To Spite Our Faces

Time magazine’s new cover girl certainly spawned a piranha swarm of controversy.  Lamentably, the outrage Time‘s Aug. 9 issue inspired has served to further mask the extent to which Obama-era war propaganda has eclipsed even the Orwellian efforts of the Bush/Cheney regime, and how that propaganda has buried the uncomfortable truth about our global military crusades.   

Certainly, the image and the story that accompanied it were as atrocious in a fundamental sense as the circumstances that led to the subject’s mutilation.  Equally awful was managing editor Richard Stengel’s jack-asinine excuse for the content of the issue. "I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us," Stengel wrote.  

If Stengel wanted to show us what is really happening, why didn’t he run images of Taliban leaders receiving bribe money that came from the United States.  Why not show pictures of President Hamid Karzai’s political machine stealing the most recent election?  Why not show the heroin crop our military has been ordered not to destroy?  Let’s see the innocent women and children that we have maimed and killed in the course of pursuing a war that weakens to our nation’s security and is counter to our best interests.   

Let’s see the American G.I.s whose faces have been mutilated in the pursuit of waging that woebegone war.  Pismire Stengel argues it was okay for American kids to see the mutilated Afghan girl on the cover of Time because "children are so used to seeing violence in the media."  But the kind of violence children see in our media is mostly the cartoonish variety they see in video games and vapid action films and other popular American entertainments.  Our access-poisoned media seldom show us real violence, the kind our soldiers see and smell and feel and hear on a daily basis.  Any video we see of fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq is so sanitized it looks no more gory than footage from the 1960s ABC television series Combat!

That’s not to say the caricatured violence in our media amusements doesn’t reflect a "civilization" that is every bit as barbarian as the Islamic cultures that counterfeit moral authorities like Pat Robertson glibly condemn. 

Yes, Virginia, women get mutilated in America too, and battered and raped and murdered and so on.  So do children, and gay people, and members of ethnic minorities, and heck, heterosexual white males, for that matter.  Much of this violence comes at the hands of spouses and relatives, as happened with the Time cover girl.  Other violent episodes in America are the doing of armed gangs and militias, as is the case in Afghanistan and other parts of the heathen world we have invaded.  A considerable portion of organized violence in America is carried out by fanatic religious groups, as also occurs in places like Afghanistan, although the violent religious fanatics in America tend to be Christian, something I’m sure the Stengels of this world find far more palatable than the kind of violence performed by people who aren’t as right with the Baby Jesus as Pat Robertson would like them to be.     

America’s double standard vis-à-vis violence isn’t its only prominent hypocrisy.  Irony, the bulwark of human sanity that suffered an untimely demise during the Bush/Cheney regimen, would take enormous satisfaction in objections made by the Pentagon’s sub-ministry of truth to the Taliban’s use of propaganda.  "King David" Petraeus, newly installed commander in Afghanistan and no stranger to the use of deception, has directed his propaganda team to "fight the information war aggressively."  Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a career bull feather merchant (aka public affairs officer) and Petraeus’ top dog of information warfare, says, "This isn’t about positive or negative messaging. This is really about reality."

Here’s a taste of what reality means to Greg.  Whenever a bunch of Afghan civilians get killed we say we’re changing the rules of engagement to emphasize "the logic at the heart of the COIN doctrine."  When Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar circulates a new "code of conduct" aimed at reducing the number of non-combatant casualties, it’s a "PR stunt."   

The only "logic" at the heart of the COIN doctrine, by the way, is that you can never win, but you can never lose as long as you stay, so you can never leave.  The logic at the heart of U.S. propaganda in its theaters of war is that none of the locals will buy American malarkey because they can see with their own eyes how full of bilge the likes of Rear Adm. Greg Smith are.  We’re the ones who are occupying their country, not the Taliban.  Regardless of whether we are causing more combat deaths among non-combatants, we are causing a handsome share of them, and darn near zero combat deaths of any kind would occur if we weren’t there for the Taliban to do combat with. That there’s any question at all in the hearts and minds of Afghans as to whether we’re better or worse than the Taliban means Afghan hearts and minds are closed to us forever. 

And of course there is no logic to the notion that we have to stay in Afghanistan or women will get their noses cut off when they’re getting their noses cut off while we’re still there.  But therein lies the beauty of Obama-era neo-Orwellian war propaganda.  It doesn’t have to make sense, because it isn’t aimed at Afghans or Pakistanis or Iraqis or anyone in touch with ground zero truth. American war propaganda is aimed at the citizens of the United States, whose minds have been so thoroughly bleached that they’ll believe darn near anything they’re told.    

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother inquisitor O’Brien demanded that Winston Smith tell him he was holding up three fingers even though he was only holding up two.  In Obama’s 2010, the likes of Greg Smith feed us pile upon pile of undiluted horse manure, tell us it’s chocolate ice cream and expect us say "Yum!"  

So it is that so many Americans still believe that our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have something to do with 9/11, or that we’re accomplishing some sort of good in the world by blowing it and its inhabitants to smithereens.

The ubiquitous pro-war message that pervades every nook and cranny of our information environment manages to mask a measurable, irrefutable truth that would otherwise be as plain as you know what: The most destructive and morally insolvent society on earth is not the Axis of Evil or the evil doers or even the remnants of the Evil Empire.  It is the nation that once had hopes of becoming a "kinder, gentler nation" and that "shining city on the hill."

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.