Television Is the Real Weapon of Mass Destruction

News that the first C-130 Hercules had landed at newly-secured Saddam International Airport outside Baghdad, and that U.S. Marines have been told they can dispense with the charade of lugging their chemical protection suits around in the desert, could only mean one thing: the window for a credible discovery of weapons of mass destruction was rapidly closing. Had Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz slammed the window shut on their own fingers?

Discovery of WMDs in a country controlled by Saddam Hussein would be one thing. Discovery of WMDs in a country controlled by “coalition” forces would be quite another. Could anyone ever be convinced the evidence hadn’t been delivered by the people who were looking for it?

First try convincing international observers that a country that didn’t use WMDs to defend its own capital city was a threat to use them on another continent. Exactly how did a regime unable to mount a credible military defense of its own headquarters pose a present danger to Washington, Los Angeles or Dollywood?

WMDs were never really an issue until Colin Powell needed to throw together something to talk about when he took his case to the United Nations. The U.S. has been trying to supply supporting evidence ever since the day of Powell’s unsuccessful presentation. Since the Security Council didn’t buy it and since the U.S. and its coalition partners (Great Britain, Rwanda, etc.) ignored most of the planet and launched their attack anyway, the question arises as to why the U.S. even bothers to go on looking for “smoking guns.”

A decent respect for the opinions of humankind can’t be the answer, or the U.S. wouldn’t have ignored the will of the U.N., the pleas of the pope and the advice of its oldest allies. Even among the Coalition of the Willing, only in Romania did pre-war polls show those in favor of using military force against Saddam Hussein outnumbering those opposed — ironically, because Romanians deposed their own iron-fisted dictator (Nicolae Ceausescu) all by themselves, without U.S. military assistance.

Could the search be motivated by something so banal as the desire to say “you were wrong and we were right” to the UN? Why would Bush care? He has already declared the UN “irrelevant.”

No, the target audience being lined up in the cross-hair of the quest for a “smoking gun” is the American (and British) electorate. If Tommy Franks and company could produce even one or two rusting barrels of “weaponizable” chemicals, as long as they didn’t turn out to be nothing more than farm pesticides or mosquito repellants, then Bush and Blair could run as the men who saved civilization, whether they find Saddam or not.

Even if no “smoking gun” is ever found, it’s to Bush’s advantage if the mainstream media keeps concentrating on it. Every moment of airtime spent discussing WMDs is a moment less that can be devoted to stories like the one about the Red Cross announcing that casualties (including civilian casualties) in Baghdad are “too high to count” and that the wounded are reduced to trying to get themselves to hospitals on foot.

Who’s more out of touch with reality? Saddam’s spokesman, claiming that Americans aren’t even in Baghdad? This, remember, was a regime capable of putting Saddam Hussein on TV almost daily, even with American tanks cruising the streets of Baghdad. Or American television, with its depiction of a nearly bloodless war, with all the action occurring offstage, as in Greek tragedy? Aaron Brown told Democracy Now the other day that he won’t show pictures of casualties because he finds them “pornographic.”

Thus has television itself become the real smoking gun, an auxiliary weapon of mass destruction, helping to kill people by refusing to show what is happening to them.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch.

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.