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The insanity, the obscenity

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At the moment I am writing this, Steve Martin is handing out the Academy Awards, and highly trained young Americans are dropping vast amounts of bombs on a mostly backward nation, killing women, children and babies.

Our tax dollars at work. The Iraqis are killing some of us too — they seem to be getting better at it — and will likely kill a lot more. After one battle in which we pitted our tanks against their pickup trucks, U.S. Army Col. Mark Hildenbrand said: “It wasn’t even a fair fight. I don’t know why they don’t just surrender.”

Gee. Do you suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that it is their country and we have invaded it?

Politicians and military men, far more than most mental defectives, seem to be incapable of learning from past mistakes. We attempted to bomb our enemies into surrendering in World War II. When it was over, John Kenneth Galbraith led a major study of the effects of the bombing.

They found, to their surprise, that it had done nothing to shorten the war. We learned nothing from this, and tried it again in Vietnam, with worse results. Bombing does wonders, however, to rally civilians around their governments, no matter how evil.

In the last days of World War II, German civilians defiantly erected banners in the rubble. “Our walls may break, but never our hearts.” Playing off that, the dying Nazi regime had a shrewd slogan of its own: “Enjoy the War. The Peace Will Be Terrible.”

Fortunately for humanity, that last slogan didn’t come true. There was another difference too. During World War II, nobody doubted they were in a war. Even though no bombs fell on America, there was rationing, and we stopped making cars.

When this war began, I had an urgent call from a noncombatant who wanted to know whether this meant “Will and Grace” wouldn’t be on that night. Fortunately, the terrorists didn’t win, and the war failed to knock off my friend’s situation comedy.

However, it might this week. The media monopoly and the military-industrial complex have created “Target: Iraq!” the ultimate reality TV show. Early on, ratings for the war show have been through the roof, in large part because the Pentagon and the networks have teamed up. They’ve learned a lot since the Gulf War.

Back in 1991, the government was worried about negative publicity of the kind that forced an end to Vietnam. So reporters and cameras were kept well away from the main event. This satisfied nobody, and this time, some public relations genius came up with the concept of “embedding” vast numbers of reporters with military units.

That, coupled with Baghdad’s similarly shrewd decision to let the cameras remain in the capital, gives us the illusion that we are seeing the real war. We are seeing nothing of the kind. To be “embedded” with the military means, literally, to be in bed with them. What those reporters really are reduced to are captive parts of the military PR apparatus. If the colonel doesn’t want stuff shown, it isn’t. Nor have the journalists back in the control rooms been much more penetrating. During the first Gulf War, they told us our spiffy new Patriot missiles were gallantly shooting down the Iraqi Scuds.

Turned out to have been a complete lie. But now we are told that all the bugs have been worked out, and that the Patriots are performing unerringly. Uh-huh. Besides, now Iraqi civilian populations are not in much danger, since nearly all our weapons are “smart” and able to hit the mint mark on a dime from thousands of miles away.

None of the talking heads are challenging that, either, even though several cruise missiles have so far not only missed the mark, but the country, landing in Iran.

If you want to get any sense of balance, find a friend with a satellite dish and go watch Al-Jazeera, the Arab TV network that has been a phenomenon since it was launched in 1996. Today, it is showing an entirely different war.

There you can see a bit of what the collateral damage from our bombing looks like. I suggest you not try this while eating. Incidentally, it is not Iraqi propaganda TV. Al-Jazeera, so far as I can tell, is balanced, but sees the world from an Arab perspective, something we badly need to take into account here.

Any remaining doubt as to the impartiality of our news organizations ought to have been erased on Sunday, when the war started to go a bit badly. The outmatched Iraqi military managed to take five prisoners. They displayed these on TV.

Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld promptly “requested” that our media not air this footage, which has been seen by most of the rest of the world. The fiercely independent American press responded proudly: “Yas’, boss. Sho’ nuff.”

On Friday night, right after the “Shock and Awe” campaign was launched, National Public Radio’s Tom Gjelten said he found it hard to believe the war could possibly last a week. None of his pals in the media are likely to remind him of that. They are still showing, however, Rummy intoning that the result is a foregone conclusion.

I think I have a tape of his ancestor, Robert McNamara, saying just the same thing about Vietnam. That doesn’t mean Saddam won’t be defeated before long. But when I asked Nasser Beydoun, executive director of the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce, how long he thought the war would last, he said that wasn’t the question.

What we are watching is not the war, he told me, but the Battle of Iraq. The war, in his view, may just be starting, if we continue our present policies.

So while it lasts, enjoy the “war.” The “peace” may indeed be terrible.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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