Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Spite Our Faces

Time magazine’s new cover girl certainly spawned a piranha swarm of controversy.  Lamentably, the outrage Time‘s Aug. 9 issue inspired has served to further mask the extent to which Obama-era war propaganda has eclipsed even the Orwellian efforts of the Bush/Cheney regime, and how that propaganda has buried the uncomfortable truth about our global military crusades.   
Certainly, the image and the story that accompanied it were as atrocious in a fundamental sense as the circumstances that led to the subject’s mutilation.  Equally awful was managing editor Richard Stengel’s jack-asinine excuse for the content of the issue. "I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us," Stengel wrote.  
If Stengel wanted to show us what is really happening, why didn’t he run images of Taliban leaders receiving bribe money that came from the United States.  Why not show pictures of President Hamid Karzai’s political machine stealing the most recent election?  Why not show the heroin crop our military has been ordered not to destroy?  Let’s see the innocent women and children that we have maimed and killed in the course of pursuing a war that weakens to our nation’s security and is counter to our best interests.   
Let’s see the American G.I.s whose faces have been mutilated in the pursuit of waging that woebegone war.  Pismire Stengel argues it was okay for American kids to see the mutilated Afghan girl on the cover of Time because "children are so used to seeing violence in the media."  But the kind of violence children see in our media is mostly the cartoonish variety they see in video games and vapid action films and other popular American entertainments.  Our access-poisoned media seldom show us real violence, the kind our soldiers see and smell and feel and hear on a daily basis.  Any video we see of fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq is so sanitized it looks no more gory than footage from the 1960s ABC television series Combat!
That’s not to say the caricatured violence in our media amusements doesn’t reflect a "civilization" that is every bit as barbarian as the Islamic cultures that counterfeit moral authorities like Pat Robertson glibly condemn. 
Yes, Virginia, women get mutilated in America too, and battered and raped and murdered and so on.  So do children, and gay people, and members of ethnic minorities, and heck, heterosexual white males, for that matter.  Much of this violence comes at the hands of spouses and relatives, as happened with the Time cover girl.  Other violent episodes in America are the doing of armed gangs and militias, as is the case in Afghanistan and other parts of the heathen world we have invaded.  A considerable portion of organized violence in America is carried out by fanatic religious groups, as also occurs in places like Afghanistan, although the violent religious fanatics in America tend to be Christian, something I’m sure the Stengels of this world find far more palatable than the kind of violence performed by people who aren’t as right with the Baby Jesus as Pat Robertson would like them to be.     
America’s double standard vis-à-vis violence isn’t its only prominent hypocrisy.  Irony, the bulwark of human sanity that suffered an untimely demise during the Bush/Cheney regimen, would take enormous satisfaction in objections made by the Pentagon’s sub-ministry of truth to the Taliban’s use of propaganda.  "King David" Petraeus, newly installed commander in Afghanistan and no stranger to the use of deception, has directed his propaganda team to "fight the information war aggressively."  Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a career bull feather merchant (aka public affairs officer) and Petraeus’ top dog of information warfare, says, "This isn’t about positive or negative messaging. This is really about reality."
Here’s a taste of what reality means to Greg.  Whenever a bunch of Afghan civilians get killed we say we’re changing the rules of engagement to emphasize "the logic at the heart of the COIN doctrine."  When Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar circulates a new "code of conduct" aimed at reducing the number of non-combatant casualties, it’s a "PR stunt."   
The only "logic" at the heart of the COIN doctrine, by the way, is that you can never win, but you can never lose as long as you stay, so you can never leave.  The logic at the heart of U.S. propaganda in its theaters of war is that none of the locals will buy American malarkey because they can see with their own eyes how full of bilge the likes of Rear Adm. Greg Smith are.  We’re the ones who are occupying their country, not the Taliban.  Regardless of whether we are causing more combat deaths among non-combatants, we are causing a handsome share of them, and darn near zero combat deaths of any kind would occur if we weren’t there for the Taliban to do combat with. That there’s any question at all in the hearts and minds of Afghans as to whether we’re better or worse than the Taliban means Afghan hearts and minds are closed to us forever. 
And of course there is no logic to the notion that we have to stay in Afghanistan or women will get their noses cut off when they’re getting their noses cut off while we’re still there.  But therein lies the beauty of Obama-era neo-Orwellian war propaganda.  It doesn’t have to make sense, because it isn’t aimed at Afghans or Pakistanis or Iraqis or anyone in touch with ground zero truth. American war propaganda is aimed at the citizens of the United States, whose minds have been so thoroughly bleached that they’ll believe darn near anything they’re told.    
In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother inquisitor O’Brien demanded that Winston Smith tell him he was holding up three fingers even though he was only holding up two.  In Obama’s 2010, the likes of Greg Smith feed us pile upon pile of undiluted horse manure, tell us it’s chocolate ice cream and expect us say "Yum!"  
So it is that so many Americans still believe that our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have something to do with 9/11, or that we’re accomplishing some sort of good in the world by blowing it and its inhabitants to smithereens.
The ubiquitous pro-war message that pervades every nook and cranny of our information environment manages to mask a measurable, irrefutable truth that would otherwise be as plain as you know what: The most destructive and morally insolvent society on earth is not the Axis of Evil or the evil doers or even the remnants of the Evil Empire.  It is the nation that once had hopes of becoming a "kinder, gentler nation" and that "shining city on the hill."
Originally posted at Antiwar.com.


  1. Much has been said in the last few years about the state of the economy in the United States, yet as the above piece aptly demonstrates, business is booming. The USA was, at one time, the leader in industrial production. Now, it is the leader in not only industrial destruction, but cultural, psychological and societal destruction as well. Destruction is our most important product. Everywhere we go, we leave a path of almost total (we're diligently working on more efficient methods as I write this) destruction and its accompanying misery in our wake. A reality like this soon comes home to roost - for good.

  2. When I saw that cover, the very first thought that popped into my head was, “What did they promise her to get her to expose her personal tragedy to 300 million overfed Americans? Did they tell her it would 'help' in some way, perhaps sparing other women the same fate?” A second, equally awful thought occurred to me a moment later. Despite her mutilation, she is obviously a beautiful young woman. How many victims of Taliban violence did they “interview” before they found their “cover girl?” You wouldn't want just any Plain Jane making the case for war in Afghanistan, after all (or so I infer the thought processes of the media vultures).

    Maybe the answers to those questions are in the article, but I haven't read the glossy rags in over a decade, and I'm not about to start. Hopefully, there is a Circle of Hell reserved for Stengel and his ilk.

  3. Yes, JP, I believe Stengel has a room waiting for him in the new Cheney Wing of the Hell Hilton.

  4. Well said kind sir.

  5. Are you writing another book? Please do it. I love reading what you write.

  6. I second that! And please, let it be about the Bush years. They certainly have it coming. That Cheney Wing will be crowded, that's for sure...

  7. The Iran stuff is getting really crazy:

    Aug. 21 Deadline for Israeli Attack

    I wonder why Bolton thinks dispersal of radiation from a bombed reactor would be a deterrent to an Israeli assault? If they're crazy enough to do it at all then it's hard to see why they'd care. And if the thought of an irradiated landscape keeps Bolton up at night, then he's obviously never heard of depleted uranium.

    Reading about war with Iran is getting to be deja vu over and over (and over). I hope that they don't forget that it's all supposed to be smoke and mirrors, and start a war by mistake.

  8. The book--Sandbox Generals, is in progress and, uh, progressing nicely. Thanks for asking.


    I'm not sure if anything is smoke and mirrors with the neocons when it comes to war. They're as reckless a crew as I've seen in my lifetime.

  9. Looks like MickeyC didn't ride the gravy train after all:

    Stanley McChrystal to Yale

    Since there can't be a benign explanation, you've got to wonder if he's trying to rehabilitate his image for a possible run at the White House. Yale would certainly be a good place to meet the right people, if he hasn't already.

  10. "...he will undoubtedly have a future on the speaker’s circuit."

    Always look for the subterranean agenda!

  11. Oh, yeah, I forgot. One hundred grand a pop. That's what Sarah Palin pulls down for a speaking engagement, and The General ought to do at least that well. Unlike Sarah, his speaking voice isn't reminiscent of a banshee in heat.