2 | The End of Victory Culture
Excerpts from the End of Victory Culture
It has been said that each of our many wars and interventions since the Reagan administrationordered the invasion of the tiny island of Grenada in 1983 has proved yet another livinglaboratory for the military-industrial complex; for the testing of ever newer, ever more powerful,more technologically sophisticated generations of weaponry. The practically sub-nuclear MOAB(nicknamed the "Mother of all Bombs"), for instance, was rushed from its testing grounds inFlorida to the Persian Gulf region just days too late for use in the invasion of Iraq. Its first battletests will have to await our next frontier war -- even if that frontier turns out, once again, to be inthe oil heartlands of the planet. ___ Though refined in each war to follow from Panama to Afghanistan, the Pentagon's approachremained at heart defensive, based on a set of negative, near-biblical injunctions. Thou shalt not,for instance, show "body bags" on television (since American casualties turn off the public andhence might lead to a lessening of war support at home). In the process, body bags were renamedand functionally taken off the air, while the bodies of the American dead were essentially flownhome in the dead of night and the coffins carefully unloaded beyond the sight of reporters orcameras. Another Vietnam-era injunction, put into a pungent phrase by Gen. Tommy Franks,commander of our Afghan War in 2001, was: "We don't do body counts." This injunction slowlyfaded in the years after the invasion as Iraq turned into a full-scale counterinsurgency war, butfor a while the dead of war on either side of the battle ceased to exist.As late as November 2006, president Bush expressed his irritation to a group of conservativenews columnists that "[w]e don't get to say that -- a thousand of the enemy killed, or whateverthe number was. It's happening. You just don't know it." the problem, he explained in frustrationwas: "We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." ___ Reporters were now to be "embedded" in military units, bonded with the military through prewar"boot camps," and then sent off to relay the war back to us, unit by unit, from those convoys of Bradley fighting vehicles and abrams tanks, which bore such a resemblance to the long lines of pioneer wagons heading west in countless westerns. Born in part of technological necessity, theidea of embedding reporters also reflected how confident the administration was of victory overSaddam Hussein's punchless army -- confident enough to take a chance on a steady flow of images in real time from the once hated, dreaded media.Movie-making and war-making would now be intertwined. The location of this productionwould be Iraq. The director would be the Pentagon. The production staff would be situated atthat quarter-million-dollar set for war briefings at centcom headquarters in Doha, Qatar, andAmericans would see our troops advance in triumph just the way they were supposed to, just theway they had on-screen all those long, glorious years ago.