Saturday, March 22, 2003

On War Watching...

I realized I sounded ridiculous yesterday when I asked a colleague "Do you have any weekend plans or are you going to stay home and watch the war?"

Before I go on, I should say that I fully understand that war is a dangerous and risky business not to be taken lightly and that I am in favor of our efforts in Iraq.

That being said, though, doesn't this whole experience feel a bit surreal? I mean, if Vietnam was the "Living Room War," is this the "Real-Time War?" I give the military a lot of credit. They've figured out very well that this is a war being fought on two fronts. In Iraq and on TV. But, it seems like in the Psychological War being waged against the public, (we're getting leafletted like enemy troops only it's not coming from a plane, it's coming from a satellite), the whole experience has become more Hollywood/Broadway than anything else.

"Embedded" journalists who interview soldiers, thus giving them a human face, staright from the front. Pictures from the tops of tanks moving across the desert a half-world away seeing things as the troops themselves see them for the first time.

"Shock and Awe?" Come on, if this isn't outright propaganda, I'm not sure what is. My co-worker came into a meeting I was having yesterday and said "Hey, the Shock and Awe show has started." And he wasn't kidding.

The risk, as my friend in the Navy pointed out, is that we all start looking at war as a joke. We are over-saturated to the point where we get blase. Instead of expecting people to die and being sad when we hear about it, we are almost surprised. We have been so convinced that this war is like the Super Bowl champions playing a high school team that we run the risk of forgetting that things can and will go wrong. Bush and Blair are trying to stem that tide, of course, but look at the stock market.

Even more than the naming conventions is the impression that war is run according to a network schedule. Yesterday, I saw a reporter on MSNBC say "we were told that some cruise missiles were launched from ships in the Red Sea and that they were to arrive in Baghdad at 1pm Eastern Time and wouldn't you know it? Exactly at 1pm." He was so impressed, he must have mentioned it 4 or 5 times.

It's like we can plan our viewing schedule around it-- "Hey, it's 5pm, let's see the F-16's take out the tanks in Mosul." Pretty soon, it'll be published online and we'll get wireless email alerts about what is happening.

What's next? Corporate sponsorship?

"On time delivery of cruise missiles to Baghdad...brought to you by FedEx."

"F-16 plane....$20 million. Bradley Fighting Vehicle--$10 million. Seeing Saddam blown to smithereens? Priceless."

"The Marines use Hummers to invade Baghdad, don't you need one for your daily urban assault?"

At first I thought this would be a great way to alleviate some of the taxpayer burden towards the Defense Department, but then we run the risk of some Marketing VP going to a CEO and saying, "You know, we're launching a new product next month, maybe we could invade Yemen?"

I know I'm getting carried away and I guess I have enough faith in most of America (and limited parts of the rest of the world) to recognize that this is a serious matter, but the fact that we can do this saturation "Shock and Awe" coverage doesn't mean we should. We run the risk of losing perspective.

I have to admit, I'm already guilty of lost perspective. I am fully aware of the dangers to human life, but as a devotee of the History and Discovery Channels, I find myself fascinated by the presentations on strategy, technology, and logistics that the full-time coverage begets. It's like a classroom for me and at times, I forget that it's real people risking real lives. And that makes me feel sad.

Whether it's good or not, it doesn't matter, because it's here to stay. We scrutinize our government and military (which is a good thing) and thus demand this type of coverage.

We also may as well get used to the fact that it's here because the technology to show us what's happening will only improve and there are, unfortunately, more wars we'll have to fight in the near future (this is only the first of many in my opinion--for a great article on this, see "The Pentagon's New Map" in March 2003 of Esquire..I can email it if you want it).

I guess the challenge is to watch and learn without losing perspective.

Just some thoughts I felt compelled to share.