Saturday, March 29, 2008

The War: Graphic Images Ahead

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. "

-Thomas Jefferson

The Presidency of George W. Bush will be defined by the Iraq War. That much we know. More than any other American action of the new millennium the war in Iraq has defined our time. Yet we don't truly understand it. Lost in the never ending parade of explanations and justifications of why we went in, why we remain, and why there is no cohesive plan for the future, we forget there are governmental mechanics at play. We forget that Americans and Iraqis are losing their lives amidst the fallout of the decision to go to war and the succession of poor managerial decisions made in its prosecution.

PBS and it's news documentary series Frontline have made efforts to educate. Their two part series, Bush's War, is a painstaking effort to explain the run-up to the Iraq War. This is more than simply an exercise in recent history. It gives the viewer an inside look at how the war was prosecuted and why. It shows what can only be taken as President Bush's sincere belief that the war in Iraq was justifiable and winnable, and shows the step by step failure of policy and decision making. This special is important viewing for members of any political stripe, not because it justifies a political point of view. But because it promotes understanding. The characters we all remember, Rumsfeld, Bremer, Tenet and the others are there, but the characters we forget-Generals Sanchez and Casey, Ahmed Chalabi and others are also. We relive the things we saw on the evening news in thirty-second snippets, and get them in full context. From aluminum tubes to shock and awe. These terms and memories are critical to our understanding of future international diplomatic an military decisions. It is important because it breaks down how a nation makes mistakes and what policies we need to examine to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

The major question I ask myself in looking back on the war is where were our checks and balances? Specifically our unspoken but most important check, our news media. In a day and age where we have more media outlets and means of communication that ever, we experienced a media with no dissent. Images like these never made the airwaves here in America. We didn't see the searing video shot daily in Iraq. Images of coffins, dead soliders, dead Iraqis, car bombings, and all other horrendous ramifactions of this conflict are scrubbed. The media had more respect for the public in the time of the vietnam war, when the public watched newsreel, then days or weeks old of combat misssions. Now we can have video in hours and yet we skip it for pictures of Britney Spears.

Please understand that I do not believe all Americans should march in lock-step that this war was wrong or is wrong. I think every American should look at as many facts and points of view as possible and always be formulating an evolving opinion. But difficult truths and hard-to-watch footage don't make for good ratings on cable news. So instead of watching this war unfold as our parents did, or rushing to movie theaters to see newsreels as their parents did. We sit home and watch "reality TV" while we ignore reality's real problems. Many of the images included in this blog post were scrubbed from TV broadcast. Believed inappropriate for television, we watch a war the censors, and the Pentagon would like us to see. Or worse we ignore it altogether, we bask in the glow of celebrity gossip and the latest political name-calling instead of keeping our eye on the ball. It has been more than five years and we still don't fully understand this conflict, all the players involved or what our end game could be.

Let us remember that we are blessed with a free press and we must resist all governmental, societal and indeed corporate pressures on that press. It was that lack of balance, foresight and honesty that allowed the people of the United States to be duped into supporting this war in the first place.

1 comment:

MickieD said...

Saddest of all is that we see more graphic violence and bloodier images shown on prime time network TV shows every night -- and that's OK because it's considered entertainment! I guess in addition to sex, we now have a schizophrenic definition for the word "reality".