As we enter the second week of the war against Iraq — variously being perceived as the war for oil, the war against Muslims, the war of American imperialism, the war of liberation, the war against wmd, and the war for democracy — I figure it’s a good time to talk about perception and reality. The following probably won’t be humorous, and may not even be particularly informative, but since I believe what we’re really fighting is a conflict of world views, I feel compelled to add mine.
What is Real?
Like you, I’ve been watching the war on TV from the comfortable vantage point of my pillow fort. I’ve also been watching the picture-in-picture talking heads and the press conferences.
To me, there’s almost no synchrony between the two. It’s as if what I see and hear from the journalists and videographers is completely different from what I am told at the press conferences. Sometimes I wonder if they are even talking about the same events.
We have an amazing amount of access to what’s *really* going on in the war: there are embedded journalists all over the place. Each journalist has a small piece of an increasingly complicated mosaic of events; one reporter will have seen the exemplary Muslim student Hasan throw the grenade into his officer’s tent, while another will realize one of his comrades is missing in action. Reporters have seen civilian casualties, friendly fire, unexpected Iraqi convoys attacking US Marines and ferocious weather.
Brian Williams, the blow-dried Ermangildo Zegna-clad anchor of CNBC’s evening news went up on a routine aviation mission and ended up spending two days trapped in a desert sandstorm, his Chinook helicopter and three others protected by a platoon of Marines themselves trapped for 86 hours in the back of Bradleys.
Hampton Sides of the New Yorker opted not to become embedded after a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical training session in Kuwait described to him in graphic detail what happens when you inhale mustard gas and it eats your esophagus. He traded in his gas mask an hour before he was supposed to accompany a military unit. (www.newyorker.com) I’m proud of him, because he wussed out and wrote about it.
Yet from all that we “see,” what do we really know? Next to nothing. Clearly, the Bush Administration has a point of view on why we went to war, how the war is going, and what the outcome will be. The embedded journalists have another, and the pundits still another. The families of the troops have one, too, and because I am fortunate enough to have friends in India, Pakistan, London, Switzerland and South Africa, I regularly receive both formal and informal writings about the war from outside the United States propaganda bubble.
A certain number of “facts” are apparent, but they have to do with sandstorms, troop movements, unforseen attacks by paramilitary Iraqi loyalists and unexpected events. The war is clearly more difficult than it was made out to be beforehand, and we are seen by many Iraqis as imperialist invaders rather than as humanitarian liberators. The mideast editor of Newsweek pointed this out last night on the NBC news.
Has the Defense Department made a big mistake letting Americans in on how little they actually know about Iraq, how shamefully inadequate the intelligence has been about Saddam Hussein’s grip on the country?
Perhaps someone in the military is thinking that. Twenty-five years of PR experience have taught me to try to prevent the unexpected, to coach my clients, and to ask no questions without known answers.
Yet for Americans, this full-on access to even the most horrendous information is a gift, and it has already been given to us, never to be returned; it allows us to form our own opinions, despite what we are being “fed” by “authoritative sources who speak on condition of anonymity.”
In the end, this access to information and the ability to make up our own minds and act on our opinions is the true joy of being an American. If there is any reason for this war, that’s it: we’re preserving our right to our own opinion.
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