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Pity the Immigrant Warrior: How NPR Elides Facts to Further Hegemony

Photo by Timothy Vollmer | CC BY 2.0

It’s universal. We all gripe about how news media—TV and radio network news, newspapers, and Internet news sites—intentionally distort and selectively oversimplify reality, and we like to say so in letters to the editor and online comments. Complaints about media bias are as old as the town crier, and today are institutionalized online. A bunch of watchdog groups, such as FAIR and Media Matters on the left (progressive foes of corporate media) and Media Research Center to the right (whose “sole mission is to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media”), specialize in skewering the press. They’re all worth considering if a balanced view is what you aspire to.

Both sides regularly take aim at the same targets for different reasons. One of them is NPR (National Pubic Radio), criticized by the right as a card-carrying member of the “liberal media” conspiracy and by the left as a corporatist sell-out. While it tends to steer left of and does more investigative reporting than our TV networks, its political liberalism stops just to the left of David Brooks. (Speaking of whom, should it appeal and you can spare $15, you can buy a roll of toilet paper printed with his visage and quotations. Monies fund The Baffler magazine’s crankiness.)

Being nonprofit and mostly listener-supported, NPR should have an easier time telling truth to power than corporate media oligarchs do. But tell truth to NPR at your hazard. It used to solicit comments from listeners via email and on its website but gave it up several years ago, saying their comment rolls had become a troll haven that was too tedious and expensive to moderate.[1] Indeed, the signal-to-noise ratio was often quite pathetic, but NPR’s fix was even more so: it directed listeners its Facebook page (where six million followers see a judicious sampling of stories) and to Twitter (where all their newscasters have handles). As I use neither, my reactions are left to twist in the wind.

Great. How many of those 6M Facebook followers have been profiled for profit by Cambridge Analytica and other bad actors? As neither social media site a troll-free zone, NPR simply insulated itself from criticism and made managing feedback someone else’s problem. So I’m left to posting diatribes like this that NPR will never read to enumerate the ways in which the network is a capitalist imperialist lackey. (To be fair, CounterPunch uses FB for commenting too. I don’t mind CP’s ploy as much as I might, as I’ve been able to network with various CP authors and have my say on its politically incorrect pages.)

Like other major news organizations, NPR doesn’t seem to sense just how polluted the water it swims in is. Example: Recently (6/10/18), it aired a segment on the tribulations immigrants face to join the military, specifically the Marine Corps. We learn that Hispanics, 18% of the US population, make up 25% of active duty Marines. We also learn that the Trump Administration has put up arbitrary bureaucratic barriers to immigrants who apply to serve in our military. That’s due to the fact that one must be a citizen to enlist, a process that the Obama administration simplified that has now become more complex.

Tennessee resident Arturo Solomon, 24, is a DACA recipient and martial arts expert. The gung-ho Hispanic Marine hopeful told NPR correspondent Julieta Martinelli of his frustration from being sent hither and yon to qualify for citizenship. First, NPR Defense correspondent Tom Bowman (always a reliable source for what the Pentagon says it’s thinking) opines that Hispanics such as Solomon are overrepresented in the military due to their “being courageous.” That cultural value is also known as “machismo,” an attitude many Hispanic men seem to share with the Marine Corps, and a mindset that women worldwide are rallying against. They are, I presume, all for valor as long as that’s not just another code word for patriarchy.

Mister Solomon wants to fight, perhaps to die, for his country for reasons NPR chose not to ask. Is it for glory, to serve the empire, or to demonstrate his manhood to impress someone? Either Ms. Martinelli forgot to inquire or her interrogation was edited. That’s too bad, because it would be great to get into those weeds. Her next interviewee, Margaret Stock (US Army Reserve, ret.), underscored that by making it onerous for immigrants to enter military service the Trump Administration is making the military “miss out on a lot of high-quality troops.” All that wasted talent. Such a shame.

Quite probably, Lt. Col. Stock, but to what ends? When was the last time the US Marines were called upon to defend the homeland, inthe homeland? Perhaps in the War of 1812 and arguably in the Civil War, but otherwise deployed abroad ever since. Missions include toppling reformist governments in this hemisphere and confronting Middle Eastern towelheads who supposedly hate our freedoms, presumably including our constitutional right to mow down fellow Americans with licensed large-caliber weaponry, just as our implacable Islamic enemies license themselves to do. Does Solomon want a piece of that? NPR could have asked.

Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh, but couldn’t NPR just sometimes question what all this preparedness, both domestic and foreign, is about? On the nearer hand, we have countless numbers of our countrymen telling the government, “Don’t tread on me,” and on the farther one, our guardians aim to keep the homeland free of terrorists (of which 95% or more must be home-grown). So it goes.

Mister Solomon may have the purest of motives for wanting in with the Marines. I’ll wager he’s a decent sort who doesn’t beat his wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. But I’ll also bet he doesn’t get that expeditionary forces are all about keeping the lid on empire. He probably has relatives south of the border who would be with him were the emperor not opposed to brown-skinned immigrants, those murderous drug-dealing rapists that he loves to vilify. So from what source springs his passion to defend the American Way from essentially impotent enemies?

I can’t speak for him. I ask only because NPR’s due diligence is missing in action. No matter what military or veteran hardship story NPR covers, there’s no questioning of assumptions that our armed forces are a force for good, everywhere in the world. The cost of carving out US military bases in many nations is simply the price of liberty. And those 170 under-capacitated VA medical centers plus the VA’s 1300+ other facilities are simply the price of the price of liberty, which comes to something like $165B per year (a budget second only to DoD’s). Oh, and cemeteries, 133 of them, with more on the way. Let’s hope Arturo Solomon never finds himself interred in one.

Were he able to enlist, depending on his specialty and mission, Mr. Solomon might find himself billeted to any of the estimated 1000 or so US military bases scattered throughout 156 countries. Nick Turse wrote in 2009:

There are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases dotting the globe.  To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077.  Unless it’s 1,088.  Or, if you count differently, 1,169.  Or even 1,180.  Actually, the number might even be higher.  Nobody knows for sure.

More than half of these “sites,” as DoD prefers to call them, are in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus 10 more currently squatting in Syria, unauthorized. The count excludes sites of less than 10 acres or worth less than $10M (many are likely intelligence and counterinsurgency outposts), chicken feed by DoD reckoning (even though ten million is more than enough to build a decent public school). There have been ups and downs in base construction and foreign deployments since the end of the Cold War, but the trend is decidedly upward and shows no sign of tapering off. Andrew Bacevich wrote an articlein the Atlantic commemorating President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which warned of the reckless and feckless growth of the military-industrial complex (to which one should now add “security)” Bacevich wrote:

In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills, a professor of sociology at Columbia, dubbed this perspective “military metaphysics,” which he characterized as “the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military.” Those embracing this mind-set no longer considered genuine, lasting peace to be plausible. Rather, peace was at best a transitory condition, “a prelude to war or an interlude between wars.”

So, when shit inevitably happens and Marines die in places like Lebanon or Somalia, why bother to ask what our troops were doing or what policies put them there? Digging into the reasons for deploying them might be regarded as unpatriotic, but the P in NPR means “Public,” not “Patriotic,” or so I’m told. So, instead of asking why our troops were put in harm’s way, NPR and other media outlets fruitlessly pursue where the fuckup buck stops, as if it were a rogue operation that needs to be reined in. Few in the media (or the Pentagon) are interested in following the money—the trillions of taxpayer dollars that have sloshed down military drains in the course of our lifetimes—or editorializing that it might represent overreach.

It’s the media, stupid, the teat-and-thumb-sucking news media to which NPR belongs that numb American minds by steadfastly avoiding discussion of imperial interests and imperatives. Rather than wondering why Arturo Solomon shouldn’t be welcomed into the armed services, NPR should ask why should people like him enlist their energies to make foreigners bow to our hegemonic intentions. But don’t bet on it. The USA has maintained a global control system for the better part of a century. Only when we get blowback is that apparatus mentioned, and then only as an excuse to feed the beast more bodies, bases, and bullets.

Resist all that.

Notes.

[1]That NPR no longer accepts direct feedback is not entirely true, but the process is somewhat obscure. Go to npr.org, scroll down to the footer. Click Correctionsand from there click Our Corrections Form, which is this page.  One of the seven things you can do there besides submitting corrections is to contact any of about 50 NPR productions. Use your imagination; vent your spleen. You’ll receive a form in response and likely that will be it. If you remain unsatisfied, you can always decline to pledge. Be sure to tell them why.

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Geoff Dutton is an ex-geek turned writer and editor. He hails from Boston and writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Currently, he’s pedaling a novel chronicling the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, completing a collection of essays on high technology delusions, and can be found barking at Progressive Pilgrim Review.

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