A massive new project to create a ‘canon’ of the Iraq was in the works and recently published with much fanfare. It received support from The National Endowment for the Arts—“in coordination with all four branches of the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense,” the Veterans Administration, the Library of Congress, the Southern Arts Federation, The Writer’s Center, Random House Books, and the Boeing Corporation….

The Military-Literary Complex.

Even now, even after all the evidence in front of us, even after over a decade of lies, obfuscation, and narrative narcissism – the fundamental nature of most any writing coming out of the West about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia – there are people who attempt to defend the embed model of journalism.

As Colla writes

During the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the embedded model invited civilian journalists into military units and in the process produced a dubiously framed story about humanity and violence. The embedded model of literature works conversely. Now, a network of military-literary partnerships invites ex-soldiers into civilian publishing through a system of training, mentoring and special access. As Sinan Antoon has argued, the arrangement reproduces the same kind of story we read a decade ago, though now with serious literary credentials. In the new war canon, the Iraq invasion and occupation again appear as almost exclusively American events. Again, Iraqis are largely absent from the frame. Again, torment and pain—and humanity—belong to US soldiers rather than Iraqi civilians. Again, the war and its rationale may be available for critique, but only in a very limited way. Like the failure of embedded journalism before it, the failure of embedded literature is one of imagination and research.

…and I would argue, in the case of photojournalism, a failure of ethics, integrity, empathy and serious journalistic professionalism. It was, and remains, an act of economic and individual cowardice, capitulation and convenience. Most all attempt to explain it as a necessity, or try to offer some reasons for why it was valuable, but even they know that they are merely decorating garbage with tinsel in the hope of distracting us from what was really produced, how it was produced, and what political and propaganda objectives it was produced for.

But as Colla points out, the fraud hasn’t ended. The need of this nation to continue to believe in its purity of arms, its innocence of soul – a need that seems to be necessary to veil the violence and brutality that underpin sustaining its ‘way of life’ and ‘economic necessities’, requires a constant supply of pap and pompous propaganda.

As Jim Nielson asked in his book “Warring Fictions: Cultural Politics and The Vietnam War Narrative.”

But the question remains: how, against the best efforts of so many, did a war once perceived as a nearly genocidal slaughter to perpetuate American neo-colonialism come to be viewed as an American tragedy? And to what extent have cultural and in particular literary representations of the war helped in that transformation? It could be argued that Vietnam War novels and memoirs have contributed significantly to this process, since they reach an important readership – the editors, publishers, writers, pundits, and professors who make up America’s intellectual class. By promoting a literature that favors individual lives over historical contingency, and textual sophistication over social analysis, this class has helped reproduce, not merely in the small audience of serious fiction writers but in the general public as well, a simple and ideologically unthreatening view of the war

Well, here lie answers for how our modern wars – each a war of choice and pre-emption, each sustained on lies and deceits, are transformed from the murderous realities that they are into tales of heroic achievements and national traumas.