Alex Webb Magnum Photos: The Invasion of Haiti 1994
The silence is deafening. As American troops are dropped in on Afghanistan to fight their fantasy war, there is no sound from our defenders of truth and checkers of power i.e. the media, about the operation, its objectives, our continued presence in the country, our blood thirsty allies, our ‘pretend’ Afghani democracy, our support of drug lords and genocidiares, our consistent killing of innocents and our blind faith in our own righteousness and unquestioned right to trample on another people and bend them to ‘our ways.
The glory of war is being sold on the front pages of our newspapers, none of which have the courage to ask what they know is in fact a fake war, aimed at a poor and defenseless people, fueled by the ‘intelligence’ and advice of a group of venal, corrupt, blood thirsty and power hungry clique of Afghani warlords, drug barons and oil huckster!
Here is The Washington Post’s idea of war. How purposeful!
Here is The Sacramento Bee looking at this war. How glorious!
Here is The Denver Post blinding themselves. Oh, Our Lord Calls!
Did someone in a marketing department at the pentagon think to arrange all this to coincide with hysteria and myopia that typically captures the nation on every 4th of July? I have to think so. Could they have found a better moment to sell ‘the good soldier’, and the righteous nation, by launching what is increasingly looking like yet another ‘ghost’ operation meant more for ‘domestic’ consumption and sales rather than any serious attempt to go after any real enemy. That something called ‘The Taliban’ are a manufactured foe is something I have written about in an earlier piece called To The Last Man: Fighting The Wrong War in Afghanistan. At most a band of village elders and fanatics with AK-47s scrambling about the remotest and barren regions of the globe have been re-cast as an existential threat to the world’s most powerful military and imperial power, and we all have fallen for it like children for the tooth fairy. Our think tanks, media ‘intellectuals’ and pundits, newspaper columnists and our politicians have become the finest marketing arms of the brand called ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘The Taliban’, a brand that is perpetually maintained in front of our eyes and sold complete with music, video, and live performances such as this latest operation in Afghanistan.
I am reminded of the ‘great’ American military fantasy in the little country of Haiti – and Alex Webb was there to cut past the lies that these ‘toy soldier’ photojournalists love to sell once their work is done. He was abused for his ‘irresponsible’ pictures. I on the other hand remember hearing a rare honest voice.
Soon these ‘war’ pictures will be sent to competition around the globe, and winners will give interviews about how they wanted to ‘shed light on the truth’ and other such gibberish that is used to obscure the fact they mostly want to glorify themselves. This band of clowns who confuse bravado with bravery will then be awarded trinkets at annual photo competitions by behind-the-desk warriors in offices at major magazine headquarters in metropolises around the globe. No questions will be asked about the veracity of the work, the independence of the sources, the commitment of the individual.
Chris Hedges said it best in a piece called On War:
The vanquished know war. They see through the empty jingoism of those who use the abstract words of glory, honor, and patriotism to mask the cries of the wounded, the senseless killing, war profiteering, and chest-pounding grief. They know the lies the victors often do not acknowledge, the lies covered up in stately war memorials and mythic war narratives, filled with stories of courage and comradeship. They know the lies that permeate the thick, self-important memoirs by amoral statesmen who make wars but do not know war. The vanquished know the essence of war—death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.
Professor Marc Herold has been working to reveal the media’s role in selling us war. In a piece called War As An Edsel: The Marketing & Consumption Of Modern American Wars he points out that
By the first Gulf War, reporters were confined to pools and the Pentagon distributed video-game like footage to TV channels extolling the precision of U.S. weaponry. In September/October 2001, the Bush Administration hired the public relations firm, Rendon Group1, and also Ms. Charlotte Beers, former “queen of Madison Avenue” and chairperson of both advertising giants J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather (she had successfully promoted Head & Shoulders shampoo and Uncle Ben’s Rice), to “explain” the new Bush wars to Muslims abroad (and the American consumer), creating the new post for her of the State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy with a half billion dollar budget.2 According to Colin Powell, Beers was fluent with branding and she was:
“from the advertising business. I wanted one of the world’s greatest advertising experts, because what are we doing? We’re selling. We’re selling a product. That product we are selling is democracy.”
Democracy sold abroad, war sold at home. But while the battle for minds abroad led by Beers and Rendon fared badly in Muslim lands, the battle on the home front to persuade the American public led by MIMIC succeeded eminently. The Bush Administration worked hard to encourage and benefit from a compliant mainstream domestic corporate media – led by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Time Warner’s CNN, the Clear Channel radio network, radio talk shows, and major dailies like the New York Times, the Los Angles Times, and the Washington Post and journals like Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard – which served as giant megaphones of State Department and Pentagon positions on the Bush wars… Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations in the country, has scrapped even any pretense of objectivity with its sponsorship of pro-war rallies in major cities throughout the U.S. The mainstream media bosses recognized – led by CNN’s coverage of Iraq in 1991 – that media flag-waving, fabricated personal story heroics, action-movie like storytelling, techno reporting could boost TV ratings and profits.
And so here we go again – the blatant entanglement of our media barons with the purveyors of power are known and obvious and the war in Afghanistan is being ‘produced’ for us much as the previous wars. The tired cliches are being published by machine-tool journalists who cannot even bother to confront the obfuscating language they have become so used to using. Rory Stewart recently wrote about the use of language to curtail thought and achieve results in a piece called The Irresistible Illusion :
When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.
It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’.,,It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists…It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate.
Our ‘brave’ photojournalists continue to cloister their minds and thump their chests as they rush into ‘combat’ protected of course by entire battalions of some of the best trained military men and women in the world. No need to think how they got there, or why they are there on the front lines.
The toy soldier lives.
The Afghani dies.
I still wonder how we got here and why the slide to this mediocrity has proven so easy!