Friday, October 05, 2007


Peter Schramm points to a piece by Robert Kaplan about how our modern-day soldiers "want our respect, not pity" and highlights this bit:
As one battalion commander complained to me, in words repeated by other soldiers and marines: ’Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I’m a warrior. It’s my job to fight.’ Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency--for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.
Kaplan led into this by explaining that our modern media coverage of the war "too often descends into therapy for those who are not fighting, rather than matter-of-fact stories related by those who are." Later, he offers a heroic example and portrays how media coverage has changed:
The first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror was awarded posthumously to Army Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith of Tampa, Fla., who was killed under withering gunfire protecting his wounded comrades outside Baghdad airport in April 2003.

According to LexisNexis, by June 2005, two months after his posthumous award, his stirring story had drawn only 90 media mentions, compared with 4,677 for the supposed Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and 5,159 for the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England. While the exposure of wrongdoing by American troops is of the highest importance, it can become a tyranny of its own when taken to an extreme.

Media frenzies are ignited when American troops are either the perpetrators of acts resulting in victimhood, or are victims themselves. Meanwhile, individual soldiers daily performing complicated and heroic deeds barely fit within the strictures of news stories as they are presently defined. This is why the sporadic network and cable news features on heroic soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan comes across as so hokey. After all, the last time such reports were considered "news" was during World War II and the Korean War.

In particular, there is Fox News's occasional series on war heroes, whose apparent strangeness is a manifestation of the distance the media has traveled away from the nation-state in the intervening decades. Fox's war coverage is less right-wing than it is simply old-fashioned, antediluvian almost. Fox's commercial success may be less a factor of its ideological base than of something more primal: a yearning among a large segment of the public for a real national media once again--as opposed to an international one. Nationalism means patriotism, and patriotism requires heroes, not victims.

In a post elsewhere, in which I discussed Ken Burn's "The War", I discussed how changes in the media had changed how we perceived war.
Yet the most striking thing [Katherine Phillips] said was that she didn't know how bad Guadalcanal was until after Sidney [her brother] came home. No one on the homefront did. The 5,000+ casualties weren't reported. The brutal fighting wasn't shown on Movietone.

In contrast, Katherine Phillips also talked about how the American public had been prepped for war against Nazi Germany for a few years prior to Pearl Harbor. The American public was shown some of the Nazi and Japanese atrocities on Movietone and they became convinced it was a moral imperative to act. When the time came, they were ready to go.

They also didn't equate Nazi or Japanese propaganda with U.S. war reporting. Looking back, there can be no doubt that the U.S. glossed over things. But even then, even if the American people had known more, I doubt that they would have considered the press releases of the enemy as just "another point of view." It points to how much faster and accurate our wartime information has become since then and that difference helps to explain, at least partially, why WWII is considered "The Good War" and why subsequent conflicts aren't.

But Kaplan's point about lost nationalism gets much closer to the difference between then and now. As we've internationalize and become more relativistic--sorry, we are--it is more difficult to choose sides, even if on one side is your own country. As Kaplan concludes:
[W]hile the U.S. still has a national military, it no longer has a national media to quite the same extent. The media is increasingly representative of an international society, whose loyalty to a particular territory is more and more diluted. That international society has ideas to defend--ideas of universal justice--but little actual ground. And without ground to defend, it has little need of heroes. Thus, future news cycles will also be dominated by victims.

The media is but one example of the slow crumbling of the nation-state at the upper layers of the social crust--a process that because it is so gradual, is also deniable by those in the midst of it. It will take another event on the order of 9/11 or greater to change the direction we are headed. Contrary to popular belief, the events of 9/11--which are perceived as an isolated incident--did not fundamentally change our nation. They merely interrupted an ongoing trend toward the decay of nationalism and the devaluation of heroism.

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