Bush began trying to justify the occupation of Iraq by invoking
the "lessons" of Vietnam, I had the urge to send him a copy of
the new documentary "War
Made Easy" featuring Norman Solomon. That's hardly surprising
- no doubt we've all had the occasional desire to try to educate
Then as I
read and listened to the responses from mainstream pundits - most
of whom missed the real insights to be gained by analyzing the
U.S. invasion of South-East Asia and the relevance of that history
to our invasion and occupation of Iraq - I realized a whole lot
of allegedly smart people need to see the film.
But the real
mark of the film's value is that everyone - even those of us who
think of ourselves as well-informed with a critical framework
- can learn much from Solomon's analysis in the film and his book
by the same name. At a time when it's more crucial than ever to
understand the post-World War II era in which the United States
became a permanent warfare state, Solomon's film and book hone
in on one of the key features of that project: The propaganda
aimed at us in the United States is as important to that military-industrial
project as the guns trained on people in the Third World.
of that propaganda is to get people to believe a claim that is
contradicted by all of history and contemporary experience - that
the objective of the United States in its military interventions
around the world has been not to expand and deepen economic domination
(which has been the goal of all other empires) but to bring peace,
freedom, and democracy to the world. U.S. officials are not the
first in world history to assert such noble motives for such inhuman
policies (just ask the Brits), but never has that claim been made
so relentlessly, with so much help from allegedly independent
goal of that propaganda is to get people to believe a
claim that is contradicted by all of history and contemporary
experience - that the objective of the United States in
its military interventions around the world has been not
to expand and deepen economic domination (which has been
the goal of all other empires) but to bring peace, freedom,
and democracy to the world.
becomes perpetual when it's used as a rationale for peace," Solomon
says in the film, and then goes on to provide ample evidence of
how the justification for perpetual war has been manufactured,
packaged, and sold. If it weren't such serious business, the producers'
collection of sound bites from presidents - Democrats and Republicans
alike, all mouthing some version of "We seek peace" - would be
comical. From Korea through every conflict up to Iraq, the rhetoric
is remarkably similar, as are the real aims and the deadly consequences
of the policy.
target is not just the politicians, however, but the journalists
who become the vehicle for selling that story. His work reminds
us that even when journalists seem to be reporting critically
about failed war policies, they almost always implicitly endorse
U.S. officials' underlying claim about the desire for peace and
film covers all the conflicts in the post-WWII period, it is the
Vietnam/Iraq parallels that are most chilling. One of the most
crucial to remember - in defiance of the distorted revisionist
history that suggests the U.S. public lost its will to support
the Vietnam War because of relentlessly critical news coverage
- is that journalists were largely supportive of the war in the
early years. Not until the failures on the battlefield were too
obvious to ignore did the media coverage abandon the administrations'
of this film have used archival footage brilliantly, and one of
the most illustrative clips is of Walter Cronkite in 1965 climbing
into a B-57 to go along on a bombing run. In the breathless fashion
typical of so much war reporting, Cronkite extols the virtue of
the airplane and the thrill of the mission. Viewers see him get
off the plane and say to the officer he's about to interview,
"Well, colonel, it's a great way to go to war."
Tet Offensive in 1968 Cronkite would declare the war "mired in
stalemate," and so he's remembered as a critic of the war. But
like most of the press corps he first was enthusiastic about U.S.
power, and even in that famous 1968 broadcast he didn't challenge
the basic propaganda story about the so-called Communist threat.
reminds us that for all the talk about precision weapons,
the percentage of deaths that are civilians has climbed
steadily from 10 per cent in World War I to almost 90
per cent in Iraq. One
of the film's most poignant scenes comes when images of
those victims are shown over the voice of former Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld waxing eloquent about the unprecedented
humanitarianism of this "precision" bombing.
segment also reminds us that journalists have long expressed a
giddy, almost childlike, fascination with the increasingly high-tech
weapons with which these wars have been fought. Journalists, it
seems, are always suckers for machines that go fast and blow things
up. Solomon suggests that there's "a kind of idolatry there. Some
might see it as a worship of the gods of metal." This technology
fetish reached unimaginably sick levels in the 2003 invasion of
Iraq, when the news media flooded us with high-tech graphics and
retired military officers offering commentary.
us that for all the talk about precision weapons, the percentage
of deaths that are civilians has climbed steadily from 10 per
cent in World War I to almost 90 per cent in Iraq. He describes
how "an acculturated callousness" to the effects of massive bombardment
has built up in our society, facilitated to a large extent by
journalists who are more likely to focus on how a weapon works
than what it does to victims. One of the film's most poignant
scenes comes when images of those victims are shown over the voice
of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld waxing eloquent
about the unprecedented humanitarianism of this "precision" bombing.
to Vietnam and Bush's bizarre analogy, in which he suggested that
the United States' mistake was not invading another country to
block a popular leftist government that had been on the verge
of winning a fair election. No, it turns out that our mistake
was leaving an immoral and unwinnable war too soon.
When I asked
Solomon last week for his reaction to Bush's comparison, he pointed
out that Bush was invoking a familiar "stab-in-the-back theme"
to assert that a lack of resolve at home undermined the military
effort, to bolster the idea that with continued support, "this
time the USA can, and must, see the war through to its appropriately
triumphant conclusion." But the possibility of such a victory
in Iraq is about as likely as it was in Vietnam, in large part
because each war was morally bankrupt from the start.
It was the
same game during the Vietnam War, Solomon said, pointing to news
footage from "War Made Easy" of a network TV announcer saying,
"Appealing for public support for his peace policy, Mr. Nixon
said, 'The enemy cannot defeat or humiliate the United States.
Only Americans,' he said, 'can do that'."
have not really been defeated and humiliated by either the enemy
or ourselves, but by leaders who have created this warfare state
and journalists who have helped sell it to the public. "War Made
Easy" is a useful tool for progressive educators and activists
who want to redefine peace and end a state of perpetual war.
Easy" was produced and distributed by the Media Education Foundation.
For their entire catalog, go to: http://mediaed.org/.
is available for home viewing and for use as an organizing tool.
For details on ordering, go to:
is also playing in select independent theaters. For information
on locations, go to:
is also the author of the recently released book, Made Love Got
War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State. For more information
on that book, go to:
information on Solomon and his syndicated column, go to:
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas
at Austin and a member of the board of the Third
Coast Activist Resource Center. His
latest book is Getting
Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press,
2007). He is the author of The
Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege , Citizens
of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity and Writing
Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream
(Peter Lang). He can be reached at
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