Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Robert Scheer, 30 November 2004
What does it mean that a whopping 70% of Americans, according to a recent New York Times-CBS News poll, believe that mass culture is responsible for debasing our moral values? It means, if the poll is accurate, that we are a nation of lascivious hypocrites. In fact, the lure of sin, as represented by Hollywood and the entertainment industry, is as tempting to Americans today as apples ever were to Adam and Eve.
Whether in Utah, Georgia or New York, the TV ratings show that we are choosing the equivalent of fast-food entertainment over quality programming. Sex and violence sell well everywhere; high culture does not. So the entertainment titans keep dishing up more of the same.
The top two shows in the nation right now are a grisly crime serial and a cynical and sex-soaked demolition of life in the suburbs, and both are beloved in both red states and blue.
In the Atlanta market, for example, "Desperate Housewives" is the No. 1 show, while in Salt Lake City, the gory "CSI" franchise dominates local TV sets, with "Housewives" placing a respectable fourth. Both regions backed President Bush solidly, giving him 58% and 72% of the vote, respectively. In other words, we have met the enemy and it is us. If anything is to blame for what appears on our screens it is the free market, a deregulated and hypercompetitive mediascape where a right-wing mega-capitalist like Rupert Murdoch can simultaneously make millions off satires like "Married With Children" and "The Simpsons" and a right-wing news channel that wraps itself in the very "God, country, family" tropes that those satires so crassly yet cleverly spoof.
Yet even some liberals have apparently bought the Big Lie, spewed with a vengeance throughout this election year, that a liberal, permissive, secular, coastal culture has perverted the otherwise pristine heartland of our nation. In reality, what we have here is Econ 101: supply and demand. Adam Smith's invisible hand, combined with mass media technology, now allows the best that humanity has to offer to compete with the lowest common denominator. And guess what is winning.
On rare occasions, the good triumphs. Religious censors, for example, would have killed D. H. Lawrence's exquisite depiction of Lady Chatterley's affair with her gamekeeper if he hadn't been able to find printers who valued cash over the church's approval. Today, however, the admixture of greed and art allows "Desperate Housewives" to cash in on the same sex-with-a-hireling story line, with more cleavage and far less sincerity. Catering to our base desires also finds us eagerly paying for video games in which one can spend the afternoon slaughtering innocents and monsters alike, while our prime-time television is dominated by "Survivor"-style shows whose logical conclusion seems to be Piggy's execution by the mob in "Lord of the Flies."
But hey, to each his own, right? Personally, I could do without ever again hearing jingoistic country songs like Toby Keith's hit that warned the world: "You'll be sorry that you messed with the U. S. of A. / 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass / It's the American way." But I'd never ask for such drivel to be banned.
The bottom line of capitalism is that if somebody will buy it, somebody will make it. Yet instead of insisting that cultural consumers take personal responsibility for the choices they make or, better yet, providing new resources for public education and nonprofit media €” the professional tsk-tskers feign outrage at the sullying of televised football with Janet Jackson's breast or a naked Desperate Housewife jumping into the arms of an NFL player.
Worse, these national moralists€” dominated these days by evangelical Christians politicize the issue by blaming "liberal Hollywood" for what deregulation and the free market have wrought. Never mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger made all those violent movies, it is the Democrats and their ilk who are corrupting youth by promulgating our "relativistic" morality. But that's just bunk. The real engine at work here, for better or worse, is the profit motive. If this patently obvious point is absent from the complaints of social conservatives, it is because the truth of the matter is inconvenient to their agenda.
It's much easier for them to politicize the moral decay of our culture than to admit that its wellspring is the domination of media corporations, along with the rampant consumerism that has led us deep into personal debt. Let's face it: There's not much money to be made off children's piano recitals, songs sung around the campfire or performances by your local orchestra, but the choice to consume such fare is always there.
So if you're upset with what's on the boob tube tonight, just ask yourself: What would Jesus watch? My guess is PBS.
by Tom Engelhardt
"Every country and every people has a stake in the resistance, for the freedom fighters are defending principles of independence that form the basis of global security and stability."
"The war was in itself criminal, a criminal adventure. This crime cost the lives of about a million [people], a war of destruction was waged against an entire people. This is what lies on us as a terrible sin, a terrible reproach. We must cleanse ourselves of this shame that lies on our leadership." (For the source of each of these quotes go to the end of this dispatch.)
Freedom Fighters and Rebels
Consider this as a description:
The "rebels" or "freedom fighters" are part of a nationwide "resistance movement." While many of them are local, even tribal, and fight simply because they are outraged by the occupation of their country, hundreds of others among the "resistance fighters" â€“ young Arabs -- are arriving from as far away as "Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan," not to speak of Saudi Arabia and Algeria, to engage in jihad, ready as one of them puts it, to stay in the war "until I am martyred." Fighting for their "Islamic ideals," "they are inspired by a sense of moral outrage and a religious devotion heightened by frequent accounts of divine miracles in the war." They slip across the country's borders to fight the "invader" and the "puppet government" its officials have set up in the capital in their "own image." The invader's sway, however, "extends little beyond the major cities, and even there theâ€¦ freedom fighters often hold sway by night and sometimes even by day."
Sympathetic as they may be, the rebels are badly overwhelmed by the firepower of the occupying superpower and are especially at risk in their daring raids because the enemy is "able to operate with virtual impunity in the air." The superpower's soldiers are sent out from their bases and the capital to "make sweeps, but chiefly to search and destroy, not to clear and hold." Its soldiers, known for their massive human rights abuses and the cruelty of their atrocities, have in some cases been reported to press "on the throats of prisoners to force them to open their mouths while the guards urinate into them, [as well as] setting police dogs on detainees, raping women in front of family members and other vile acts."
On their part, the "guerrillas," armed largely with Russian and Chinese rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers, have responded with the warfare of the weak. They have formed car-bombing squads and use a variety of cleverly constructed wheelbarrow, bicycle, suitcase, and roadside bombs as well as suicide operations performed by volunteers chosen from among the foreign jihadists. They engage in assassinations of, for example, university intellectuals and other sabotage activities in the capital and elsewhere aimed at killing the occupying troops and their sympathizers. They behead hostages to instill fear in the other side. Funding for the resistance comes, in part, from supporters in sympathetic Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia. However, "if the mujaheddin are ever to realize their goal of forcing [the occupiers] out, they will need more than better arms and training, more than their common faith. They will need to develop a genuinely unified resistanceâ€¦ Above all, the analysts say, they will need to make the war even costlier and more difficult for the [occupiers] than it is now."
It's easy enough to identify this composite description, right? Our war in Iraq, as portrayed perhaps in the Arab press and on Arab websites. Well, as it happens, actually not. All of the above (with the exception of the material on bombs, which comes from Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars, and on the beheading of hostages, which comes from an Amnesty International report) is from either the statements of American officials or coverage in either the Washington Post or the New York Times of the Afghan anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, fostered, armed, and funded to the tune of billions of dollars by the Central Intelligence Agency with the help of the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services.
Well, then try this one:
Thousands of troops by the occupying power make a second, carefully planned "brutal advance" into a large city to root out Islamic "rebels." The first attack on the city failed, though it all but destroyed neighborhoods in a "ferocious bombardment." The soldiers advance behind "relentless air and artillery strikes." This second attempt to take the city, the capital of a "rebellious province," defended by a determined "rebel force" of perhaps 500-3,000, succeeds, though the fighting never quite ends. The result? A "razed" city, "where virtually every building has been bombed, burned, shelled beyond recognition or simply obliterated by war"; a place where occupying "soldiers fire at anything that moves" and their checkpoints are surrounded by "endless ruins of former homes and gutted, upended automobiles." The city has been reduced to "rubble" and, for the survivors, "rebel" fighters and civilians alike, it and surrounding areas are now a "killing field." The city lacks electricity, water, or much in the way of food, and yet the rebels hold out in its ruins, and though amusements are few, "on one occasion, a singer came and gave an impromptu guitar concert of patriotic and folk tunes [for them]."
In the carnage involved in the taking of the city, the resistance showed great fortitude. "See you in paradise,' [one] volunteer said. God is great.'" Hair-raising news reports from the occupied city and from refugee camps describe the "traumatized" and maimed. ("Here in the remains of Hospital Number Nine -- [the city's] only hospital with electricity -- she sees a ceaseless stream of mangled bodies, victims of gunfire and shellings"); press reports also acknowledge the distance between official promises of reconstruction and life in the gutted but still resistant city, suggesting "the contrast between the symbolic peace and security declared by [occupation] officials and the city's mine-ridden, bullet-flying reality." Headlines don't hesitate to highlight claims made by those who fled and survived -- "Refugees Describe Atrocities by Occupation Troops" -- and reports bluntly use the label given the acts of the occupiers by human rights organizations -- "war crimes." Such organizations are quoted to devastating effect on the subject. The rebels may be called "bandits" by the occupiers, but it's clear in news reports that they are the ones to be admired.
No question of the sources here at least. Obviously the above is a composite account of the American assault on Falluja taken from Arab press reports or sympathetic Arab websites. As it happens, if you believed that, you'd be zero for two. In fact, all of the above is taken from contemporary press accounts of the Russian assault on Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, in January 2000 in the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the Boston Globe.
How to tell a terrorist
I put together these descriptions from American reports on the Afghan anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, written in the midst of the Cold War, and on the second battle for Grozny ten years after the Cold War ended because both seemed to have certain eerie similarities to events in Iraq today, though obviously neither presents an exact analogy to our Iraqi War. Both earlier moments of reportage do, however, highlight certain limitations in our press coverage of the war in Iraq.
After all, in the case of Afghanistan in the 1980s, there was also a fractured and fractious rebellion against an invading imperial superpower intent on controlling the country and setting up its own regime in the capital. The anti-Soviet rebellion was (like the present one in Iraq) conducted in part by Islamic rebels, many of whom were extremist Sunni jihadists (and some of whose names, from Osama bin Laden to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, remain significant today). The Afghan guerrilla war was backed by that other superpower, the United States, for a decade through its spy agency, the CIA, which promoted methods that, in the Iraq context, would be called "terrorism."
In the case of the Russian assault on Grozny, the capital of the breakaway region of Chechnya, you also have an imperial power, if no longer exactly a superpower, intent on wresting a city -- and a "safe haven" -- from a fractious, largely Islamist insurgency and ready to make an example of a major city to do so. The Russian rubblizing of Grozny may have been more extreme than the American destruction of Falluja (or so it seems), but the events remain comparable. In the case of Grozny, the American government did not actively back the rebels as they had in Afghanistan; but the Bush administration, made up of former Cold Warriors who had imbibed the idea of "rolling back" the Soviet Union in their younger years, was certainly sympathetic to the rebels.
What, then, are some of the key differences I noticed in reading through examples of this reportage and comparing it to the products of our present embedded state? Let me list four differences -- and suggest a question that might be in the back of your mind while considering them: To what degree are American reporters as a group destined to follow, with only modest variation, the paths opened for them by our government's positions on its wars of choice?
1. Language: Those in rebellion in Iraq today are, according to our military, "anti-Iraqi forces" (a phrase that, in quotes, often makes it into news pieces and is just about never commented upon by reporters); others over the months, most of them also first issuing from the mouths of U.S. officials, have been "dead-enders," "bitter enders," "Baathist remnants," "terrorists" (especially with forces or acts associated in any way with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), rarely "guerrillas," and most regularly (and neutrally), "insurgents" who are fighting in an "insurgency."
The Afghans in the 1980s, on the other hand, were almost invariably in "rebellion" and so "rebels" as headlines at the time made clear -- Leslie Gelb, "Officials Say U.S. Plans to Double Supply of Arms to Afghan Rebels," the New York Times. They were part of a "resistance movement" and as their representatives could write op-eds for our papers, the Washington Post, for instance, had no hesitation either about headlining Matthew D. Erulkar's op-ed of January 13, 1987, "Why America Should Recognize the Afghan Resistance" or identifying its author as working "for the Afghan resistance."
But the phrase "Afghan resistance" or "the resistance" was no less likely to appear in news pieces, as in an Oct. 22, 1983 report by Post reporter William Branigin, "Feuding Guerrilla Groups Rely on Uneasy Pakistan." Nor, as in James Rupert's "Dreams of Martyrdom Draw Islamic Arabs to Join Afghan Rebels" (Washington Post, July 21, 1986), was there any problem calling an Islamic "fundamentalist party" that was part of the "Afghan Jihad" a "resistance party." President Ronald Reagan at the time regularly referred to fundamentalist Afghans and their Arab supporters as "freedom fighters" (while the CIA, through the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, shuttled vast sums of money and stores of weaponry to the most extreme of the Afghan jihadist parties). "Freedom fighter" was commonly used in the press, sometimes interchangeably with "the Afghan resistance" -- as in a March 12, 1981 piece by Post columnist Joseph Kraft, "The Afghan Chaos" ("Six different organizations claiming to represent Afghan freedom fighters").
As for the Chechens in Grozny in 2000, they were normally referred to in U.S. news accounts as "rebels": "separatist rebels," "rebel ambushes," "a rebel counterattack," and so on. ("Rebel," as anyone knows who remembers American rock 'n' roll or movies of the 1950s and 60s, is a positive term in our lexicon.) Official Russian terms for the Chechen rebels, who were fighting grimly like any group of outgunned urban guerrillas in a manner similar to the Sunni guerrillas in Iraq today -- "bandits" or "armed criminals in camouflage and masks" -- were quoted, but then (as "anti-Iraqi forces" and other Bush administration terms are not) put in context or contrasted with Chechen versions of reality.
In a typical piece from CNN, you could find the following quote: "'The [Russians] aren't killing any bandits,' one refugee said after reaching Ingushetia. They're killing old men, women and children. And they keep on bombing -- day and night.'" In a Daniel Williams piece in the Washington Post, the Russian government's announcements about the fighting in Grozny have become a "daily chant," a phrase that certainly suggests how the reporter feels about their accuracy.
Here's a quote from a discussion in a Washington Post editorial of an Associated Press photo of the destruction in Grozny. The photo was described elsewhere as "a pastel from hell" and was evidently of a sort we've seen far too little of in our press from either Falluja or the Old City of Najaf:
"Russian leaders announced with pride Sunday that their armed forces had captured Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, five months into their war to subdue that rebellious province. Reports from the battle zone suggested that the Russians had not so much liberated the city as destroyed it. Grozny resembles nothing so much as Stalingrad, reduced to rubble by Hitler's troops before the Red Army inflicted a key defeat that Russian schoolchildren still celebrate. ... All in all, this is not likely to be a victory that Russian schoolchildren will celebrate generations hence."
Similar writing certainly isn't likely to be found on American editorial pages today when it comes to the "razing" of Falluja, nor are those strong adjectives like "brutal," once wielded in the Grozny accounts, much to be found at present.
2. Testimony: Perhaps the most striking difference between news stories about the Afghan revolt, the destruction of Grozny, and the destruction of Falluja may be that in the cases of the first two, American reporters were willing, even eager, to seek out refugee accounts, even if the refugees were supporters of the rebels or rebels themselves. Such testimony was, for instance, regularly offered as evidence of what was happening in Grozny and more generally in Chechnya (even when the accounts couldn't necessarily be individually confirmed). So the Post's Daniel Williams, for instance, in "Brutal Retreat From Grozny Led to a Killing Field" (Feb. 12, 2000) begins by following Heda Yusupova, mother of two "and a cook for a group of Chechen rebels" as she flees the city. ("[She] froze in her tracks when she heard the first land mine explode. It was night, and she and a long file of rebels were making a dangerous retreat from Grozny, the Chechen capital, during the final hours of a brutal Russian advance. Another explosion. Her children, ages 9 and 10, screamed") It's a piece that certainly puts the Russian assault on Grozny in a striking perspective. And in this it's typical of the accounts I've read.
Post reporter Sharon LaFraniere, for example, wrote a piece on June 29, 2000 bluntly entitled, Chechen Refugees Describe Atrocities by Russian Troops in which she reported on "atrocities" in what the Russians labeled a "pro-bandit village." ("'I have never imagined such tortures, such cruelty,' [the villager] said, sitting at a small table in the dim room that has housed her family here for nearly three years. There were a lot of men who were left only half alive.'") And when Russian operations against individual Chechens were described, it was possible to see them through Chechen eyes: "Three times last month, Algayeva said, Russian soldiers broke in, threatening to shoot the school's guard. They smashed doors, locks and desks. The last time, May 20, they took sugar, plates and a brass bell that was rung at school ceremonies."
As in a February 29, 2000 Boston Globe piece ("Chechen Horror"), it was also possible for newspapers to discuss editorially both "the suffering of the Chechens" and the way "the United States and the rest of the international community can no longer ignore their humanitarian obligation to alleviate -- and end €“ [that suffering]."
The equivalent pieces for Iraq are largely missing (though every now and then -- as with an Edward Wong piece in the New York Times on life in resistant Sadr City, Baghdad's huge Shiite slum -- there have been exceptions). Given the dangers Western reporters face in Iraq and the constricting system of "embedding" that generally prevails, when you read of Americans breaking-into Iraqi homes, you're ordinarily going to see the event from the point of view of the troops (or at least in their company). Iraqi refugees -- upwards of 250,000 of whom may have been driven from Falluja alone -- have not been much valued in our press for their testimony. (There is a deep irony in this, since the Bush administration launched its war, citing mainly exile that is, refugee testimony.)
We know, of course, that it's difficult for American reporters to go in search of such testimony in Iraq, but not impossible. For instance, Dahr Jamail, a determined freelance journalist whose work can be found on-line at ZNET, the New Standard, or his own blog, recently managed to interview refugees from Falluja and their testimony sounds remarkably like the Grozny testimony from major American newspapers in 2000. ("The American warplanes came continuously through the night and bombed everywhere in Fallujah! It did not stop even for a moment! If the American forces did not find a target to bomb, they used sound bombs just to terrorize the people and children. The city stayed in fear; I cannot give a picture of how panicked everyone was.")
For the "suffering of the Iraqis," you need to turn to the periodic "testimony" of Iraqi bloggers like the pseudonymous Riverbend of Baghdad Burning or perhaps Aljazeera. The suffering we actually hear most about in our press is, as Naomi Klein indicated in a powerful piece recently, American suffering, in part because it's the American troops with whom our reporters are embedded, with whom they bond, and fighters on battlefields anywhere almost invariably find themselves in grim and suffering circumstances. In this context, there has been some striking reporting -- as in the Falluja pieces from Tom Lasseter, one of Knight Ridder's superb journalists, embedded with a company of soldiers in Falluja. (More of his reports can be found by clicking here.) But we're still talking about American suffering, or Iraqi suffering within that context.
3. Human Rights evidence: The reports from Grozny in particular (see above) often make extensive use of the investigations of human rights groups of various sorts (including Russian ones) and reporters then were willing to put the acts of the Russians in Grozny (as in Afghanistan) in the context of "war crimes," as indeed they were. In Iraq, on the other hand, while pieces about human rights reports about our occupation can sometimes be found deep in our papers, the evidence supplied by human rights groups is seldom deployed by American reporters as an evidentiary part of war pieces.
4. "Terrorism": Finally, though many more points could be made, it's interesting to see how, in different reporting contexts and different moments, the term "terrorism" is or is not brought to bear. In Grozny, for instance, the "rebels" used "radio controlled land mines" and assassinated Chechens who worked for the Russians (just as Iraqi insurgents and terrorists explode roadside IEDs and assassinate those who work for the Americans) and yet the Chechens remained (until recent times) "rebels."
On this topic, though, Afghanistan is of special interest. There, as Steve Coll tells us in his riveting book Ghost Wars (pp. 128-135), the CIA organized terror on a major scale in conjunction with the Pakistani ISI which trained "freedom fighters" in how to mount car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks on Soviet officers and soldiers in Russian-occupied cities (techniques personally "endorsed," according to Coll, by CIA Director William Casey). The CIA also supplied the Afghan rebels with long-range sniper rifles (meant for assassinations) and delayed-timing devices for plastic explosives. "The rebels fashioned booby-trapped bombs from gooey black contact explosives, supplied to Pakistani intelligence by the CIA, that could be molded into ordinary shapes or poured into innocent utensils." Kabul cinemas and cultural shows were bombed and suicide operations mounted using Arab jihadis. "Many tons of C-4 plastic explosives for sabotage operations" were shipped in and the CIA took to supplying so-called "dual-use" weapons systems that could be used against military targets "but also in terror attacks and assassinations." Much of this was known, at least to some degree at the time (and some reported in press accounts), and yet the Afghans remained "freedom fighters" and a resistance movement, even after the Afghan jihad began to slip across the other Pakistani border into Indian Kashmir.
So It Goes
What changed? What made these people, according to our press, "terrorists." The answer is, of course, that we became their prime enemy and target. Coll offers this comment (p. 145): "Ten years later the vast training infrastructure that [the Pakistani ISI] built with the enormous budgets endorsed by NSDD-166 [the official American plan for the Afghan jihad] -- the specialized camps, the sabotage training manuals, the electronic bomb detonators, and so on -- would be referred to routinely in America as â€˜terrorist infrastructure.' At the time of its construction, however, it served a jihadist army that operated openly on the battlefield, attempted to seize and hold territory, and exercised sovereignty over civilian populations" â€“ in Soviet Afghanistan, that is.
Similarly, our man of the moment in Baghdad, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, was not so long ago a CIA-directed "terrorist," as the New York Times reported on its front page (to no effect whatsoever). In the early 1990s, the exile organization Allawi ran, the Iraq National Accord, evidently planted car bombs and explosive devices for the CIA in the Iraqi capital (including in a movie theater) in an attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime,
In the Afghan anti-Soviet war, the CIA looked favorably indeed upon the recruitment of thousands of Arab jihadists and eagerly supported a particularly unsavory and murderous Afghan extremist warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who refused at the time to travel to Washington and shake the hand of our "infidel" President Ronald Reagan (and who today fights American troops in untamed Afghanistan). Though, as it turned out, the "freedom fighters" fell on each other's throats even as Kabul was being taken, and then, within years, some of them turned on their former American patrons with murderous intent, no figure tells the story better, I think, than this one: "In 1971 there had been only nine hundred madrassas [Islamic schools] in all of Pakistan. By the summer of 1988 there were about 8,000 official religious schools and an estimated 25,000 unregistered ones, many of them clustered along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier and funded by wealthy patrons from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states." As the novelist Kurt Vonnegut might say, so it goes.
The Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya were indeed brutes and committed war crimes of almost every imaginable sort. The language of the American press, watching the invading army of a former superpower turn the capital city of a small border state into utter rubble, was appropriate indeed, given what was going on. In both Afghanistan and in Iraq, on the other hand, where the American government was actively involved, reporters generally -- and yes, there are always exceptions -- have followed the government's lead with the terminology -- "freedom fighter" versus "terrorist" -- falling into place as befit the moment, even though many of the acts being described remained the same.
The press is always seen as a weapon of war by officials, and it is so seen by the Pentagon and the Bush administration today. Reporters and editors obviously feel that and the pressures that flow from it in all sorts of complex ways. Whether consciously or not, it's striking how such perceptions shade and limit even individual stories, alter small language choices, and the nature of what passes for evidence. In the context of Iraq, the testimony of refugees may not be much valued in the American press, for instance, but the testimony of generals is. And so, to give a simple example, when Bradley Graham of the Washington Post reports on a "surge of detainees" from recent U.S. operations in Falluja and elsewhere that is "putting stress" on U.S. prisons in Iraq and "providing the biggest test yet of new facilities and procedures adopted in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal this past spring," who does he quote on the subject€“ don't worry, we can handle it, all is going well â€“ but Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commandant of Guantanamo (of all places) and the man who reputedly brought "Guantanamo methods" to Abu Ghraib before the torture and abuse scandal broke. None of this is even mentioned, of course; nor, unlike in the stories from Grozny, do we hear from any of those detainees who might have recently passed through Abu Ghraib and had the enviable chance to see movies there or use its library. ("For the most cooperative prisoners, there are movies and a library.")
Read Graham's report for yourself. If you believe it, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. Try then to imagine a similar piece, written without question or quibble, about the Russian equivalents of Gen. Miller in either Afghanistan or Chechnya. So it goes. Tom
[The sources of the two beginning quotes are: Ronald Reagan, Proclamation 4908 -- Afghanistan Day, March 10, 1982; and "father" of the Russian H-bomb and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, addressing the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies as Soviet Troops withdrew from Afghanistan -- found in Coll, Ghost Wars, p. 177.
Sources for the composite Afghan paragraphs: James Rupert, "Dreams of Martyrdom Draw Islamic Arabs to Join Afghan Rebels," the Washington Post, July 21, 1986; Ronald Reagan, "Statement on the Situation in Afghanistan," December 27, 1981, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States; Leslie Gelb, "Officials Say U.S. Plans to Double Supply of Arms to Afghan Rebels," the New York Times, November 28, 1984; Joseph Kraft, "The Afghan Chaos," the Washington Post, March 12, 1981; Orrin G. Hatch, "Don't Forget the Afghans," the New York Times, November 22, 1985; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, the Penguin Press, 2004; Amnesty International, "Afghanistan: Making Human Rights the Agenda," November 2001; William Branigin, "Feuding Guerrilla Groups Rely on Uneasy Pakistan," the Washington Post, October 22, 1983.
Sources for the composite Grozny paragraphs: Daniel Williams, "Brutal Retreat From Grozny Led to a Killing Field," the Washington Post, February 12, 2000; Michael Wines, "In the Remains of Grozny, the Remains of Living," the New York Times, December 4, 2001; Sharon LaFraniere, "Despite Russian Assurance of Safety, Chechen Capital Lives Under Siege," the Washington Post, June 25, 2001; LaFraniere, "Chechen Refugees Describe Atrocities by Russian Troops," the Washington Post, June 29, 2001; "Chechen Horror," the Boston Globe, February 29, 2000.]
[Note: Special thanks to Nick Turse for research help.]
News Media in the 60th Year of the Nuclear Age
By Norman Solomon
Top officials in Washington are now promoting jitters about Iran's nuclear activities, while media outlets amplify the message. A confrontation with Tehran is on the second-term Bush agenda. So, we're encouraged to obliquely think about the unthinkable.
But no one can get very far trying to comprehend the enormity of nuclear weapons. They've shadowed human consciousness for six decades. From the outset, deception has been key.
Lies from the White House have been part of the nuclear rationalizing process ever since August 1945. President Harry Truman spoke to the American public three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Calling the civilian-filled Japanese city a "military base," Truman said: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."
Actually, U. S. planners had sought a large urban area for the nuclear cross hairs because -- as Manhattan Project director Gen. Leslie Groves later acknowledged -- it was "desirable that the first target be of such size that the damage would be confined within it, so that we could more definitely determine the power of the bomb." Thirty-five years later, when I looked at the U. S. Energy Department's official roster of "Announced United States Nuclear Tests," the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were on the list.
We're now six decades into the Nuclear Age. And we're farther than ever, it seems, from a momentously difficult truth that Albert Einstein uttered during its first years, when the U. S. government still held a monopoly on the split atom. "This basic power of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms," he wrote. "For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world."
Today, no phrase could better describe U. S. foreign policies -- or American media coverage -- than "narrow nationalisms." The officials keep putting on a proudly jingoistic show, and journalists report it without fundamental challenge.
So, any whiff of sanity is conspicuous. Just before Thanksgiving, when the House and Senate voted to cut funding of research for a new line of tactical nuclear weapons including "bunker buster" warheads, the decision was reported as the most significant victory for arms-control advocates since the early 1990s. That's because the nuclear-weapons industry has been running amok for so long.
While Uncle Sam continues to maintain a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying life on Earth, the American finger-wagging at Iran is something righteous to behold.
Current alarms, wailing about an alleged Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, are being set off by the same Bush administration officials who declared that an invasion of Iraq was imperative because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, he didn't. But that hasn't stopped the Bush team from launching the same kind of media campaign against Iran -- based on unverified claims by Iranian exiles with a track record of inaccuracy and a clear motive to pull Washington into military action. Sound familiar?
We ought to be able to recognize what's wrong with U. S. officials who lecture Iran about the evils of nuclear-arms proliferation while winking at Israel's arsenal, estimated to include 200 nuclear weapons.
When Einstein called for "the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world," he was describing a need that news media ought to help fill. But instead, mostly we get the official stories: dumbed-down, simplistic, and -- yes -- narrowly nationalistic. The themes are those of Washington's powerful: our nukes good, our allies' nukes pretty good, unauthorized nukes very bad.
That sort of propaganda drumbeat won't be convincing to people who doubt that a Christian Bomb is good and a Jewish Bomb is good but an Islamic Bomb is bad. You don't have to be an Einstein to understand that people are rarely persuaded by hypocritical messages along the lines of "Do as we say, not as we do."
Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. He is co-author (with Reese Erlich) of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You," published in 2003 by Context Books.
Beastie Boys - We Got The
From the Album To the 5 Boroughs
Who got the chance to make things right?
Why the politicians always want to fight?
The Christian coalition and the right wing ooooh!
Let me tell you what you can do
Step outside the cone of silence
Too much hatred and violence
It's time to rewind
We need a military decline
Got the power of the mind focused
Government like a locust
Are we gone or just going?
Time to act on what we be knowinh y'all
Who got the power to make a difference?
Who got the power to make a change?
Who got the power to make a difference?
We got the
We got the
We got the
Eyes on the prize and never wane
Take the bull by the reins
If you want it be the change
Like Ghandi and MLK
Wait up, got to change the system
Need knowledge, power and wisdom
Same way I rock this microphone
Speak up, just let it be known
Hey ladies, fellas
And everyone between
Take the power back, let them react
And let's show them what we mean; Check it out
Who got the power to make a difference?
Who got the power to make a change?
Who got the power to make a difference?
We got the
We got the
We got the
We can work, walk, march and protest
Think about how we approach this
Ask questions but they keep frontin'
Due time we change a little something
Hey yo don't you know
Won't forget Amaduous Diallo
To the crooked people and the crooked cops
Got to spread love before the world goes pop
Never again should we use the A-bomb
We need an international ban on
all W.O.M.D.'s gone
We need a multilateral disarm
Who got the power to make a difference?
Who got the power to make a change?
Who got the power to make a difference?
We got the
We got the
We got the
so i'm left sitting here, staring into a beer
shaking my head at the same ol' loathing and fear
stranger in my own land, can't understand
how the very word australian has just been damned
i fucking hate myself - take ozi from my name
erase this endless shame, forever casting blame
if you don't act the same will i destroy you?
everyone looks the same beaten black and blue
so I've had enough of these redneck pricks
when fact is the only real shit that sticks
watch as i tear the very skin from my face
so none'll see my race - my deep disgrace
you not even from here in the first place!
and those that are you wanna further debase
nup - no more - never again whether by fist or pen
i will defend - cos i'm at a loose end
the shattered remnants of ozi dignity
i'm a skip/whitey/round eye surprise me
by using your shrivelled brain to please explain
how the clever country just went down the drain
we rode the sheep's back now the sheep ride you
if this is how it's gonna be don't ever call me true blue
i denounce my ancestors, wounds still fester
if you say it aint so i suggest ya wake up
this country needs a fucking shake up
wake up these cunts need a shake up
wake up this country needs a fucking shake up
wake up these cunts need a shake up
nation of immigrants - height of hypocrisy
talkback? squawking hacks - won't relax
until jonesey, zemanek & laws are all axed
77 percent of aussies are racist
and if you're here - i'll say it your faces
rich redneck pricks still hold all the aces
so i'll buy ya a beer - with an arsenic chaser
better off dead? is that what i said?
tempting to take for all the blood you've shed
no doubt your as bad as your dad's & your mum's
that's why mainsteam media makes me so fuckin glum
anglo reality - intellectual cavities
channel 9 fostering prejudiced mentalities
i won't be a casualty - just mention casually
that i can't stand for you shit-eating bullies
preying on peeps without a mainstream voice
most of youse stay silent but i've got no choice
wake up - this country needs a fucking shake up
wake up - these cunts need a shake up
well i've yelled my lungs out but to no avail
that you're a stranger yourself now that's the sting in the tail
captain cook was the very first queue jumper
and it was immigrant labour that made australia plumper
enough is enough - whiteys pack your stuff
don't wanna live in england? - well that's fuckin tough
I'm sick and tried of this redneck wonderland
most of you stay silent and I can't understand
I just can't understand
time for you to wake up
Tuesday, 30 November 2004
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaeda and radical Islamists are winning the propaganda war against the United States, says a high-level Pentagon panel, which concluded that President George W Bush's administration's policies in the Middle East, its fundamental failure to understand the Muslim world and a lack of imagination in using new communications technologies are responsible.
In a report concluded in September but only released last week, the Defense Science Board (DSB) called for a major overhaul of Washington's "public diplomacy" and "strategic communication" apparatus that would include much more money and the creation of a new independent agency to enlist the support of the private sector, researchers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote US messages to an increasingly hostile Islamic world.
"Strategic communication is a vital component of US national security," stresses the 111-page report. "It is in crisis, and it must be transformed with a strength of purpose that matches our commitment to diplomacy, defense, intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security ... Collaboration between government and the private sector on an unprecedented scale is imperative."
The document also calls on US policymakers to spend more time "listening" to their intended audience and use messages that "should seek to reduce, not increase, perceptions of arrogance, opportunism and double standards".
The DSB, made up of private sector and academic experts appointed by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, normally confines its advice to scientific and technological matters. While it has no executive authority, its prominence, the generally hawkish cast of its membership and the urgent tone of the report will likely place its recommendations high on the agenda in President Bush's second term.
The study is based on interviews with senior US public-diplomacy, strategic-communication and psychological-warfare officials and experts along with more than a dozen studies by NGOs, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, public-opinion surveys and internal government reports conducted over the past three years.
All of them have shown a sharp plunge in US standing throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, particularly since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as virtually total failure of the United States to reverse that view effectively, in large part due to the perception among Muslims that Washington's policies are aimed at their submission.
As one task force headed by former president George H W Bush's top Middle East adviser, Edward Djerejian, concluded 13 months ago, "'Spin' and manipulative public relations and propaganda are not the answer. Foreign policy counts ... Sugar-coating and fast talking are no solutions."
The DSB report also stresseed that US policies in the Mideast - notably Washington's support for Israel, the Iraq invasion and its backing of autocratic leaders in the region - make it very difficult for Washington to persuade Muslims of its good intentions. The report, however, does not advise changing policies, which would be beyond its mandate.
The gap between Washington's rhetoric and its actions in the region, as perceived by Muslims, has contributed to a near total loss of credibility, argues the study.
"The larger goals of US strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-jihadists," it argues. "But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended" by, in essence, bearing out "the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars".
Thus, contrary to the mantra of the administration and its neo-conservative advisers, asserts the report, "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom', but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states."
Moreover, "when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy", while "saying that 'freedom is the future of the Middle East' is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World", which, asserts the report, is not how Arabs see their situation at all.
On the contrary, it adds, the large majority yearn "to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the US so determinedly promotes and defends".
"In the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering," notes the document.
"The critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim world is not one of 'dissemination of information', or even one of crafting and delivering the 'right' message," the report states.
"Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none - the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably, therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the 'loud and clear' channel: the enemy."
Neo-conservative and administration efforts to depict the "war on terrorism" that Bush launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001, as a war against "another totalitarian evil", as in the Cold War, have been a "strategic mistake", according to the report.
"In stark contrast to the Cold War, the United States today is not seeking to contain a threatening state-empire, but rather seeking to convert a broad movement within Islamic civilization to accept the value structure of Western modernity - an agenda hidden within the official rubric of a 'war on terrorism'.
"If we really want to see the Muslim world as a whole and the Arab-speaking world in particular move more toward our understanding of 'moderation' and 'tolerance', we must reassure Muslims that this does not mean they must submit to the American way," argues the report.
To succeed, Washington must target those in the Islamic world "who support, or are likely to support, our views based on their own culture, traditions and attitudes about such things as personal control, choice and change," it adds.
"We believe the most 'movable' targets will be the so-called secularists of the Muslim world: business people, scientists, non-religious educators, politicians or public administrators, musicians, artists, poets, writers, journalists, actors and their audiences and admirers."
Key themes and messages that can persuade this group to back US goals include: "respect for human dignity and individual rights; individual education and economic opportunity; and personal freedom, safety and mobility," suggests the report, which also stresses developing new techniques for reaching that audience, including electronic mail, Internet chat rooms, video games, and interactive Internet games.
More traditional efforts, such as television broadcasts, person-to-person exchanges, the enlistment of celebrities in government public-diplomacy efforts, should also be expanded by injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into existing programs that have, says the report, become "anemic" since the Cold War.
The president should also establish a new deputy national security adviser for strategic communication post in the White House, as well as a "strategic communication committee" within the National Security Council on which senior representatives from all relevant agencies should serve, it proposes.
Congress should also establish a Center for Strategic Communication modeled after the National Endowment for Democracy that, among other things, would act as a think-tank devising new programs, such as a children's television series in Arabic, to communicate core messages.