repeated by journalists, even though Pentagon briefers acknowledged
that they were aiming at civilian roads, bridges and public utilities
vital to the survival of the civilian population."
As the Gulf War came to an end, people
watching CBS saw Dan Rather close an interview with the 1st Marine
Division commander by shaking his hand and exclaiming: "Again,
General, congratulations on a job wonderfully done!
Chris Hedges covered the Gulf War for
the New York Times. More than a decade later, he wrote in a book:
"The notion that the press was used in the war is incorrect.
The press wanted to be used. It saw itself as part of the war
effort." Truth-seeking independence was far from the media
agenda. "The press was as eager to be of service to the state
during the war as most everyone else. Such docility on the part
of the press made it easier to do what governments do in wartime,
indeed what governments do much of the time, and that is lie."
Instead of challenging Orwellian techniques, media outlets did
much to foist them on the public. Journalists relied on official
sources-with nonstop interviews, behind-the-scenes backgrounders,
televised briefings, and grainy bomb-site videos. Newspeak routinely
sanitized NATO's bombardment of populated areas. Correspondents
went through linguistic contortions that preserved favorite fictions
of Washington policymakers.
"NATO began its second month of bombing
against Yugoslavia today with new strikes against military targets
that disrupted civilian electrical and water supplies"-the
first words of the lead article on the New York Times front page
the last Sunday in April 1999-accepted and propagated a remarkable
concept, widely promoted by U.S. officials: The bombing disrupted
"civilian" electricity and water, yet the targets were
"military." Never mind that such destruction of infrastructure
would predictably lead to outbreaks of disease and civilian deaths.
On the newspaper's op-ed page, columnist Thomas Friedman made
explicit his enthusiasm for destroying civilian necessities: "It
should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe,
bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted."
American TV networks didn't hesitate to
show footage of U.S. bombers and missiles in flight-but rarely
showed what really happened to people at the receiving end. Echoing
Pentagon hype about the wondrous performances of Uncle Sam's weaponry,
U.S. journalists did not often provide unflinching accounts of
the results in human terms. Reporter Robert Fisk of London's Independent
managed to do so: "Deep inside the tangle of cement and plastic
and iron, in what had once been the make-up room next to the broadcasting
studio of Serb Television, was all that was left of a young woman,
burnt alive when NATO's missile exploded in the radio control
room. Within six hours, the [British] Secretary of State for International
Development, Clare Short, declared the place a 'legitimate target.'
It wasn't an argument worth debating with the wounded-one of them
a young technician who could only be extracted from the hundreds
of tons of concrete in which he was encased by amputating both
his legs .... By dusk last night, 10 crushed bodies-two of them
women-had been tugged from beneath the concrete, another man had
died in hospital and 15 other technicians and secretaries still
Serving as bookends for U.S.-led wars in the 1990s, a pair of
studies by FAIR marked the more narrow discourse once the U.S.
military went on the attack. Whether the year was '91 or '99,
whether the country under the U.S. warplanes was Iraq or Yugoslavia,
major U.S. media outlets facilitated Washington's efforts to whip
up support for the new war. During the first two weeks of the
Gulf War, voices of domestic opposition were all but excluded
from the nightly news programs on TV networks. (The few strong
denunciations of the war that made it onto the air were usually
from Iraqis.) In total, FAIR found, only 1.5 percent of the sources
were identified as American antiwar demonstrators; out of 878
sources cited on the newscasts, just one was a leader of a U.S.
peace organization. 47 Eight years later, the pattern was similar:
in the spring of 1999, FAIR studied coverage during the first
two weeks of the bombing of Yugoslavia and found "a strong
imbalance toward supporters of NATO air strikes." Examining
the transcripts of two influential TV programs, ABC's Nightline
and the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, FAIR documented that only
8 percent of the 291 sources were critics of NATO's bombing. Forty-five
percent of sources were current or former U.S. government (including
military) officials, NATO representatives, or NATO troops. On
Nightline, the study found, no U.S. sources other than Serbian
Americans were given airtime to voice opposition.
FAIR conducted a study of the 1,617 on-camera sources who appeared
on the evening newscasts of six U.S. television networks during
the first three weeks of the [Iraq 2003] war. "Nearly two-thirds
of all sources, 64 percent, were prowar, while 71 percent of U.S.
guests favored the war. Antiwar voices were 10 percent of all
sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and only 3 percent
of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely
to see a prowar source as one who was antiwar; counting only U.S.
guests, the ratio increases to 25 to 1.1150
When civilian casualties gradually increased during the first
days of bombing Afghanistan, the U.S. government took action-not
by curtailing the carnage but by foreclosing public access to
detailed photos that otherwise would have been available from
space. "The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent
Western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures
of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan," the London-based
Guardian reported. At issue were photos from the Ikonos satellite,
taking pictures at such high resolution that "it would be
possible to see bodies lying on the ground after last week's bombing
attacks." When the Defense Department moved to prevent media
access to such pictures, it did not invoke provisions of American
law allowing "shutter control" over U.S.-launched civilian
satellites in wartime. Instead, the Guardian reported, "the
Pentagon bought exclusive rights to all Ikonos satellite pictures
of Afghanistan off Space Imaging, the company which runs the satellite.
The agreement was made retrospectively to the start of the bombing
raids." Because photos of the human toll in Afghanistan from
the air war "would not have shown the position of U.S. forces
or compromised U.S. military security," the Guardian explained,
"the ban could have been challenged by news media as being
a breach of the First Amendment.
When Dan Rather told BBC television that American journalists
were intimidated after 9/11, he went on the CNN program Larry
King Live and emphasized his professional allegiance. "Look,
I'm an American," Rather said. "I never tried to kid
anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when
my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition
of 'win' may be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage
without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced."
Many people like to think that television conveys the horrors
of war. That assumption may be comforting, but it's absurd. Watching
TV resembles experiencing war in much the same way that watching
a marathon is like running one. Television sets don't explode,
and walls don't fall; viewers don't bleed, aren't crushed, and
won't be killed on the spot. A key reality of the war experience-tremendous
fear-is absent from the viewing experience. Shots are not fired
at us; they're edited for us, a process that filters out the footage
and statements that producers consider to be too grisly or otherwise
disturbing. It's a popular illusion-the idea that today's media
coverage of war tells it like it is-but we don't really get more
than the images approved by careful editors.
In October 2001, CNN chairman Walter Isaacson wanted to prevent
any implication of undue sympathy for the victims of Pentagon
bombs. "It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties
or hardship in Afghanistan," he said in a memo ordering his
staff to accompany any grim images of Afghan civilians with the
message that U.S. bombing was in retaliation for the Taliban harboring
terrorists. As if viewers might otherwise forget September 11,
the CNN chief explained: "You want to make sure that when
they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist
attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States."
"The hijacking of language is fundamental to war," Chris
Hedges ' wrote after many years as a war correspondent. "It
becomes difficult to express contrary opinions. There are simply
not the words or phrases to do it. We all speak with the same
clichés and euphemisms." Along the way, the vocabulary
of journalism is part of the warmaking lexicon for dramatic scripts:
"Life in wartime becomes theater. All are actors. Leaders,
against the backdrop of war, look heroic, noble. Pilots who bail
out of planes shot down by the enemy and who make their way back
home play cameo roles. The state, as we saw in the Persian Gulf
War or Afghanistan, transforms war into a nightly television show.
The generals, who are no more interested in candor than they were
in Vietnam, have at least perfected the appearance of candor.
And the press has usually been more than willing to play the dupe
as long as the ratings are good."
Meanwhile, Hedges points out, the media
show is a fantasy in which "the images of war handed to us,
even when they are graphic, leave out the one essential element
of war-fear. There is, until the actual moment of confrontation,
no cost to imagining glory. The visual and audio effects of films,
the battlefield descriptions in books, make the experience appear
real. In fact the experience is sterile. We are safe. We do not
smell rotting flesh, hear the cries of agony, or see before us
blood and entrails seeping out of bodies. We view, from a distance,
the rush, the excitement, but feel none of the awful gutwrenching
anxiety and humiliation that come with mortal danger. It takes
the experience of fear and the chaos of battle, the deafening
and disturbing noise, to wake us up, to make us realize that we
are not who we imagined we were, that war as displayed by the
entertainment industry might, in most cases, as well be ballet..."
ln newsrooms and studios, quite a few macho exemplars-serving
behind computer screens and in front of TV cameras-reliably cheered
the war effort during the invasion of Iraq. Along the way, they
managed to keep a stiff upper lip about the suffering of others.
Such courage is inexhaustible and sometimes awesome. "The
American public knows the importance of this war," Fox News
pundit and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes told viewers
a few days after the invasion began. "They are not as casualty
sensitive as the weenies in the American press are ."
"Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by
war, are shunted aside, crumpled up and thrown away," Chris
Hedges wrote in 2004. "They are war's refuse. We do not want
to see them. We do not want to hear them. They are doomed, like
wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness,
ignored, even reviled. The message they bear from war is too painful
for us to absorb .... If we really knew war, what war does to
minds and bodies, it would be harder to wage. This is why the
essence of war, which is death and suffering, is so carefully
hidden from public view . . . . We taste a bit of war's exhilaration
but are safe, spared the pools of blood, the wailing of a dying
Martin Luther King jr. also found that former allies could become
incensed when he went out of his way to challenge the war. In
his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's
Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, King called the United States
"the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, he said, the U.S.
was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King
asked why the United States was suppressing revolutions "of
the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World, instead
of supporting them. That kind of talk draw barbs and denunciations
from media quarters that had applauded his efforts to end racial
segregation. Time magazine called the speech "demagogic slander
that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington
Post warned that "King has diminished his usefulness to his
cause, his country, his people."
Barbara Ehrenreich concluded in her book Blood Rites: Origins
and History of the Passions of War
"But for all their failings, anti-war
movements should already have taught us one crucial lesson: that
the passions we bring to war can be brought just as well to the
struggle against war. There is a place for courage and solidarity
and self-sacrifice other than in the service of this peculiarly
bloody institution, this inhuman 'meme'-a place for them in the
struggle to shake ourselves free of it .... And we will need all
the courage we can muster. What we are called to is, in fact,
a kind of war. We will need 'armies,' or at least networks of
committed activists willing to act in concert when necessary,
to oppose force with numbers, and passion with forbearance and
reason. We will need leaders-not a handful of generals but huge
numbers of individuals able to take the initiative to educate,
inspire, and rally others. We will need strategies and cunning,
ways of assessing the 'enemy's' strength and sketching out the
way ahead. And even with all that, the struggle will be enormously
costly. Those who fight war on this war-ridden planet must prepare
themselves to lose battle after battle and still fight on, to
lose security, comfort, position, even life.
November 2002, retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, told C-SPAN
"Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's
a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night
attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going
to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of
terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament
have closed a few."
I. F Stone in 1969
"... Arab guerrillas are doing to
us what our terrorists and saboteurs of the Irgun, Stern and Haganah
did to the British. Another is to be willing to admit that their
motives are as honorable as were ours. As a Jew, even as I felt
revulsion against the terrorism, I felt it justified by the homelessness
of the surviving Jews from the Nazi camps and the bitter scenes
when refugee ships sank, or sank themselves, when refused admission
to Palestine. The best of Arab youth ... cannot forget the atrocities
committed by us against villages like Deir Yassin, nor the uprooting
of the Palestinian Arabs from their ancient homeland, for which
they feel the same deep ties of sentiment as do so many Jews,
however assimilated elsewhere."
" ... if we really want a genuine
campaign to improve the image of the United States overseas, we
need to begin by changing our foreign policies-the source of much
Eugene Secunda, a professor of marketing and former senior vice
president of the J. Walter Thompson public relations firm
"In the aftermath of the 
war with Iraq, strategic planners, preparing for future wars,
are unquestionably examining the lessons gleaned from this triumphant
experience. One of the most important lessons learned is the necessity
of mobilizing strong public support, through the projection of
a powerful and tightly controlled PR program, with particular
effort directed toward the realization of positive TV news coverage."
Ron Miller, ABC correspondent on the USS Constellation aircraft
carrier, 1972, off the coast of Vietnam, taking about pilots
"It is ironic that the men who control some of the world's
most destructive weapons rarely see the results of their work.
Distance divorces them from ally and enemy."
a pilot from the USS Constellation aircraft carrier, 1972, off
the coast of Vietnam
"I honestly don't like the idea
of shooting a person. I don't know if I could do that. From good
distances up looking down you don't have a chance to see the good
you're doing. We're a tremendously effective destructive force."
NBC anchor Tom Brokaw
"So far the U S. has fought this war at arm's length with
long-range missiles, high-tech weapons. This is to keep casualties
President George Bush, March 2003
"Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast,
and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign,
it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country
and not against you."
Christopher Hitchens, March 2003 in an essay
" ... the Defense Department has evolved highly selective
and accurate munitions that can sharply reduce the need to take
or receive casualties. The predictions of widespread mayhem turned
out to be false last time-when the weapons [in the Gulf War] were
nothing like so accurate... it can now be proposed as a practical
matter that one is able to fight against a regime and not a people
or a nation."
front page headline in the New York Times several months after
"In two weeks, the Black Hawks and
Chinooks and Apaches that once zoomed overhead with such grace
and panache have suddenly become vulnerable."
On October 29, 2004, the Lancet medical journal released a study
by researchers from johns Hopkins and Columbia universities indicating
that about 100,000 Iraqi deaths had occured over an eighteen-month
period as a result of the invasion and occupation. More than half
of those who died were women and children killed in the air strikes,
the study reported.
President Bush said at a news conference in 2004
"It's a tough time for the American people to see that.
Makkial-Nazzal, a lifelong Fallujah resident who works for the
humanitarian NGO InterSOS, had been pressed into service as the
manager of the clinic, since all doctors were busy, working around
the clock with minimal sleep .... He told us about ambulances
being hit by snipers, women and children being shot. Describing
the horror that the siege of Fallujah had become, he said:
'I have been a fool for 47 years. I used
to believe in European and American civilization. Nothing could
have been easier than gaining the goodwill of the people of Fallujah
had the Americans not been so brutal in their dealings. People
I interviewed vehemently denied that they were Saddam supporters
and expressed immense anger and disappointment at American conduct."
A warhead with the technical name CBU-87/B
functioned properly in Yugoslavia, as promised by the manufacturer,
which called it an "all-purpose, air-delivered cluster weapons
system." The Pentagon categorized it as a "combined
effects munition." One of its memorable performances came
at about noon on a Friday in the city of Nis, where people were
shopping at a vegetable market.
A news dispatch reported that "the
bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market,
bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets of Serbia's
third-largest city with shrapnel and littering the courtyards
with yellow bomb casings." It was one of the cluster bombs'
few moments in the U.S. media limelight. "In a street leading
from the market, dismembered bodies were strewn among carrots
and other vegetables in pools of blood. A dead woman, her body
covered with a sheet, was still clutching a shopping bag filled
with carrots." Reporting from Belgrade, the BBC correspondent
John Simpson wrote a commentary that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph
in London: "In Novi Sad and Nis, and several other places
across Serbia and Kosovo where there are no foreign journalists,
heavier bombing has brought more accidents." Simpson noted
that cluster bombs "explode in the air and hurl shards of
shrapnel over a wide radius." He went on: "Used against
human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons
of modern warfare.
If cluster bombs had been used by Yugoslav
army troops, of course, a huge outcry would have occurred in the
The cluster warhead utilized in Yugoslavia
that spring was a one-thousand-pound marvel with an ingenious
design. When it went off, a couple of hundred "bomblets"
shot out in all directions, aided by little parachutes that slowed
down the descent of the bomblets and dispersed them. After each
bomblet broke into about three hundred pieces of jagged steel
shrapnel, they hit a lot of what the weapon's maker described
as "soft targets." The fact that its use in Yugoslavia
during spring 1999 received scant U.S. media attention smoothed
the way for the Defense Department to drop cluster bombs in Afghanistan
during the autumn of 2001 and then to fire cluster munitions in
Iraq during the spring of 2003.
Soon after the fall of Saddam's regime,
researchers at FAIR pointed out that American news outlets "have
been quick to declare the U.S. war against Iraq a success, but
in-depth investigative reporting about the war's likely health
and environmental consequences has been scarce." During the
war the U.S. Army had fired thousands of cluster munitions. As
in other countries where cluster weaponry had been used, unexploded
cluster bomblets continued to detonate, sometimes in the hands
of children. In addition, as had occurred during the Gulf War,
the U.S. government again fortified some armaments with depleted
uranium, leaving behind fine-particle radioactive dust of the
sort that researchers have linked to cancer and birth defects.
Those important stories-about cluster
weaponry and depleted uranium-became known to many news watchers
on several continents. But not in the United States. More than
six weeks after the invasion began, FAIR examined the comprehensive
Nexis media database through May 5 and found that "there
have been no in-depth reports about cluster bombs" on the
major U.S. broadcast TV networks' nightly news shows since the
start of the war.
But stories continued to be well worth
telling. "On April 19, 2003, a little girl walked out of
a crowd in Baghdad carrying a steel gray canister attached to
a white ribbon," National journal reporter Corine Hegland
wrote thirteen months later. "U.S. troops had left the canister
behind in her part of town, and she was trying to return it to
the American soldiers then on patrol. Sgt. Troy Jenkins, 25, a
big man with blue eyes, recognized the child's gift as a cluster
bomblet, one of the hundreds of thousands left dotting the country,
and he threw himself onto it as the explosion began. When the
dying was done, a family in California had lost its father and
a family in Iraq had lost its daughter.
What was unusual about this event was
not that it occurred but that some readers were to run across
a vivid description of it in a mainstream American publication.
Citing a Human Rights Watch report that during the invasion a
U.S. Army cluster-munitions attack in the town Hilla had resulted
in more than five hundred civilian injuries, Hegland added: "And
the danger lingered after the major combat phase of the war was
over. Not all of the bombs went off. Most of the Army's cluster
munitions have an official 'dud' rate of 16 percent, but the actual
rate is much higher; in Kosovo, some estimates put it as high
as 25 percent. Over the course of the invasion period in Iraq,
more than 2 million bomblets were released. Even at the official
rate, that leaves about 300,000 tiny bombs waiting in fields,
trees, roofs, or yards, for a child, a farmer, or even a patrolling
soldier to nudge the wrong way. " The U.S. military's commanders
had chosen to use these weapons. If most Americans were aware
of the human consequences, the war might have lost some of its
moral stature and public support.
The war effort in Afghanistan during autumn
2001 was often touted as humanitarian, laced with references to
airborne food drops. Details were sketchy, but television became
a free-fire zone for self-congratulation on waging an extraordinarily
humane war. On Larry King Live, a bipartisan panel of senators
affirmed their loyalty to the president. Senator John Warner,
a former secretary of the navy, spoke as the ranking GOP member
of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he said: "This,
I think, is the first time in contemporary military history where
a military operation is being conducted against the government
of a country, and simultaneously, with the troops carrying out
their mission, other troops are trying to take care of the innocent
victims who all too often are caught in harm's way. " Yet
hours after Warner's explanation, the United Nations World Food
Program halted its convoys of emergency aid to Afghanistan because
of the bombing campaign. Private relief workers voiced escalating
alarm. The president of the humanitarian aid organization Conscience
International, Jim Jennings, warned: "Food drops from high
altitudes alone absolutely cannot provide sufficient and effective
relief that is urgently necessary to prevent mass starvation.
To underscore the life-affirming function
of the war, the Pentagon emphasized its air drops of food parcels
from two C-17 planes, and President Bush made a plea for American
children to aid Afghan kids with dollar bills. Many U.S. news
outlets ate it all up. A New York Times editorial proclaimed that
"Mr. Bush has wisely made providing humanitarian assistance
to the Afghan people an integral part of American strategy. Four
days later, on October 12, the same newspaper offered additional
praise: "His reaffirmation of the need for humanitarian aid
to the people of Afghanistan-including donations from American
children-seemed heartfelt." While thousands of kids across
the United States stuffed dollar bills into envelopes and mailed
them to the White House, the U.S. government kept bombing. Jonathan
Patrick, an official with the humanitarian aid group Concern,
minced no words from Islamabad. Calling the food drops "absolute
nonsense," Patrick said: "What we need is 20-ton trucks
in huge convoys going across the border all the time.
In tandem with the intensive bombing,
the U.S. government maintained a PR blitz about its food-from-the-sky
effort. But the Nobel Peace Prize-winning French organization
Doctors Without Borders charged that the gambit was "virtually
useless and may even be dangerous. "76 One aid group after
another echoed the assessment. The United States was dropping
thirty-seven thousand meals a day on a country where many Afghans
had reason to fear starvation. Some of the food, inevitably, was
landing on minefields.
The bad soldiers in Vietnam lacked human qualities as far as mainstream
U.S. news outlets were concerned. "Television painted an
almost perfectly one-dimensional image of the North Vietnamese
and Vietcong as cruel, ruthless, and fanatical-clearly beyond
the bounds of Legitimate Controversy," writes Daniel Hallin.
"Just as television journalists often waived the strictures
of objectivity to celebrate what was seen at the beginning of
the war as a national consensus behind it, they also, much more
consistently, waived them to denounce the enemies of that consensus-the
inhabitants of the Sphere of Deviance-both in Vietnam and . .
. at home as well." Hallin concluded: "Like most 20th-century
war propaganda, television coverage of Vietnam dehumanized the
enemy, drained him of all recognizable emotions and motives and
thus banished him not only from the political sphere, but from
human society itself. The North Vietnamese and Vietcong were 'fanatical,'
'suicidal,' 'savage,' 'half-crazed.' They were lower than mere
criminals... they were vermin. Television reports routinely referred
to areas controlled by the NLF as 'Communist infested' or 'Vietcong
After U.S. soldiers massacred about three hundred Vietnamese civilians
at My Lai in March 1968, nearly a dozen major print and TV outlets
suppressed the evidence and photos of the bloodbath for well over
a year-until a small, independent news service released the information.
"Reporting of My Lai and other war crimes cases was extensive
in the last few years of the war," Daniel Hallin noted, adding:
"Stories of these incidents of course focused attention on
civilian victims of the war, and no doubt contributed to some
weakening of the moral dichotomy television had set up between
Americans and the enemy . . . . But My Lai coverage was usually
cautious and dispassionate, a great deal of it focused on legal
issues in the trial of Lieutenant Calley, rather than on the massacre
itself, which of course became an 'alleged massacre' once charges
were filed. So it may be that for much of the viewing public,
My Lai was less an atrocity, comparable to those they had heard
about on the other side, than confirmation that American morale
was on the decline. Many Americans, incidentally, did not believe
the news of the My Lai massacre."'
"While we venerate and mourn our own dead we are curiously
indifferent about those we kill," Chris Hedges wrote in War
Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. "Thus killing done in our
name, killing that concerns us little, while those who kill our
own are seen as having crawled out of the deepest recesses of
the earth, lacking our own humanity and goodness."
On May 1, the same day that President Bush issued his top-gun
proclamation that the war was basically finished, a column in
the Philadelphia Inquirer began with this observation: "Television's
most heavily reported story of the Iraq war focused on a single
person, Jessica Lynch. Although her rescue illuminated the daring
and ingenuity of the U.S. military, it did not affect the conduct
or outcome of the war. But it was the perfect story for what should
be called The TV War, a production that demonstrated without question
that when the nation's two biggest exports, aerospace equipment
and show business, come together, useful and informative news
gets left behind."
... The unraveling of the official Jessica
Lynch saga began many weeks after she became a household name.
Various news outlets started to question some fundamentals. A
report by BBC News, airing on May 18, shredded numerous Pentagon
claims about what happened to her. When Los Angeles Times columnist
Robert Scheer cited the emerging information, the Pentagon went
ballistic, branding his assertions "outrageous, patently
false and unsupported by the facts. But the high-dudgeon salvo
from officialdom was a desperate attempt at damage control as
news accounts finally revealed that U.S. officials had eagerly
concocted all sorts of story lines-such as the tall tale that
Lynch had suffered gunshot wounds but kept firing weapons until
her ammunition ran out, "fighting to the death" at the
time of her capture.
Also bogus was the Pentagon's account
of the rescue. "Some brave souls put their lives on the line
to make this happen," said spokesman General Vincent Brooks,
who assured the media that "it was a classic joint operation,
done by some of our nation's finest warriors, who are dedicated
to never leaving a comrade behind. But as the BBC reported, witnesses
said the U.S. special forces "knew that the Iraqi military
had fled a day before they swooped on the hospital." And
the widely televised video of her rescue, supplied by the Defense
Department, was shot as a work of dramatic artifice. "It
was like a Hollywood film," said Anmar Uday, a doctor who
worked at the hospital. "They cried 'go, go, go,' with guns
and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions.
They made a show for the American attack on the hospital-action
movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."
The BBC explained that "the American
strategy was to ensure the right television footage by using embedded
reporters and images from their own cameras, editing the film
themselves. The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers
of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black
Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer." He had been an adviser to
the Pentagon for a prime-time TV series about American troops
in Afghanistan. "That approach was taken on and developed
on the field of battle in Iraq."
... Near the end of I Am a Soldier, Too,
the book quotes the famous hero at a reflective moment in her
mother's kitchen. "We went and we did our job, and that was
to go to the war," Jessica Lynch said, "but I wish I
hadn't done it-I wish it had never happened. I wish we hadn't
been there, none of us."
President George H.W. Bush said of the Gulf War victory in early
"It's a proud day for America-and, by God, we've kicked
the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.
The writer James Baldwin challenged our desire to deny responsibility-what
he called "the fraudulent and expedient nature of the American
innocence which has always been able to persuade itself that it
does not know what it knows too well. "
Gloucester in King Lear
"Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind."
Daniel Ellsberg, 2004
We have again been lied into war, a war
as hopeless, unnecessary, and wrongful, as potentially endless
and disastrous, as Vietnam. Again, almost surely, hundreds of
officials who saw what was happening in just those terms, and
who had a chance to avert it by informing Congress and the public
of what they knew, with documents, chose not to do so. They kept
their mouths shut, or repeated official lies, out of misguided
loyalty to their bosses, to the president, to their agency and
party-and to their own careers-over loyalty to the Constitution
and their fellow citizens. If we're ever to escape from the deadly
trap we're in, those values and that behavior must change, soon.
On February 27, I sat in a small room on Capitol Hill. Around
a long table, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was in session,
taking testimony from an administration official. Most of all,
I remember a man with a push-broom mustache and a voice like sandpaper,
raspy and urgent. Wayne Morse did not resort to euphemism. He
spoke of "tyranny that American boys are being killed in
South Vietnam to maintain in power." Moments before the hearing
adjourned, the senior senator from Oregon said that he did not
"intend to put the blood of this war on my hands." And
Morse offered clarity that was prophetic: "We're going to
become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to
the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans
don't like to face up to it."
"On the basis of the record ever since 1946, 'telling truth
to presidents' privately, confidentially-what I and my colleagues
regarded as the highest calling and greatest opportunity we could
imagine to serve our country-looked entirely unpromising as a
way to end our war in and on Vietnam. That conclusion challenged
the premises that had guided my entire professional career. To
read the continuous record of intelligence assessments and forecasts
for Vietnam from 1946 on was finally to lose the delusion that
informing the Executive Branch better was the key to ending the
war-or to fulfilling one's responsibilities as a citizen. It appeared
that only if power were brought to bear upon the Executive Branch
from outside it, with the important secondary effect of sharing
responsibility for later events more broadly, might the presidential
preference for endless, escalating stalemate rather than 'failure'
in Vietnam be overruled. "
war correspondent Michael Herr recalled about the U.S. military
"We took space back quickly, expensively,
with total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was
devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop."
When a country-particularly a democracy-goes to war, the tacit
consent of the governed lubricates the machinery. Silence is a
key form cooperation, but the warmaking system does not insist
on quietude or agreement. Mere self-restraint will suffice.
While going to war may seem easy, any sense of ease is a result
of distance, privilege, and illusion.
There remains a kind of spectator relationship to military actions
being implemented in our names. We're apt to crave the insulation
that news outlets offer. We tell ourselves that our personal lives
are difficult enough without getting too upset about world events.
And the conventional war wisdom of American political life has
made it predictable that most journalists and politicians cannot
resist accommodating themselves to expediency by the time the
first missiles are fired. Conformist behavior-in sharp contrast
to authentic conscience-is notably plastic.
As an astute cliché says, truth is the first casualty of
war. But another early casualty is conscience.
Conscience is not on the military's radar screen, and it's not
on our television screen. But government officials and media messages
do not define the limits and possibilities of conscience. We do.