Monday night, March 17, as President Bush put the final spin on the greatest PR switcheroo in modern history, I decided it was high time I thanked my parents for my birthday. There are a couple advantages to being over 30, one of which is that I'm not military material. I can think of no more pointless way for a life to end -- mine or anyone else's -- than in the Iraqi desert at the behest of George W. Bush. Like virtually all the hawks so anxious to start bombing, I'm relegated to the sidelines on this one. So thanks mom, dad, Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, or whoever controls the cosmic birthday calendar. I owe you one.
Of course lives will end, lots of them. And it's impossible to consider that without wondering how we got to this point. How exactly did Osama bin Laden morph into Saddam Hussein? How exactly did the weakest nation in the Persian Gulf suddenly become such a threat to the United States? How did we squander the genuine goodwill toward America that was so prevalent after Sept. 11, turn our backs on longstanding allies, and suddenly decide that the only path toward peace is everlasting war?
Big questions all, and not the purview of this column. Here we think globally and write locally, often about media. Sadly, the American media has been complicit in selling this war to the public; it's a lot easier, and less costly, to be a house organ of the government than it is to serve the interests of citizens. And sadly, the Orlando Sentinel has bungled the war coverage alongside almost every other American paper. It's not so much what they wrote, but what they didn't that tells the tale. Two of many examples:
For months now, the Sentinel has dutifully reported every machination of the U.N. negotiations, trumpeting the details in large type on the front page. Oh, the patience, wisdom and restraint our great leaders have shown. Truly inspiring.
Never, however, have Sentinel readers been offered the very plausible scenario that this war has been in the works for years, if not decades. Mother Jones magazine connected the dots in a March article tracing U.S. policy straight back to the oil crises of the early 1970s. The blueprint for American imperialism, it turns out, can be found in a 1975 article published in Harper's called "Seizing Arab Oil," an article which, by the way, has Henry Kissinger's imprimatur all over it. That's news you could have used in deciding just how justified this war really is.
Example two: When American diplomat John Brady Kiesling resigned his post in Greece in February, he penned an exquisite kiss-off letter to his boss, Colin Powell. Kiesling had a distinguished, 20-year career in the foreign service. It was his "dream job," he wrote, until the Bush administration.
"It had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer."
Why the change of heart? "We have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam," he wrote. "We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government."
Sentinel readers might have been interested in the words of a man who has spent his career advancing America's interests to the world, had the paper's editors decided to run the story.
What Sentinel readers do get in abundance is story after story about tearful family goodbyes, and the utter evil that is Saddam Hussein. (In a March 18 story, the Sentinel noted that not only is Saddam a demonic, calculating dictator, he's also illegitimate.) And of course there's the Sentinel chestnut about Central Floridians "uniting in prayer." Whether the crises at hand is an exploding space shuttle, an impending war, or fears of terrorism, you can always count on the Sentinel to have a reporter in the pews.
All the above story angles are perfectly legit -- saying goodbye to a loved one going off to war is a sad occasion, Hussein is a corrupt dictator with little regard for human life, and people pray in times of trouble. All also happen to be ripped right from the Bush playbook, which is heavy on family, and Biblical notions of good versus evil.
The single most frightening anecdote regarding war with Iraq I've read to date was published right here in the Weekly, in our Feb. 27 story about the "Rally for America." During the rally, a 23-year-old Seminole Community College student wondered aloud, onstage, whether "liberals" were asking too many questions of the government. Far from being the duty of patriots, this young man believed thinking out loud is akin to treason.
Kid, do I have a daily newspaper for you.