“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” [Brian] Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”
“They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield,” he added, then asked his guest, “What did they hit?”
In action movies, the climax of the story usually occurs when the biggest boom is happening. Nobody notices families displaced or personal property destroyed (it’s just collateral damage, right?); just that the bad guy is put in his place and the world goes on the next day like nothing ever happened. The sequel never consists of a courtroom drama about arbitration of assets between insurance companies and the government.
Maybe Mr. Williams got wowed by the bright lights that the Tomahawks gave as they lifted from the deck of the destroyer. The missiles struck nothing of particular importance, and in a massive reach to lend gravitas to a bewildering and absurd situation, its possible he overstated things.
The problem isn’t about this one example; it’s about the tendency. Being around big guns when they are fired is intoxicating. The way the percussion from the firing thumps in the chest like a huge collective heartbeat makes humans feel alive. Adrenaline flows. Weapons turn otherwise intelligent, empathetic individuals into wild eyed, giggling kooks very quickly. It’s rare to witness someone target shoot a weapon of any large-ish caliber without seeing them laugh like an idiot at least once.
At a shooting range, its small time thrills. Off the deck of the USS Showtime, the stakes are higher.
“It just dawned on me at that point the power here at CNN — that people were watching us — friendly viewers in the United States and around the world,” said [Wolf] Blitzer. “But also the Iraqi military and the Iraqi intelligence community — Saddam Hussein himself was watching CNN.”
The Gulf War in 1990 was the first real 24/7 coverage of a US military operation. This war would be televised. As Patriot missiles rained down on Baghdad, CNN kept broadcasting around the world. For the first time, the US cable news media recognized that they had a bigger role than letting the folks at home know how the boys were doing. They took that knowledge not only forward in their coverage, but to their board rooms. War doesn’t just make military contractors and politicians rich, but the media as well. More footage, more coverage, bigger ratings, better advertising rates, higher profit. The entirety of the media you see today, a 24/7 machine of analysis, propaganda, and advertisements, is a direct descendant of what a few media outlets were able to do in the early 90’s.
In 2017 we learned that not only can the media shape a narrative with repetition, but so can anybody else, as long as they have the correct data analysis and tech ability. Targeting articles and ads not just at demographics, but at individual voters in key individual districts on social media and in search results can shape perceptions. Especially when the answers seem to be coming from a source that agrees with their worldview. People are capable of some amazingly flawed thinking, especially when they are manipulated. Does wall-to-wall coverage of the pretty, exploding parts of war persuade the citizenry into supporting conflict unknowingly? Or do they know and just not care?
“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” [President George] Bush said, “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
Everyone likes winning, especially Americans. We like our leaders victorious and our colorful flags popping. Young people in crisp uniforms standing in impossibly straight formations bring us pride. The drive to win is such that our Air Force is available for pro sports flyovers, because they have nothing better to do. Certainly, the might of our military prowess means that nobody will mess with us! ‘Murica! Unpopular politicians have changed their stars by getting that W against those who who dared to become a target.
Nobody may ever know what made our president decide – from the back 9 of his golf resort – to throw $80+ million at a deserted air strip that may or may not have held chemical weapons. It probably doesn’t matter much to Syrians how they and their children are dying, and the fact that the US only steps in after the “wrong kind” of killing method is used and then do nothing of value is just adding insult to injury. We might as well have loaded those missiles with a payload of salt for the Syrian people’s wounds.
The US Pentagon will not be changing their stance on the Syrian conflict, according to reports. No chemical weapons were destroyed in the exercise, and no high value actors were terminated, yet this “high value asset” was targeted and success was declared. Just like how there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003, it is a hollow victory. Tomahawk missiles in 4K Ultra High Def are if nothing else, flashy. It just makes one wonder what exactly we’re being lured into or away from.