War Amplifies Dissembling


John Wright


Here we are, one week into the war with Iraq, and I am trying to sort out what I have heard and what I have not heard since the onset. My most powerful impression is that the sheer quantity of "information" imparted via the media is mind numbing. That is to say, there is a storm of superficial information most of which may or may not be true, and for the most part it is not possible for the ordinary citizen to know one way or the other. Nor is it possible to assign a scale of significance to that which is reported, even if all of it was true.

Any notion of objectivity, accuracy or completeness is, of course, silly, for we are at war. War causes government and media to cooperate with each other so as to maintain a positive civilian mood. We are denied useful information in various ways. First, battle information is very general so as to make it useless to the enemy, which also means it is essentially useless to us also. It has only the appearance of being candid and thorough. Second, we do not hear much of anything from the opposition about the tragedies occurring daily within their country. Third, it seems like the UN magically disappeared once the war began. Uh, huh Ö I suppose all the other nations of the world have nothing to say.

You certainly canít believe that the UN has been quiet, yet you hear nothing about UN proceedings or possible resolutions. Yes, the simple reason is that your government does not want you reflecting on the pending trouble we will have once the war is over in Iraq. You are to be fed one-sided information and are not to even consider implications of future trouble lest you impede war progress now.

The number 75 billion has been tossed around recently as the cost to wage war for one month. Indeed, the financials are discussed like we were floating a bond issue for some municipal construction project. Good grief! The money is being used primarily for activities that kill, not build. In round numbers, $300 is being spent on the initial war effort for every person in the USA, assuming there are 250 million of us. That price is high for a spectator sport ticket but relatively low for a war. We might consider, however, that the real cost includes all moneys spent previously to have our arsenals, our ships, our airplanes and all the other stuff of military nature.

No one is talking quantitatively yet about the real cost going forward, for even if the war itself costs only $75 billion, the future need for funds to rebuild Iraq and potentially to have to face down more enemies is something as yet intangible. Now let me be clear, for I do believe there are times it is okay to partition efforts into their component costs. In this instance, however, I think the downstream cost implications are enormous, such that our government is ducking the truth. So it is that we cannot even get reasonable financial projection information pertinent to our letting the war genie out of the bottle.

I have been paying attention to many of the negative comments made about the methods used by Iraq to conduct the war. There are complaints that some Iraqi soldiers are dressing as civilians to set up ambushes. There are as yet unfounded charges that special internal government operatives are forcing Iraqi soldiers to fight rather than surrender. Almost daily the weapons of mass destruction search is fatuously stressed when common chemical manufacturing sites are captured. Now, is it my imagination or is it true that all is fair in love and war? Can we actually expect to whine about guerilla tactics and get sympathy when we are vastly outnumbering an opposition that is defending itís homeland? Get real!

Similarly, we scoff at the military capability of Iraq when the press questions our military leaders. We show no respect for the limited occasions of military success by the Iraqis. We announce our own errors without expressed anger towards the people who have committed the errors, like the time the two British helicopters crashed into each other, or the patriot missile firing that shot down a British warplane. Let us remember that there is no such thing as friendly fire. That is an absurd euphemism. Let us also remember that the USA soldier who decided to waste his platoon with hand grenades and rifle shots not only got past the psychologists, he was actually sent into the current conflict after changing his name to one of Islamic nature. Talk about stupidity!

I suppose all of you already expected an increased level of dissembling once the war began. I did too. What I didnít expect was the sheer volume of nonsense, and for that I am an unrealistic optimist. After all, I should have known better given the continuous deluge of media "bombs" when former President Clinton was under attack for his private sex life.

I think about all of the communication training I received as a student on behalf of relevance, focus, clarity, accuracy, conciseness, objectivity, and avoidance of redundancy and sensationalism. If those goals were imposed on all contributors and staff associated with our news agencies, all we would need is a weekly war report of about 1000 words. What we have instead is the combined result of decades devoted to the study of public entertainment, loaded with psychological hooks and executed with fantasy and sensationalism, but served up as "quality" news reporting. And served again, and again and again Ö but I am being redundant!

Letís suppose that General Franks called you and said the following: "We need you to use all the knowledge you have gained in the past week to come over here and help us win this war. Bring what you think is appropriate and go to the area that needs you the most." Pray tell, what would you do? I know you get my point. You would be almost clueless even after seven days of immersion from watching MSNBC® or CNN® or any other public news source. Does that make sense?

Oh, I beg your pardon, I forgot that the war is strictly entertainment. And I forgot that you have no responsibility for anything as important as a USA initiated war. I guess Iíll be a good citizen now and write columns about bird watching, while Federal Daddy takes care of business, for it is clear that I am woefully ignorant.