. . . Wednesday November 17, 2004

Let’s Not Go to the Videotape

By now, the videotape of a Marine shooting what looks to be an unarmed person in a Falluja mosque is topping news broadcasts thoughout the world. There are two interesting things to keep in mind:

First, whether you think the treatment of such video by those who broadcast news throughout the Arab world is biased or not, the fact is that yet another bucket of fuel has been dumped on the fire of anti-Americanism that has been building consistently since 9/11 and dramatically since we entered Iraq. Does this mean that we should change our policies to defeat the terrorists? Perhaps not. But we do need to remember that the so-called war against terrorism is not only a war of violence. It’s also a war of ideas. I know, I know. On the same day that the Arab world is up in arms about this shooting we got the tragic news that aid worker Margaret Hassan had probably been killed by her captors. We can complain about the relative level of coverage each of these events is getting in the Arab press. But it is what it is. Public perception counts big time in this global war and we don’t control those perceptions in the Arab world (or in Iraq, for that matter).

If we end up with more net terrorists after the Iraq war than we had before the Iraq war, then wouldn’t even the most ardent neocons have to admit (privately, anyway) that this was a failed policy?

And is there any decent evidence that we are not headed towards that very result?

Second, is anyone else getting tired of the scrubbed-clean version of war we see here? The shock at the Marine shooting implied in the much of the coverage of it is absurd. This is not to say that most Marines are going around shooting unarmed and injured people. But war is ugly. Terrible things (much more terrible than what we weren’t allowed to see on that videotape) happen constantly. It is a brutal business where people’s bodies get ripped to shreds. We like the pretend otherwise. Hearing numbers of killed and wounded is about as far as we seem willing to go.

But shouldn’t we see more of what goes on during war? Shouldn’t the realities of the battlefield be factored in as we make our decisions about when to go to war?

We’re not even allowed to see the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in action. We should see them. All of them. If a war is worth fighting, then these coffins serve as an important reminder of sacrifices made in the name of a vital cause. Why would be ashamed that our kids are dying for a just cause? If a war is not worth fighting, then there shouldn’t be any flag draped coffins.

What is the possible justification for preventing us from bearing witness to the sacrifices by our soldiers?

If you think that showing more of the truth about the cost of war on both sides is ultimately an argument against going to war in the first place, then that says a lot about how firm you are in your resolve that the war in question is worth its costs. Why should we avert our eyes from the sacrifices made in what we’re told is a just and necessary cause?

We’re not likely to see more images from the battlefield or of the coffins. Our version of reality is so scrubbed that we’re not even sure we can handle watching an uncut version of Saving Private Ryan.

But if we have the stomach to do, we should have the stomach too see.

Concentration is important!