July 4, 2004
WAR: The Media Enemy
We can debate until the cows come home what the obligations of a free press in wartime are, whether it's fair to impugn the motives and biases of the Western media, and whether it makes you a Nazi to even discuss the subject. What's not debatable is that modern war requires the U.S. military to regard the media (Western and otherwise) as a potential source for turning victories into defeats, simply by the way coverage of stories tends to focus on U.S. setbacks and the way any absence of peace is portrayed as an American failing. Wretchard at Belmont Club has a poignant example of how this affects tactics:
In what was probably the most psychologically revealing moment of the battle, infantrymen fought six hours for the possession of one damaged Humvee, of no tactical value, simply so that the network news would not have the satisfaction of displaying the piece of junk in the hands of Sadr's men. The enemy understood the rules of engagement too well, but from the other side. "Squeezed into a few downtown blocks, Sadr militants began using children to shuttle ammunition, soldiers said. Youngsters carrying large plastic bags darted from corner to corner, and the soldiers would not shoot them. 'We all grew up knowing you don't hurt women and children,' Taylor said. 'And they used that to their advantage.' The US estimates that 20 civilians were killed in operations around Najaf. The Najaf hospital claims 81. When the Russians retook Grozny after a disastrous first foray, they returned to the operational formula of Marshak Konev in Berlin and rained down 8,000 artillery shells per hour on the town, killing perhaps 27,000 before attempting it again. The vastly more powerful Americans did not, yet triumphed. They are inept, as everyone knows.
Ted Koppel was determined to read the names of 700 American servicemen who have died in Iraq to remind us how serious was their loss. Michael Moore has dedicated his film Farenheit 9/11 to the Americans who died in Afghanistan. And they did a land office business. But at least they didn't get to show Sadr's miliamen dancing around a battered Humvee. The men of the First Armored paid the price to stop that screening and those concerned can keep the change.
Propaganda is a part of war, we seem to have forgotten that after WW2.
The same anti-Americanism hurt us during Vietnam, perhaps even caused us to lose.
Al-Jazeera is essentially an arm of the government of Qatar, waging undeclared war against us. We should invade.
American-controlled media could have helped a lot in Afghanistan too, perhaps broadcasting educational materials to supplement the new schools.