“The Fog of War” five lessons from Robert Macnamra

Five Lessons

note: These comments are for WWII inclusive

 

 

 

“Belief and seeing are both often wrong.”

            Agree. They are always wrong; the real difference comes from perspective.

 

“Proportionality should be a guideline in war”

            Disagree. In order to win, it may be necessary to destroy the enemy’s moral and this may not be possible to do with a proportional guideline.

 

“Rationality will not save us”

            Agree. The smartest most intelligent calmest person will be completely irrational under the right circumstances.

 

“Emphasize with your enemy”

            On the Fence.  On a policy level, empathy should play a part. Once a war is in progress, however, empathy may cause hesitation to inflict the necessary damages.

 

“Maximize efficiency”

            Disagree. Historically efficiency causes many side effects and by-products. In war we may call these collateral damage or unnecessary civilian deaths.

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my sixth grade report on WW1

The Cause of World War I:  Imperialism

 

 

      Imperialism was the main idea behind the conflict that was World War I. Imperialism in Europe was the mentality that most European powers held towards expansion. It consisted of holding colonies and spheres of influence in order to achieve economic and military dominance in the world. There was mounting tension in Europe because of the desperate scramble for land and dominance. The power in Europe was divided unequally between different countries, and everyone wanted something that someone else had; whether it be a large neighborÕs land or a small piece of land. This imperialist conquering led to stressful themes in the countries of Europe.

 

      Militarism was a direct result of imperialism. The equivalent of nationalism for ones country, militarism was the devotion to the military. The people believed that having a strong military was essential to being a strong country. The people wanted to expand their land, and because of this desire, they needed a strong military. Thus, if they wanted a strong country with land, they needed a glorified military power. The military power became great in the countries. They had many well trained soldiers that they mobilized to get ready if any of the other countries decided to attack. Because all of these countries had very strong armies that were all mobilized for war, there was a lot of tension on the lines of potential attack.

 

      Rival alliances were also a reaction to imperialism. When war and battles were a possibility over land disputes, many countries made alliances so that they would have support if war broke out. There were two main alliances: Italy, Germany and Austria, vs. France, Russia and Britain. Although Italy ended up fighting on the other side, these were still two very significant forces against each other. Because the group power of each individual country had increased, any small battle that broke out, would create a huge war involving many strong countries. Thus there was a lot of tension between the opposing sides.

 

      Considering there was so much tension between all of the countries in Europe , it was not a surprise that a major war broke out. The themes of imperialism, militarism and rival alliances were not new to the people of Europe, but the dynamic of militarism combined with the rival alliances of the countries, presented a combustible recipe for disaster. Because imperialism is an essential part to the success of a country, and it was that that caused militarism and rival alliances, World War I was not only inevitable, but was caused by a fundamental element of the countries themselves.

Government and Media : A dependant relationship

Government and Media: A dependant relationship

RQ: How has the relationship between the Government and the Media changed over time with regards to covering military conflicts? 

 Information is power and it is safe to say that the United States wishes to be the most powerful country in the world. The most dangerous and coveted kind of information at this time is military information and given it’s ambition for global preeminence, the United States has made an art of selectively presenting military information so as to advance the goals of the administration. This in turn powerfully and effectively influences the news media in America as well as the public opinion concerning the actions of the government. The literature on the topic can be categorized by conflict, with the major changes occurring after the Vietnam War. After Vietnam the government changed its relationship with the press because it was thought that unsupervised journalists had had a negative impact on both the progress of the war and the perception of it back home.  The White House in particular made it’s relationship with the press “more adversarial, making presidents more certain than ever that reports from the battlefield will do damage to their own efforts as well as the national interest…this fear has motivated the White House to seek greater controls over what the media reports” (Thrall, 2000, p.47). Military actions in Grenada and Panama reflected the change as US reporters were restricted from access to the short conflicts.  The media during the first gulf conflict reflected another change in the relationship with the White House.  George H.W. Bush used the press to bolster support while at the same time imposing greater restrictions and censorship on battlefield reporting.  During the US invasion of Afghanistan and the current war in Iraq, the administration also used the press to create support for the military actions. This was very effective in the early stages of conflict immediately following the attacks of 9/11 but lost public support when many of the administration’s claims concerning Iraq turned out to be misleading.The most extensive literature has been written about Operation Desert Storm because it was the first large scale US military conflict that could be covered using modern media techniques and the administration did not want the coverage to mirror that of Vietnam. Many of the strategies on selective information release and censorship were also developed during this time and were extended into the currant conflicts.  The most significant theories used to create this government-military-media complex are framing, agenda-setting, and representation. It should come as no surprise that the most prolific author on the subject is Lance W. Bennett.During the Vietnam conflict, journalists were given practically unfettered access to the battlefield. They could go anywhere they wanted at their own expense and when traveling with an army platoon, there were no guidelines as to what could or could not be reported on, the decisions being left to the unit commanders (Barber, 2002).  The result was that Americans at home saw actual death on TV almost daily and also watched the growing body count come home in coffins. “War has always been beastly, but the Vietnam War was the first exposed to television cameras and seen in practically every home, often in living color” (Lewy in Huebner, 2005 p.2). This realistic/ “negative” coverage led many to conclude that this kind of unrestricted reporting was undermining the war effort and retroactive studies have also blamed the media for losing the war (Hiebert, 2003).  As a result, we do not see firefights or American bodies on TV (unless as a romanticized reenactment on the military channel) and the daily death count is relegated to a blurb in the international section in most major papers.During the Reagan administration, significant restrictions were placed on the press in the invasions of Grenada and Panama.  At the time Bennett agreed that “The art of message management was never carried to a higher form than during the Reagan years” (Bennett, 1988 p.90).  The press was banned outright from the two day invasion of Grenada and so all news of the invasion was gathered by military officials and released to the media by the White House. The media was granted slightly more access during the invasion of Panama although the newly elected president Bush ensured that there would be no images of war and information about the conflict would be carefully managed.  Then secretary of defense Dick Cheney was a vocal proponent of press restrictions,“About half the time, the White House press corp is going to be pissed off, and that’s alright. You’re not here to please them. The most powerful tool you have is the ability to use the symbolic aspects of the presidency to promote your goals and objectives…You don’t let the press set the agenda. They like to decide what is important and what isn’t important, but if you let them do that, they’re going to trash your presidency.”  (Thrall, 2000 p.134)Here is the former Secretary of Defense and current Vice President admitting that the White House needs to use agenda-setting and representation tactics to control the information released to the media.

            Leading up to Operation Desert Storm, the first Bush administration used framing and representation techniques to gain support.  Saddam Hussein was likened to Hitler frequently, most often citing his use of chemical weapons on civilians as a comparison point. A pre-WWII frame was introduced as comparisons were made between the German invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (Bennett, 1993).  The press largely ignored some pertinent facts about Hussein, such as our very recent support of the country against Iran and the existence of terror cells based in Kuwait and instead reported on the rhetoric delivered by the administration.  

          When the actual attack took place, a short-lived and unique situation occurred that ironically changed the source of information about the initial bombing. During the initial bombing, the only source of information coming out of Baghdad was from CNN. Senior military officials on both sides admitted that on that night, the most valuable information pertaining to the conflict was on TV without the administration as middleman (Wiener, 1992).  

          Some scholars have argued that during the fighting, the media had the opportunities to report on the war objectively but most major media outlets chose instead to romanticize the conflict.  There was large support for the conflict initially and so the media focused on human interest stories with all the elements of good drama. The media amplified the idea that this was a just cause and that the US was quickly and effectively achieving victory (Hallin & Gitlin, 1994).  This can be viewed as a success story on the part of the US administration because the media did not ask for anything other than what the government gave them.  

          The agenda setting function of mass media was evident in Operation Desert Storm largely because the public supported the conflict. The effect is that increases in news coverage bring about increases in the salience of particular issues or events.  Given this effect, stories about the war were framed to be event driven and were often structured like episodes. (Iyengar & Simon, 1994).  This technique was effective in presenting the war as positive while at the same time limiting potentially confusing background information.  It seems that the media felt that the American people were not capable of understanding or not interested in historical implications or tangential information. 

           We can see the agenda setting function at the end of the conflict as well in that once US soldiers left Iraq, media coverage of Iraq ended. President Bush urged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam but without the backing of the United States, the opposition was slaughtered. Following the news during this time, one would not have seen this as a salient issue because there was little news coverage devoted to it.  

          The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are still very much ongoing conflicts and as such, the effects of government-press-public relations can not be seen fully without the benefit of hindsight. In this case, the most significant discussions have to do with the release of information leading up to military operations and the findings after “Mission Accomplished”. Particularly evident and significant in the literature is the conflict between motives and actions. Often it seems that the administration will have an undisclosed plan and waits for an event that can be used to justify the plan. 

             To build the case for a unilateral “War on Terrorism”, President Bush used similar framing and representation strategies.  The attacks on September 11 were likened very quickly to the attack on Pearl Harbor, framing any response to such an attack as justified. Many still refer to the event as the first attack on American soil since World War Two (Mohamad, 2004).  This kind of statement strikes an emotional chord with many Americans despite the fact of its complete falsehood. There have been many attacks on American soil since WWII, some coming from international sources and some coming from domestic ones, Oklahoma City and the 1993 WTC bombing to name a few. 

           Making the case for invading Afghanistan immediately following 9/11 was fairly easy for the administration because they had actual evidence that the terrorist group responsible was based there with the support of the local government. This was compounded by the brutal and psychotic actions of the Taliban and as a result the bill passed with only a single dissenter in the House of Representatives (Snow & Taylor, 2006).  There were concerns based on the failure of the Soviets to gain control of the country but with a quick defeat of the opposition, these fears were alleviated and for the purposes of public relations, the war was won.   

         It is important to note that the names of military actions and congressional acts were important as part of the representation strategy.  Voting against the Patriot Act is obviously unpatriotic, just look at the name. Dissenting on the matter of Operation Iraqi Freedom means one does not want the Iraqis to be free etc.  This transparent representation is so overt, there is little written on the subject, the effects being fairly obvious.            Making the case for war in Iraq was far more difficult because there was no actual evidence that the country was a threat to the United States.  The invasion was already predetermined, however, so justification had to be created.  The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a group consisting of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Lewis Libby wrote a report in September 2000 that stated that “while the unresolved conflict with Iraq [referencing failed UN inspections] provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force in the gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein” (Joseph, 2007 p.43 & Kumar, 2006 p.54).   

         With the plans for invasion already in progress, intelligence had to be gathered that showed a link between Hussein and Al Qaeda and that Iraq itself was a threat to the US. While the claims would later be revealed as false, the idea that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and also possessed WMDs was repeated over and over by senior government officials across major American media outlets, who in turn amplified the fear created by these assertions. George W. Bush explained the goal in 2002, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda” (Joseph, 2007 p.45). It seems clear that the rhetoric coming out of the administration was important for the media because it was the only source of information concerning the intelligence. This kind of absolute reliance on elite sources with regards to information effectively made the White House the ultimate gatekeeper and framer of the motivations for war.   

         Looking at the conflict currently, there is a new development that threatens to erode the government hold on military information.  Embedded reporters can only see what the government wants them to see but recently there has been a rise in soldiers reporting their experiences directly to the internet. As the technology spreads, it will not be long before ordinary civilians in a war zone can release perhaps vital information instantly to the world.  The question is whether or not the major American media outlets will continue to rely heavily on elite sources and nationalistic considerations when reporting on military conflicts?  Evolving video and picture technology also raises the question of how much longer will warfare continue to be sanitized and romanticized on American TV?  The government no longer controls the release of intelligence as it would like to and this can be seen clearly in the decline of presidential approval ratings.  The outcome of the Iraq conflict will be have to be determined by actions based on facts and not rhetoric based on unseen motives.  

          Since “losing” the Vietnam War, American administrations have changed their policies with respect to information management in order to retain control of what the media reports and its impact on public opinion. As media technologies evolved, so did strategies for gathering and delivering information to the media on the part of the government. The common goal across the various conflicts is to present the positive news as most significant and to downplay or bury negative news. At times the news media has been collaborators in this process and at other times they simply lacked access to unbiased, non-elite sources.   

     Alexseev, Mikhail A., Bennett, Lance W. (1995). For Whom the Gates Open: News Reporting and Government Source Patterns in the United States, Great Britain, and Russia. Political Communication, 12 (4), 395-412. Barber, Ryan, Weir, Tom. (2002). Vietnam to Desert Storm: Topics, Sources Change. Newspaper Research Journal, 23, 88-100. Bennett, Lance W., Livingston, Steven. (2003) Editors’ Introduction: A Semi-Independent Press: Government Control and Journalistic Autonomy in the Political Construction of News. Political Communication, 20 (4), 359-364. 

Bennett, Lance W., Paletz, David L., Eds. (1994). Taken by Storm. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

 Bennett, Lance W. (1988). Politics of Illusion. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers Bennett, Lance W., Manheim, Jarol B. (1993). Taking the Public by Storm: Information, Cuing, and the Democratic Process in the Gulf Conflict. Political Communication, 10 (4), 331-351. 

Greenburg, Bradley S., Gantz, Walter, Eds. (1993). Desert Storm and the Mass Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, INC.

 

Hallin, Danial C., Gitlin, Todd. (1994) The Gulf War as popular culture and television drama. In Bennett, Lance W., Paletz, David L. (Eds.). Taken by Storm.(pp. 149-166). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

 Hiebert, Ray Eldon. (2003). Public relations and propaganda in framing the Iraq war: A preliminary review. Public Relations Review, 29 (3), 243-256. Huebner, Andrew J. (2005). Rethinking American Press Coverage of the Vietnam War, 1965-68. Journalism History, 31 (3), 150-161. 

Iyengar, Shanto & Simon, Adam. (1994). News coverage of the gulf crisis and public opinion: A study of Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing. In Bennett, Lance W., Paletz, David L. (Eds.)  Taken by Storm.(pp. 167-185). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

 

Joseph, Paul. (2007). Are Americans Becoming More Peaceful?. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers

 Kumar, Deepa. (2006). Media, War, and Propaganda: Strategies of Information Management During the 2003 Iraq War. Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies, 3 (1), 48-69. 

Mohamad, Goenawan. (2004). War, Words, and Images. In Van Der Veer, Peter & Munshi, Shoma. (Eds.). Media, War, and Terrorism. (pp.187-197). New York, NY: Routledge

 Snow, Nancy & Taylor, Philip M. (2006).The Revival of the propaganda state. International Communication Gazette, 6 (5/6), 389-407. 

Thrall, Trevor A. (2000). War in the Media Age. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, INC.

 

Van Der Veer, Peter & Munshi, Shoma, Eds. (2004). Media, War, and Terrorism. New York, NY: Routledge

 

Wiener, Robert. (1992). Live from Baghdad: Gathering news at ground zero. New York, NY: Doubleday