After Afghan Massacre, War Gets Victim Status March 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: afghan massacre, Afghanistan, afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, chuck schumer, civilian casualties, Karzai, lindsey graham, Media, robert mcdonnell, roger hollander, war, war reporting
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|Roger’s note: it is tragic, it is surreal; it is Kafkesque; it is an Alice
in Wonderland world; it is the mentality of mass media reporters
and politicians in an imperial nation completely divorced from
reality and from the death and terror it creates.
All in the name of freedom and democracy. Orwellian, yes.
There is one thing, however, that the the media and political
pundits are getting right: their anticipation that the chickens
will come home to roost.
After Afghan Massacre, War Gets Victim Status Media treat killings as PR problem for occupation 3/12/12
“Afghanistan, once the must-fight war for America, is becoming a public relations headache for the nation’s leaders, especially for President Barack Obama,” explained an Associated Press analysis piece (3/12/12). Reuters (3/12/12) called it “the latest American public relations disaster in Afghanistan.”
On the NBC Today show (3/11/12) the question was posed this way: “Could this reignite a new anti-American backlash in the unstable region?” The answer: “This is not going to bode well for the U.S. and NATO here in Afghanistan,” explained reporter Atia Abawi. “Obviously people here very fearful as to what’s going to happen next, what protests will come about throughout different parts of Afghanistan, and how the Taliban are going to use this to their advantage.” “People,” as used here, would not seem to include Afghans, who are presumably less frightened by protests against a massacre of children than they are by the massacre itself.
The front-page headline at USA Today (3/12/12) read, “Killings Threaten Afghan Mission.” The story warned that the allegations “threaten to test U.S. strategy to end the conflict.” In the New York Times (3/12/12), the massacre was seen as “igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility.” The paper went on to portray occupation forces as victims:
The possibility of a violent reaction to the killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. Officials described growing concern over a cascade of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.
The fact that the massacres occurred two days after a NATO helicopter strike killed four civilians was “adding to the sense of concern.”
Another Times piece (3/12/12) began with this:
The outrage from the back-to-back episodes of the Koran burning and the killing on Sunday of at least 16 Afghan civilians imperils what the Obama administration once saw as an orderly plan for 2012.
That sounds as if “outrage” is the most serious problem–the reaction to the actions, not the actions themselves.
Covering the latest atrocity, the Washington Post (3/12/12) reported that “the killings Sunday threatened to spark a new crisis in the strained relationship between the United States and Afghanistan.” A separate piece quoted an anonymous U.S. official complaining that massacres “plays to the absolute worst fears and stereotypes” of the U.S. military, and that “it’s the type of boogeyman [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai has always raised, but we’ve never had an incident like this.”
But there have been similar single incidents, most notably a 2007 attack by Marines that killed 19 civilians. And night raids by NATO forces have killed Afghans throughout the war.
On the Sunday talkshows, Republicans and Democrats spoke about the massacre–often with little to distinguish their points of view. On ABC‘s This Week (3/11/12), Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told viewers that “unfortunately, these things happen in war…. You just have to push through these things.” He added that “the surge of forces has really put the Taliban on the defensive…. We can win this thing. We can get it right.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) remarked:
I think the president has a good plan. Obviously, it’s a very difficult situation because we have real terrorism that emanated from Afghanistan. The president doesn’t get enough credit. He’s done an amazing job with the drones and Al-Qaeda.
On NBC‘s Meet the Press (3/11/12), Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, said the news was “tragic because we have so many brave men and women, David, for now 10-plus years in the global war on terror, have done marvelous work for the cause freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places…. It’s too bad and we’ll have to see the details. But I’m really proud of what our kids are doing there.”
Is it too much to expect that the dominant reaction after a grisly atrocity should involve sympathy for its victims rather than pride in the forces whom the perpetrator belonged to?
The “nobody-could-have-known” excuse and Iraq September 1, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
Tags: glen greenwald, howard dean, Iraq, iraq casualties, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, iraw invasion, john burns, journalism, Media, roger hollander, war reporting, wmds
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(updated below – Update II - Update III [Wed.] – Update IV [Wed.] – Update V [Wed.] – Update VI [Wed.])
The predominant attribute of American elites is a refusal to take responsibility for any failures. The favored tactic for accomplishing this evasion is the “nobody-could-have-known” excuse. Each time something awful occurs — the 9/11 attack, the Iraq War, the financial crisis, the breaking of levees in New Orleans, the general ineptitude and lawlessness of the Bush administration — one is subjected to an endless stream of excuse-making from those responsible, insisting that there was no way they “could have known” what was to happen: ”I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile,” Condoleezza Rice infamously said on May 16, 2002, despite multiple FBI and intelligence documents warning of exactly that. One finds identical excuses for each contemporary American disaster. Robert Gibbs just invoked the same false excuse: that “nobody” knew the depth of the financial and unemployment crisis early last year.
Because the political class is treating today as some sort of melodramatic milestone in the Iraq War, there is a tidal wave of those self-defending claims crashing down around us. The New York Times‘ John Burns — who bravely covered that war for years — presents a classic case of this mentality today in a solemn retrospective entitled “The Long-Awaited Day.” I realize we’re all supposed to genuflect to Burns’ skills as a war journalist — I’ve personally found him far more overtly supportive of the war than most others covering it and certainly more than his claimed objectivity would permit, even when his reporting was illuminating — but if he’s right about what he says today, it’s a rather enormous (albeit unintentional) indictment of himself and his colleagues covering the war:
Hindsight is a powerful thing, and there have been plenty of voices amid the tragedy that has unfolded since the invasion to say, in effect, “I told you so.” But among that band of reporters – men and women who thought we knew something about Iraq, and for the most part sympathized with the joy Iraqis felt at what many were unashamed then to call their “liberation” — there were few, if any, who foresaw the extent of the violence that would follow or the political convulsion it would cause in Iraq, America and elsewhere.
We could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.
If Burns wants to claim that he and his American media colleagues in Baghdad were unaware that any of this was likely, I can’t and won’t dispute that. In fact, it’s probably true that they were unaware of it — blissfully so — which is why media coverage in the lead-up to the war was so inexcusably one-sided in its war cheerleading, as even Howard Kurtz documented. But Burns’ claim that they “could not know then” that the invasion could unleash all of the tragedy, violence and anti-Americanism it spawned is absolutely ludicrous, a patent attempt to justify his severe errors in judgment as being unavoidable.
Aside from the obvious, intrinsic risks of invading a country smack in the middle of the Muslim world, with much of the world vehemently opposed, there were countless people warning of exactly these possibilities from invading. If Burns and his friends were unaware of those risks, it was only because they decided to ignore those voices, not because they could not have known. Here, as but one example, is Jim Webb in 2002, arguing against an attack on Iraq in The Washington Post:
Meanwhile, American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? . . . .
With respect to the situation in Iraq, they are conscious of two realities that seem to have been lost in the narrow debate about Saddam Hussein himself. The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences — ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. . . . .
The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. . . . .
The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.
In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets. . . . It is true that Saddam Hussein might try to assist international terrorist organizations in their desire to attack America. It is also true that if we invade and occupy Iraq without broad-based international support, others in the Muslim world might be encouraged to intensify the same sort of efforts.
And here’s Howard Dean, in one of the more prescient political speeches of the last decade, speaking at Drake University, roughly one month before the war began:
We have been told over and over again what the risks will be if we do not go to war.
We have been told little about what the risks will be if we do go to war.
If we go to war, I certainly hope the Administration’s assumptions are realized, and the conflict is swift, successful and clean. . . .
It is possible, however, that events could go differently, and that the Iraqi Republican Guard will not sit out in the desert where they can be destroyed easily from the air.
It is possible that Iraq will try to force our troops to fight house to house in the middle of cities — on its turf, not ours — where precision-guided missiles are of little use.
It is possible that women and children will be used as shields and our efforts to minimize civilian casualties will be far less successful than we hope.
There are other risks.
Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.
Iran and Turkey each have interests in Iraq they will be tempted to protect with or without our approval.
If the war lasts more than a few weeks, the danger of humanitarian disaster is high, because many Iraqis depend on their government for food, and during war it would be difficult for us to get all the necessary aid to the Iraqi people.
There is a risk of environmental disaster, caused by damage to Iraq’s oil fields.
And, perhaps most importantly, there is a very real danger that war in Iraq will fuel the fires of international terror.
Anti-American feelings will surely be inflamed among the misguided who choose to see an assault on Iraq as an attack on Islam, or as a means of controlling Iraqi oil.
And last week’s tape by Osama bin Laden tells us that our enemies will seek relentlessly to transform a war into a tool for inspiring and recruiting more terrorists.
We should remember how our military presence in Saudi Arabia has been exploited by radicals to stir resentment and hatred against the United States, leading to the murder of American citizens and soldiers.
We need to consider what the effect will be of a U.S. invasion and occupation of Baghdad, a city that served for centuries as a capital of the Islamic world.
I could literally spend the rest of the day quoting those who were issuing similar or even more strident warnings. Anyone who claims they didn’t realize that an attack on Iraq could spawn mammoth civilian casualties, pervasive displacement, endless occupation and intense anti-American hatred is indicting themselves more powerfully than it’s possible for anyone else to do. And anyone who claims, as Burns did, that they “could not know then” that these things might very well happen is simply not telling the truth. They could have known. And should have known. They chose not to.
UPDATE: Perhaps even worse than the strain of “nobody-could-have-known” excuse-making invoked by Burns is the claim that “nobody could have known” that Iraq did not really have WMDs. Contrary to the pervasive self-justifying myth that “everyone” believed that Saddam possessed these weapons — and thus nobody can be blamed for failing to realize the truth — the evidence to the contrary was both public and overwhelming. Consider the March 17, 2003, Der Spiegel Editorial warning that “for months now, Bush and Blair have been busy blowing up, exaggerating and deliberately over-interpreting intelligence information and rumours to justify war on Iraq,” or a September 30, 2002 McClatchy article — headlined: “War talk fogged by lingering questions; Threat Hussein poses is unclear to experts” — which detailed the reasons for serious skepticism about the pro-war case.
Or simply recall the various pre-war statements by the ex-Marine and U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq, Scott Ritter (“The truth of the matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction, either in terms of having retained prohibited capability from the past, or by seeking to re-acquire such capability today”), or Howard Dean in his Drake speech (“Secretary Powell’s recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness“). All of that, too, was brushed aside by government officials and suppressed and even mocked by most of the American media, all of whom were determined to allow nothing to impede the march to war. Rather than take responsibility for their failings, they instead insist — as Burns did today — that they could not have known.
UPDATE II: Every retrospective from supporters of the attack on Iraq, if they’re to be honest and worthwhile, should read more or less like John Cole’s, from 2008.
UPDATE III: After Obama’s Iraq speech last night, I was on CBC – Canada’s broadcasting network — discussing that speech. It can be seen here. As you can see, Skype video technology is improving rapidly and enabling acceptance of more TV offers.
UPDATE IV: For sheer factual inaccuracy in John Burns’ observations, see here.
UPDATE V: Speaking of accountability for those responsible for the Iraq War, Simon Owens has a very good article on the criticisms provoked by Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article in The Atlantic — featuring my criticisms of him — and what that dynamic reflects about the new media landscape.
America’s Imperial Wars: We Need to See the Horrors April 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Vietnam, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, anti-war, civilian casualties, david lindorff, gaza, Iraq war, marc herold, naplam, phosphorus, us history, us imperial war, Vietnam War, war atrocities, war casualties, war history, war journalism, war media, war reporting
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Published on Saturday, April 11, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
When I was a 17-year-old kid in my senior year of high school, I didn’t think much about Vietnam. It was 1967, the war was raging, but I didn’t personally know anyone who was over there, Tet hadn’t happened yet. If anything, the excitement of jungle warfare attracted my interest more than anything (I had a .22 cal rifle, and liked to go off in the woods and shoot at things, often, I’ll admit, imagining it was an armed enemy.)
But then I had to do a major project in my humanities program and I chose the Vietnam War. As I started researching this paper, which was supposed to be a multi-media presentation, I ran across a series of photos of civilian victims of American napalm bombing. These victims, often, were women and children-even babies.
The project opened my eyes to something that had never occurred to me: my country’s army was killing civilians. And it wasn’t just killing them. It was killing them, and maiming them, in ways that were almost unimaginable in their horror: napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel bombs that threw out spinning flechettes that ripped through the flesh like tiny buzz saws. I learned that scientists like what I at the time wanted to become were actually working on projects to make these weapons even more lethal, for example trying to make napalm more sticky so it would burn longer on exposed flesh.
By the time I had finished my project, I had actively joined the anti-war movement, and later that year, when I turned 18 and had to register for the draft, I made the decision that no way was I going to allow myself to participate in that war.
A key reason my-and millions of other Americans’–eyes were opened to what the US was up to in Indochina was that the media at that time, at least by 1967, had begun to show Americans the reality of that war. I didn’t have to look too hard to find the photos of napalm victims, or to read about the true nature of the weapons that our forces were using.
Today, while the internet makes it possible to find similar information about the conflicts in the world in which the US is participating, either as primary combatant or as the chief provider of arms, as in Gaza, one actually has to make a concerted effort to look for them. The corporate media which provide the information that most Americans simply receive passively on the evening news or at breakfast over coffee carefully avoid showing us most of the graphic horror inflicted by our military machine.
We may read the cold fact that the US military, after initial denials, admits that its forces killed not four enemy combatants in an assault on a house in Afghanistan, but rather five civilians-including a man, a female teacher, a 10-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and a tiny baby. But we don’t see pictures of their shattered bodies, no doubt shredded by the high-powered automatic rifles typically used by American forces.
We may read about wedding parties that are bombed by American forces-something that has happened with some frequency in both Iraq and Afghanistan– where the death toll is tallied in dozens, but we are, as a rule, not provided with photos that would likely show bodies torn apart by anti-personnel bombs-a favored weapon for such attacks on groups of supposed enemy “fighters.” (A giveaway that such weapons are being used is a typically high death count with only a few wounded.)
Obviously one reason for this is that the US military no longer gives US journalists, including photo journalists, free reign on the battlefield. Those who travel with troops are under the control of those troops and generally aren’t allowed to photograph the scenes of devastation, and sites of such “mishaps” are generally ruled off limits until the evidence has been cleared away.
But another reason is that the media themselves sanitize their pages and their broadcasts. It isn’t just American dead that we don’t get to see. It’s the civilian dead-at least if our guys do it. We are not spared gruesome images following attacks on civilians by Iraqi insurgent groups, or by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. But we don’t get the same kind of photos when it’s our forces doing the slaughtering. Because often the photos and video images do exist-taken by foreign reporters who take the risk of going where the US military doesn’t want them.
No wonder that even today, most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of sympathy with the long-suffering peoples of those two lands, but because of the hardships faced by our own forces, and the financial cost of the two wars.
For some real information on the horror that is being perpetrated on one of the poorest countries in the world by the greatest military power the world has ever known, check out the excellent work by Professor Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire (http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm and http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2008/10/06/the-imprecision-ofus-bombing-and-the-under-valuation-of-an-afghan-life.html).
War Reporters Used to Prefer Morality Over Impartiality February 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, War.
Tags: archibald forbes, battle of britain, bbc, bull run, edward murrow, fall of paris, holocuast, london blitz, Media, nuremberg trials, paris 1940, Paris Commune, quentin reynolds, rebecca west, richard harding davis, robert fisk, roger hollander, war reporters, war reporting, world war II, wwi
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Feb 7, 2009
By Robert Fisk
Editor’s note: This article was originally printed on Saturday in The Independent.
The “normality” of war, part two. We had a great storm in Beirut this week, thunder-cracks like gunfire, great green waves crashing below my balcony, rain like hail. So I curled up on my balcony sofa – coat and red scarf and thick socks – and opened a book sent by a kindly Independent reader, a much bent copy of Snyder and Morris’s 1949 A Treasury of Great Reporting. And I began to wonder – in an age when the
BBC can refuse help to the suffering because of its “impartiality” – whether we still report war with the same power and passion as the men and women of an earlier generation.
“ ‘Turn back! Retreat!’ shouted the men from the front, ‘we’re whipped, we’re whipped!’ They cursed and tugged at their horses’ heads and struggled with frenzy to get past.” This is William Howard Russell covering the Union rout at Bull Run for The Times. “Soon I met soldiers who were coming through the corn, mostly without arms… The ambulances were crowded with soldiers, but it did not look as if there were many wounded… Men literally screamed with rage or fright when their way was blocked… At every shot a convulsion, as it were, seized upon the morbid mass of bones, sinew, wood, and iron, and thrilled through it, giving new energy and action to its desperate efforts to get free from itself… In silence I passed over the long bridge.”
And here is Archibald Forbes reporting the collapse of the Paris Commune in 1871 for the London Daily News. “The Parisians of civil life are caitiffs to the last drop of their thin, sour, white blood. But yesterday they had cried ‘Vive la Commune!’… Today they rubbed their hands with livid currish joy to have it in their power to denounce a Communard and reveal his hiding place. Very eager at this work are the dear creatures of women… They have found him, the misérable!… a tall, pale, hatless man with something not ignoble in his carriage. His lower lip is trembling, but his brow is firm, and the eye of him has some pride and defiance in it. They yell – the crowd – ‘Shoot him; shoot him!’… men club their rifles and bring them down on that head. They are firing on the flaccid carcass now, thronging about it like blowflies…”
The first German war crime of the 1914-18 war – the sack of the Belgian city of Louvain – was covered by Richard Harding Davis of the New York Tribune, forced by the Germans to stay aboard his military train as it circled the burning city. “When by troop train we reached Louvain, the entire heart of the city was destroyed and fire had reached the Boulevard Tirlemont, which faces the railroad station. The night was windless, and the sparks rose in steady, leisurely pillars, falling back into the furnace from which they sprang… Outside the station in the public square the people of Louvain passed in an unending procession, women bare-headed, weeping men carrying the children asleep on their shoulders… Once they were halted, and among them were marched a line of men. They well knew their fellow townsmen. These were on their way to be shot.”
Now a slightly selfish Quentin Reynolds at the fall of Paris in 1940: “I had stayed behind to write the story of the siege of Paris… Now it developed that there would be no siege of Paris. The Grand Boulevard was almost deserted this morning. One middle-aged woman was sitting at a table at a sidewalk café, one of the very few where one could still get coffee and bread. She had driven into the city that morning in her small one-seated (sic) car. She wanted to sell her car. I bought it on the spot. Now I was mobile.”
And Ed Murrow for CBS in the London Blitz: “Millions of people ask only, ‘What can we do to help? Why must there be 800,000 unemployed when we need these shelters?… What are the war aims of this country? What shall we do with victory when it’s won? What sort of Europe will be built when and if this stress has passed?’ These questions are being asked by thoughtful people in this country. Mark it down that in the three weeks of the air Blitz against this country, more books and pamphlets have been published on these subjects than in any similar period of the war… Mark it down that these people are both brave and patient, that all are equal under the bomb… You are witnessing the beginning of a revolution, maybe the death of an age.”
Finally, the sharp tongue of Rebecca West for The New Yorker at the Nuremberg trials. “Though one has read surprising news of Göring for years, he still surprises. He is, above all things, soft. He wears either a German air-force uniform or a light beach-suit in the worst of playful taste, and both hang loosely on him, giving him an air of pregnancy. He has thick brown young hair, the coarse, bright skin of an actor who has used grease paint for decades, and the preternaturally deep wrinkles of the drug addict; it adds up to something like the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. His appearance makes a pointed but obscure reference to sex… it appears in the Palace of Justice that it is only the Americans and the British who can hold up a mirror to Germany and help her to solve her own perplexing mystery – that mystery which, in Nuremberg and the countryside around it, is set out in flowers, flowers which concert by being not only lovely but beloved… ‘The people where I live now send me in my breakfast tray strewn with pansies,’ says the French doctor who is custodian of the relics at the Palace of Justice (the lampshade made of human skin, the shrunken head of the Polish Jew).”
It’s not just the power of the writing I’m talking about here; the screaming soldiers, the dying Communard, the condemned men, the woman wanting to sell her car, the death of an age, the flowers. These reporters were spurred, weren’t they, by the immorality of war. They cared. They were not frightened of damaging their “impartiality”. I wonder if we still write like this.