Reality TV Bites

For the first time since dead soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the graphic realities of war have been broadcast into every American home. After a two decade hiatus from direct military involvement, Bush I with Cheney running Defense devised the current toolkit for managing media access to combat operations through pool reporters to avoid the embarassment of public disclosure.

This worked well during the 1991 Gulf War with the public numbed by the telejournalistic equivalent of a fuzzy video game mitigated through fuzzy logic running commentary on CNN, and was poised for success until “victory” was declared by a stage managed crotch-enhanced carrier-borne Bush II and “offensive” combat ceased in 2003.

Combat footage from Vietnam arrived weeks delayed, shot by photographers integrated with platoons on reels of 16mm motion picture film and practically hand carried out of the jungle and to an outpost of “civilization” worlds away for broadcast bracketing the nightly body counts. In Somalia the video of the fate of the downed Blackhawk crew was broadcast almost in realtime through media channels by satellite.

Now that digital photography, video production and internet access distribution are cheap and globally ubiquitous, the formerly high barriers to production and distribution of imagery, both physical, financial and temporal, are lowered. Once the bombs quit flying in earnest in Iraq last year and the risk lowered for a while and the nation became more porous, The realities of occupation now become available for immediate consumption by a nation already overdosing on synthesized reality television.

Who would be best positioned as reality television stars but ex military mercenaries? The reality ante is upped for all but the GIs when State of the Art War substitutes contracted mercenaries for grunts. These war profiteers are as well compensated and white as the military service members’ families of color are encouraged to rely on foodstamps. Can Rumsfeld’s “State Of the Art” war be a means towards effective resegregation of the US Military into public and private divisions?

Only in America are hands wrung that civilian war profiteers like Berg or those burned to a crisp in Falluja or even outright spies like CIA spy Johnny Spann who was killed in an Afghanistan prison by rebellious former interrogees–as if the Geneva Convention doesn’t clearly specify the fate of civilian clothed enemy in a war zone and spies in particular. And who’s to differentiate between Daniel Pearl and Tokyo Rose, as if the Wall Street Journal were not a combatant?

One would hope that many American civilians would at least tolerate if not encourage the same spirit of resistance amongst our compatriots if the roles were reversed and our nation was being brutally occupied for the crimes of illegitimate leaders by a foreign power.

But it was the GIs that felt free and clear to document and show off their abuse of Iraqi prisoners, behavior the likes of which had been formerly relegated to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Governor Bush (the only murderer he saved from the needle was serial killer Henry Lee Lucas) or the Youth Authority and Pelican Bay here in California. There is a straight line connecting police abuse in communities of color to the Israeli Mossad inspired “information retrieval” in Iraq. The only crime here was documenting it.

In America, prison rape is assumed. In occupied Iraq, faux outrage at prison abuse becomes a fig leaf covering the brutality of occupation, while profiteers running the romantic risk between fantastic riches and decapitation provide offensive balance in the battle of staged graphic footage.

As with any good imperial authoritarian regime struggling to exert dominance over a population with other ideas, show trials are the best way of targetting scapegoats and legitimating the regime both on the home front and in the province. If occupation prison abuse pseudoscandals can turn the public eye away from the fact that gunships are painting civilian neighborhoods in Iraqi urban centers in lead, all the better. So long as we don’t have to deal with the substance of the flowering of resistance that more than a decade of US policy has sewn in the Iraqi people, the prison abuse affair serves its sexy propaganda purpose as weapons of mass distraction.

That the dates for the first courts martial come a scant hours after Rumsfeld’s congressional not so mea not so culpa carries the whiff of Rovian scripting. The Coalition Provisional Authority [sic] intends to stage the spectacles in the Baghdad convention center. An ornate Stalinesque palace might have made a better backdrop for a show trial, but the convention center was probably more media cycle friendly.

But the real issue here is one of personal responsibility and the unwillingness of the Bush II, Rumsfeld and Cheney smirk patrol to accept it while brutally forcing it on others at home and abroad. The neocon mantra that the domestic poor should assume “personal responsibility” for their intentional economic marginalization at the hands of the greedy plutocracy contrasts sharply with pathological patterns of denial exhibited by a Team Bush that is unwilling to concede any error when they serially pass the buck on responsibility for those darn unintended consequences in Iraq.

American policy in the southwestern Asian oil patch involves both support for oppressive regimes that keep the petrol flowing by keeping populations miserable and full aid and comfort for the most extreme atrocities committed by the Israelis in their own failing long term occupation. When these two forces are combined and amplified by exponentially regressive missteps of hubris, there can be only violent outcomes and the only target can be you and I.

The Iraqis had as much say in selecting Saddam Hussen to be their leader as we ended up having when the Supreme Court political majority selected the Bush sequel here and neither of our civilian populations should suffer from the idiocy of these illegitimate leaders. From this shared experience of maniacal warmongers destroying our two nations, perhaps our two peoples might someday find common ground.

The only prerequesite for Iraqi pacification, therefore, is the immediate extraction of US presence.

The Republicans aren’t going to do it, the Democrats won’t and the Electoral College is rigged against the Green Party which is still too green to compete nationally.

So to the extent that the debate on federal and foreign policy is restricted to the rate of decay of empire and to what degree power is applied to maintain the US need for cheap resources, the totalitarians win by default because with every passing day, with every notch higher on the totem poles of idiocy by Bush II, the target get painted brighter and brighter on our national ass by those with a means, motive and opportunity to fire which in turn necessitates even more shrill security measures.

If the Americans can lay waste to civilians in Falluja, if the Israelis can lay waste to refugee camps in Jenin, then who the hell are we to say that the Iraqis and their allies cannot respond in kind to American civilians? The US alone holds overwhelming power in this scenario. Either we wield power wisely, or we will take personal responsibility for the unintended consequences of its deadly exercise whether we like it or not.

MARC SALOMON lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at: