11 December 2007

The Cost of War (2) - Why Americans By and Large Simply Do Not Want to Know

It has been obvious that the mainstream media in the U.S. does very little to bring home the the horrors of our war in Iraq. When it is not neglecting Iraq altogether, the mainstream media offers nicely santized views of the war. To the best of my knowledge my hometown newspaper The Democrat and Chronicle still refuses to even print the casualty numbers. The local alternative weekly The City Newspaper, however, continues to present them on a weekly basis. Of course, statistics hardly convey the actual consequences of our disaterous policy in Iraq. Here, nevertheless, are the numbers from the latest issue:

"COST OF WAR: The Iraq conflict by the numbers (12/5/07)
On Dec. 5th, 2007

TOTALS - 3880 U.S. soldiers, 306 Coalition soldiers, and approximately 77,758 to 84,708 Iraqi civilians have been killed in Iraq from the beginning of the war and occupation to December 3.

6397 Iraqi policemen and guardsmen have been killed since January 2005, according to an Advertisementestimate compiled from news reports.

American servicemen and -women killed between November 14-21:

-- Staff Sgt. Jonathon L. Martin, 33, Bellevue, Ohio.
-- Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, 26, Bronx, N.Y.
-- Spc. Benjamin J. Garrison, 25, Houston, Texas.
-- Cpl. Allen C. Roberts, 21, Arcola, Ill.
-- Sgt. 1st Class John J. Tobiason, 42, Bloomington, Minn.

SOURCES: www.iraqbodycount.org, www.icasualties.org"

One common raitonalization for the lack of coverage is that it is unpatriotic, that it might somehow undermine "our" resolve or subvert the authority of the administration or damage the morale of the military. Another rationale is that reporting in detail on the deaths and injuries would violate the privacy of "our" military men and women. Yeet another raitonalization is that truthful reporting would offend our delicate sensibilities - as though the media (news and entertainment) is not full of violence already.

The reality, I suspect is different. By and large, Americans have no interest in the realities "on the ground" in Iraq. They simply do not want to know. That allows us to avoid confronting the complexities of the situation there and the dire political predicament we confront here at home - an administraiton oblivious to realities, intent on pursuing its delusional war policy and an official "opposition" so politically supine that it cannot imagine a policy that will remedy the Iraq disaster.

Supporters of the Iraq debacle regularly complain about people like me who do not support the war. Just as regularly (almost) they insist that I (and others like me) should simply shut up and let those who know what is happening "on the ground" in Iraq do their jobs. These suppporters, of course, claim that they somehow know or have privileged knowledge about what goes on "on the ground." Sometimes they might. Sometimes though, they are middle-aged blow hards in the mold of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck, vacuous cheerleaders for any bellicose U.S. policy no mater how idiotic it might be. Michael Massing* has written a couple of essays one in The NYRB (20 December 07), a second in Salon.com (6 November 07) that discuss things "on the ground" in Iraq as they are presented in first person accounts written by men and women who have gone off and fought in Iraq. He calls attention to a set of books out just in time for holiday giving ~ in case you or a loved one might want to know.
* Massing also offers a critical assessment of some of the mainstream reporting from Iraq in the most recent issue of The Columbia Journalism Review. The point? Why do mainstream media outlets continue to peddle the views of those who have repeatedly been completely wrong about Iraq or any other important topic? That said, it is important to try to identify where the problem lies. There are a good number of courageous reporters trying to cover the war. They are, on recent accounts, doing so in extremely dangerous circumstances. My guess is that the pathetic coverage stems from decisions made higher up the media ladder.



Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

Jim, I have to disagree with you here. I think that plenty of pictures are reaching the public via the internet. Most people don't rely on News magazines to get their information anymore-just check out their rapidly declining sales. Most people of my generation-20 somethings-scour the web, and there is no shortage of blood-and-guts on the internet. I think the problem is that people just don't care. My generation is selfish, self-centered, and uber-materialistic. To put things in context, I attended a top 10 university and work in finance amongst VERY smart people from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, etc...and conversations fueled with moral outrage over Iraq never take place...ever. People are much more concerned with their job transfer or their new apt than with Iraq. You might think these are only elites and they don't represent the general populace, but I come from a very humble family and my childhood friends are typical lower Middle class guys and they have the same attitude. I hate to sound so cynical, but who really gives a shit about this war outside of military families and extreme leftists? For most people Iraq is a fleeting thought. The war is only 4% of the GDP; America is at almost full employment; and the economy, while showing some signs of slowing down after the next quarter, is still extremely robust. Do you really think showing charred bodies on the evening news, right after "Deal or No Deal," will change anything? I'm not convinced.

11 December, 2007 20:29  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Actually the Massing essay in Salon.com basically comes down to something like your view - Americans just don't care, they do not want to know. I think that is both true and lamentable. Of course, I am just one of the wacky pinko leftists!

11 December, 2007 22:24  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

Just for the record, I don't think you're wacky! :)

11 December, 2007 22:32  
Anonymous trane said...


Have to disagree with you here. I am not sure the majority is as materialistic as you say. The problem is they think that 'we' are actually 'doing some good' in Iraq to the extent that they do not count the costs at all. The costs - mainly in refugees and casualties - are seen as meager in comparison to the greater good of CREATING DEMOCRACY and FIGHTING THE BAD GUYS. The 'side'-benefit of securing control of oil for 'us' is also counted, but not openly.

Of course, to me at least, some supporters of the war are hypocrites. They use the fine robes of 'crafting democracy' to secure access to oil. But a lot of people - I would think most where I come from - are not. They just take it for granted that we serve only the best of aims... So again, they count only the benefits, and not the costs, and they think of the war as a necessity, something inevitable - "there was no other way".

12 December, 2007 08:01  
Anonymous Adam said...


Reading this post reminded me of an essay written by Lee Sandlin that appeared in the Chicago Reader some time ago. Thought you might find this interesting:


Apparently some things never change.

12 December, 2007 10:15  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Scott Ritter had an interesting observation on the ignorance that is American, noting how they'll seek out, memorize and recite endless sports or celebrity "achievements" and not have the time to figure out the basics of how their own society and government affects them in their every day lives...

12 December, 2007 13:53  

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