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[] GAM 01.10.02: Media that obediently speak the language of war,

Media that obediently speak the language of war
Tuesday, October 1, 2002 ­ Print Edition, Page R3

Reading President George Bush's case for a "pre-emptive strike" against 
Iraq, I am reminded of a Polish joke (by Poles, not about them), from the 
hard-line regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, following the Soviet-led 
invasion of 1968:

It seems two officers in the militia are marching down a Warsaw street on 
patrol, ready to enforce the curfew in 15 minutes. They see a man cross the 
street just ahead of them -- whereupon one of the officers lifts his rifle 
and shoots the man dead!

"What did you do that for?" asks the other officer, aghast. "The curfew is 
not up for another quarter-hour!"

"I know that man," replies the shooter. "I know where he lives. He would 
never have made it."

This seems to be the position of the U.S. government, as it produces more 
"solid evidence" of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" while declining to 
state specifically what that evidence is -- which, by the way, reminds me 
of a Czech joke by Franz Kafka called The Trial. All of which is eagerly 
reported -- reiterated, rather -- by CNN, which compensates for the lack of 
pictures with archival footage of people blowing things up in the desert, 
and containers of some substance or other, to supply visual support where 
none exists.

Showdown Iraq is the CNN theme, evoking Globe and Mail columnist Marcus 
Gee's image of America as Gary Cooper, facing down Frank Miller and his 
gunslingers in the streets of Hadleyville. A stirring reference to be sure 
-- except that in this case Will Kane is at the controls of a colossal, 
impregnable tank, Frank Miller is down a hole somewhere and his gunslingers 
are teenage Iraqi conscripts equipped with sharp sticks, crouched in the 
mouth of a cannon quivering with fear, having seen a hundred thousand of 
their comrades slaughtered last time.

Some showdown -- and for what? To effect a "regime change," of course -- 
which sounds about as painless as having your hair done, only with a little 
more off the top than usual.

The credulity of North American media over Iraq is matched only by their 
willingness to accept the administration's use of language -- parroting 
invented terms such as "pre-emptive strike" and "regime change" as though 
they actually portray what happens when a superpower attempts to transform 
enemies into client states by dropping bombs on them.

Which puts me in mind of a Vietnamese joke some 40 years ago, when the 
gentlemen of the press of that era dutifully reported official claims as 
proven fact.

American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; 
Move Taken to Halt New Aggression, trumpeted a Washington Post headline. 
President Johnson orders retaliatory action against gunboats and supporting 
facilities after renewed attacks against American destroyers, proclaimed 
The New York Times.

The official narrative had it that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had 
launched an "unprovoked attack" against a U.S. destroyer on "routine 
patrol," followed two days later by a "deliberate attack" on a pair of U.S. 

The display of naked aggression inspired Lyndon Johnson to appear on 
national TV that very evening, announcing a huge escalation of the war in 
the form of direct air strikes against North Vietnam.

Johnson's TV performance was a smash hit and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution -- 
the closest America came to declaring outright war -- sailed through Congress.

"The President," The New York Times noted approvingly, "went to the 
American people last night with the sombre facts." Meanwhile, The Los 
Angeles Times urged Americans to "face the fact that the Communists, by 
their attack on American vessels in international waters, have themselves 
escalated the hostilities."

Only, none of it was true. The U.S. destroyer Maddox was in fact spying on 
North Vietnamese positions, co-ordinating attacks by the South Vietnamese 
navy and the Laotian air force. And the subsequent torpedo attack never 
happened at all. There were no PT boats. They made it up out of whole cloth.

Of course, when then-defense secretary Robert McNamara and the Pentagon 
lied to Americans, it was for their own good. Like current Defense 
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, these wise men could see what the future held if 
America failed to act -- that Ho Chi Minh would enslave all Southeast Asia; 
that Australia and New Zealand would eventually labour under Communist 
tyranny. They called this the "domino effect" -- a linguistic invention 
dutifully echoed by the editors of Time magazine, for whom domestic 
"peaceniks" (clever, that second syllable) were guilty of an almost 
criminal naiveté, not unlike that of David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Bruce 
Coburn et al., and comparable to Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler.

Thus began the Vietnam war, and a pattern of government lies, dutifully 
reported as fact by compliant media.

Fifty-thousand young Americans dead. Millions of Vietnamese casualties -- 
generations, if we include birth defects from chemicals such as Agent 
Orange. And all, as it turned out, for nothing.

I wonder what would have happened had the media maintained a rigorous 
skepticism about what they were told by officials who, like Mr. Rumsfeld, 
had already expressed an eagerness for war. And I wonder how those 
reporters and columnists slept later on when it became clear that, out of 
sheer mental laziness, they had bought into a pack of lies.

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