The Charge of the Media Brigade

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TV anchorwoman was conducting a split screen interview with a journalist
who had volunteered to be a witness at the execution of a man on
death row in Utah for 25 years. "He had a choice," said
the journalist, "lethal injection or firing squad." "Wow!"
said the anchorwoman. Cue a blizzard of commercials for fast food,
teeth whitener, stomach stapling, the new Cadillac. This was followed
by the war in Afghanistan presented by a correspondent sweating
in a flak jacket. "Hey, it’s hot," he said on the split
screen. "Take care," said the anchorwoman. "Coming
up" was a reality show in which the camera watched a man serving
solitary confinement in a prison’s "hell hole."

next morning I arrived at the Pentagon for an interview with one
of President Obama’s senior war-making officials. There was a long
walk along shiny corridors hung with pictures of generals and admirals
festooned in ribbons. The interview room was purpose-built. It was
blue and arctic cold, and windowless and featureless except for
a flag and two chairs: props to create the illusion of a place of
authority. The last time I was in a room like this in the Pentagon
a colonel called Hum stopped my interview with another war-making
official when I asked why so many innocent civilians were being
killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then it was in the thousands; now
it is more than a million. "Stop tape!" he ordered.

time there was no Colonel Hum, merely a polite dismissal of soldiers’
testimony that it was a "common occurrence" that troops
were ordered to "kill every mother-f**ker." The Pentagon,
says the Associated Press, spends $4.7 billion on public relations:
that is, winning the hearts and minds not of recalcitrant Afghan
tribesmen but of Americans. This is known as "information dominance"
and PR people are "information warriors."

imperial power flows through a media culture to which the word imperial
is anathema. To broach it is heresy. Colonial campaigns are really
"wars of perception," wrote the present commander, General
David Petraeus, in which the media popularizes the terms and conditions.
"Narrative" is the accredited word because it is postmodern
and bereft of context and truth. The narrative of Iraq is that the
war is won, and the narrative of Afghanistan is that it is a "good
war." That neither is true is beside the point. They promote
a "grand narrative" of a constant threat and the need
for permanent war. "We are living in a world of cascading and
intertwined threats," wrote the celebrated New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman, "that have the potential to turn
our country upside down at any moment."

supports an attack on Iran, whose independence is intolerable. This
is the psychopathic vanity of great power which Martin Luther King
described as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."
He was then shot dead.

psychopathic is applauded across popular, corporate culture, from
the TV death watch of a man choosing a firing squad over lethal
injection to the Oscar winning Hurt
and a new acclaimed war documentary Restrepo.
Directors of both films deny and dignify the violence of invasion
as "apolitical." And yet behind the cartoon facade is
serious purpose. The US is engaged militarily in 75 countries. There
are some 900 US military bases across the world, many at the gateways
to the sources of fossil fuels.

there is a problem. Most Americans are opposed to these wars and
to the billions of dollars spent on them. That their brainwashing
so often fails is America’s greatest virtue. This is frequently
due to courageous mavericks, especially those who emerge from the
centrifuge of power. In 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked
documents known as the Pentagon Papers which put the lie to almost
everything two presidents had claimed about Vietnam. Many of these
insiders are not even renegades. I have a section in my address
book filled with the names of former officers of the CIA, who have
spoken out. They have no equivalent in Britain.

1993, C. Philip Liechty, the CIA operations officer in Jakarta at
the time of Indonesia’s murderous invasion of East Timor, described
to me how President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
had given the dictator Suharto "a green light" and secretly
supplied the arms and logistics he needed. As the first reports
of massacres arrived at his desk, he began to turn. "It was
wrong," he said. "I felt badly."

Goodman is now a scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
He was in the CIA more than 40 years and rose to be a senior Soviet
analyst. When we met the other day, he described the conduct of
the cold war as a series of gross exaggerations of Soviet "aggressiveness"
that willfully ignored the intelligence that the Soviets were committed
to avoid nuclear war at all costs. Declassified official files on
both sides of the Atlantic support this view. "What mattered
to the hardliners in Washington," he said, "was how a
perceived threat could be exploited." The present secretary
of defense, Robert Gates, as deputy director of the CIA in the 1980s,
had constantly hyped the "Soviet menace" and is, says
Goodman, doing the same today "on Afghanistan, North Korea
and Iran."

has changed. In America, in 1939, W.H. Auden wrote:

the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives […]
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong

8, 2010

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His latest book is Freedom
Next Time: Resisting the Empire

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