Thursday, July 7, 2011

Independent Intervention

I do watch serious films, too. I just finished Independent Intervention, a critique of mainstream American media treatment of the Iraq war, and promotion of independent media like Democracy Now!

First, two things I didn't care for: (i) Suggestions that the US military deliberately killed independent journalists—charges which the film comes nowhere close to substantiating. (ii) The assumption, more or less taken for granted throughout, that war always is the worst possible policy, because it results in violent collateral civilian deaths. Although my own service in Iraq has left me with a far more cautious attitude toward warfare than I used to have, I still can't help feel that those with rigid anti-war sentiments care comparatively little about civilian deaths as long as they are not being caused by our military—what with 100K-1M Iraqi children alone dead from Iraqi misappropriation during the sanctions period arousing scarcely a whisper of protest compared to the rage over 100K civilians dead in a comparable length of war. I don't know whether OIF will have saved lives in the long run, but it cannot be taken as a foregone conclusion that the consequences of war always are worse than those of any alternative.

What I did agree with: (i) The major networks were abysmally uncritical of the war when we most needed the media to function as an independent check on the government. (ii) The major networks sanitized the war to the point that it became barely distinguishable from sports coverage, with no real sense of the human costs involved. (iii) Independent media offers a much-needed voice that people should tune in to.

I want to focus for a bit on the second point above, about sanitization. I think sanitization of the news is a serious problem with American media in general, not with American war coverage in particular. Furthermore, I don't think the santization has any particular political slant (I'm not sure whether the film meant to imply otherwise). I'm not sure whether the media think Americans have weak stomachs, or delicate sensibilities, or what, but they do coddle us, insulating us from brutal realities that we ought to know about. I think, for instance, that something very important is lost from public comprehension when the most graphic images from September 11 are filtered out, or when we are not shown photos of children who have been decapitated by jihadis. Likewise, something very important is lost from public comprehension when we are insulated from the most graphic results of our military actions. Again, I disagree with the film's suggestion that exposure to the latter images necessitates a particular stance on US policy, but I still think such images are critical data without which people cannot really make informed decisions. If we are to have a functional democracy, we need to see the way things are—which often is brutal, stomach-turning, and nightmare-inducing—so we know what we are making decisions about. We are ill-served by a de facto national V-Chip.

P.S. Curse you, George Lucas!


Hume's Ghost said...

Ian Bremmer offers a third option between war and sanctions in The J Curve.

"The lesson of the J curve is that a process of creating opportunities for ordinary Iraqis to profit from access to the resources of the outside world would have destabilized Saddam at less cost to both the Iraqi people and to the United States."

I don't know if he's right, but I hope he is.

Mark Vuletic said...

I haven't heard of this option, but I share your hopes for any option that would result in less suffering and death than the favored ones. However sanctions and warfare may compare, the death tolls from each are sickening; development and testing of alternate strategies with lower human costs should be a huge priority.