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War Made Easy reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive presidential administrations. Written by
Basically, Norman Solomon's notion, as presented here covers modern wars from Vietnam to the recent adventures in the Middle East. Here's how the process works.
Stage One: The government, led by the president, begins beating the war drums against a perceived enemy. The enemy is manufacturing and storing weapons, is a threat to democracy, is a sponsor of an alien ideology, aims at the destruction of America and possibly world domination. The names used (or, rather, called) are always the same -- "evil," "terrorist or communist," "barbaric", "brutal," "ruthless," and so on. The media reports what the government says. Challengers are marginalized and, since the government is the focus of attention in the press, get much less coverage.
Stage Two: The war is launched. And now we can't back out because we must "support the troops" or else we are "unpatriotic." The government controls press access to combat so what we see and read becomes a combination of a Fourth of July fireworks display and a Homecoming football game with everyone rooting for our side. Our high technology weapons are lovingly described. The enemy are faceless.
Solomon would certainly agree that nothing is as simple as the picture of "going to war" that I've just presented. We get to see a lot of Norman Solomon. He's a soft-spoken, thoughtful, smart guy and wouldn't be easily bamboozled by simplicity. That's why he wrote the book.
There are a couple of things I find myself doubting. He downplays the impact of the press on the public's perception of the Vietnam war. And, in fact, the evidence is that the newspapers were laggard in their understanding. But they did come around. I guess it would be safe to say that they usually DO come around eventually and see the process from a more informed perspective.
I don't think anyone can underplay the influence of Walter Cronkite's national broadcast in which he admitted that Vietnam had become a stalemate and it was time to leave. It certainly had an effect on Lyndon Johnson. Solomon is right in arguing that it came a little late in the game, but then it's the job of journalists to report what they know, not their opinion of what they know. At least it used to be that way, before some of the cable news channels became instrumentalized.
A few new thoughts occurred to me while watching this. During the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences, the government allowed the media wide access to military operations by "embedding" reporters with selected units. But -- it didn't HELP the public. In a perfectly natural process, the reporters became loyal friends of the soldiers of their units and submitted stories favorable to them. (Imagine: A hypothetical Marine throws away his weapon and runs to the rear. Is the embedded reporter likely to publicize the incident?) There is no surer way to bond people than to subject them to the same stress at the same time. And the enemy remains faceless, distant targets to be shot at or bombed.
Some of the comments we hear on the morality of war are also thought provoking. Is it somehow more "moral" for a man to release a load of bombs on a city from ten thousand feet in the air, than it is for a man to strap on a vest full of explosives and commit suicide in the midst of those that HE defines as the barbaric enemy? When our guys commit altruistic suicide they become heroes. Why is it a surprise that when they do it, they become heroes too?
Finally, I'll cut these comments short because I don't want to run out of space, and because I've gotten so high on this soap box that I'm beginning to feel the effects of cerebral anoxia. This has nothing to do with the dynamics described by Solomon but I wonder if there isn't something within at least some of us that actually WANTS to go to war and kill others. It's not as stupid as it sounds. Testosterone prompts us to engage in aggression and sexual activity and blood levels vary between individuals and groups. (The level is higher in winning soccer teams.) And differences have been found in the brains of those who are more or less likely to go to war, especially in the region of the amygdala, an almond-shaped organ in the mid-brain that controls the fight-or-flight response. It's bigger in those who are more likely to be militant. You can probably Google it easily enough.
Finally, I DO wish we'd all stop using the term "cut and run." War at the top isn't a matter of gonads; it's a matter of brains. I'd suggest that anybody who has survived an elementary school-yard fight should outgrow it -- although I think "cut" can be a perfectly apt term to describe a military withdrawal from an unwinnable situation. It's certainly used routinely on Wall Street -- "cut your losses." The alternative can lead to things like Kamikaze attacks and Hitler's order to "retreat not one millimeter."
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