FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Mental Limits of War

Morning Consult poll winks at me from my inbox: 57 percent of Americans support more airstrikes in Syria.

My eyeballs roll. Hopelessness permeates me, especially because I’m hardly surprised, but still . . . come on. This is nuts. The poll could be about the next move in a Call of Duty video game: 57 percent of Americans say destroy the zombies.

This is American exceptionalism in action. We have the right to be perpetual spectators. We have the right to “have an opinion” about whom the military should bomb next. It means nothing, except to those on the far end of the Great American Video Game, where the results are real.

But painful reality is only news when the media says it’s news. And that means it’s only news when the bad guys perpetrate it. This is because the Orwellian context in which we live is the context of perpetual war — not the old-fashioned kind of war, which required sacrifice and the occasional glorious death of loved ones (not to mention eventual victory or defeat), but modern, abstract war, with smart bombs and spectacular video footage and not much else, except opinion polls. And Trump’s ratings go up when he tosses 59 Tomahawk missiles — about a hundred million dollars’ worth — at a Syrian airfield. Money well spent!

Just that name: Tomahawk missiles. We stole it from the “enemy” we defeated when we conquered the continent.

And even the term “perpetual war” isn’t quite accurate. It’s simply what we do: the answer to all problems. It’s where our thinking stops, at least on cable news. For instance, during MSNBC’s post-bombing coverage last week, Chris Matthews began holding forth about the 2013 poison gas attack in Syria that killed hundreds of people. At one point he mentioned “the red line that Obama talked about in terms of Assad using chemical weapons, and he crossed that line and Obama didn`t do anything. . . . Is this president willing to do something that Obama wouldn`t do?”

Matthews’ words gave me a moment’s pause, not because I felt in any way defensive of Obama, whose presidency was a continuation of the Bush wars, but because, in the wake of the 2013 chemical weapons horror, Obama chose to let Russia talk Syrian President Assad into surrendering his chemical weapons stockpile to the U.S. military. The U.S. wound up destroying 600 metric tons of Syria’s chemical weapons over a six-week period, as the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity point out.

This is not the same as “doing nothing,” unless everything except a spasm of violent action falls into that category, which of course was the implication Matthews tossed to the American public with his comment. Such words, delivered in passing with a shrug, often have more power and resonance than deliberately articulated viewpoints, because they create an assumed, default reality. They don’t open the mind — certainly not to argument and debate — but, instead, quietly set our collective mental limits. Either you bomb something or you do nothing. What do you not understand about that?

This is just one such media moment out of gazillions. As media watchdog Will Bunch wrote about the post-bombing coverage:

“. . . the military brass made sure all of the TV networks were rapidly supplied with video of the Xbox-perfect launches from Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The reddish streaks of combustible fuel gave instant light and clarity to the muddled darkness of an Arabian night, and so they played over and over again on cable TV networks thirsty for pictures to illuminate the drama and importance of President Trump’s most high-profile military adventure since taking office. . . .

“The pundit class . . . had found their comfort zone, and the relief was palpable. Everybody knew their marks. Finally, unexpectedly but happily, they were putting on the show that they know how to produce.”

And so war consciousness, in all its simplistic glory, rules. Any uncertainty — did Assad really unleash the poison gas attack, when he had nothing to gain from doing so? — is dismissed without mention, no matter that the Syrian civil war is wickedly complex. This is just like it was in 2003, during the buildup to W’s invasion of Iraq to save the world from Saddam’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. The media’s military-sated groupthink has survived intact.

Bunch also noted: “Suddenly, cable TV’s well-paid squadron of retired generals appeared out of nowhere to bestow their blessing. (Has any network ever hired a retired peace activist as an analyst?)”

His parenthetical question is asked sardonically, of course, but the more I think about it the more my anger and frustration smolder. Our 24-7 news cycle has the plot of a B movie, with the good guy endlessly riding to the rescue with guns blazing.

Yet: “War and preparations for war accomplish nothing.” So reads a statement from Pax Christi USA. “The President’s decision to violate international law by this act of aggression, along with a lack of consultation from Congress, to launch missile attacks on Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, adds to the years of crushing hardship experienced by the Syrian people. The solution to war is not more war. Retaliation will not bring justice or peace but only perpetuates death and injustice.”

Such an idea is not so hard to understand, but its national and geopolitical implications are overwhelmingly complex, and thus it is beyond the mental limits of the mainstream media, to the disservice of the public it serves and to the reckless endangerment of everyone’s future. In compensation, here’s another clip of the Tomahawk missile launching.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail