The First Casualty

This first week of the war has produced a rare unity between the Republicans and the Democrats on Capitol Hill. Every war in U.S. history began with something very close to political unity, and each war progressed at different rates toward different degrees of Congressional dissent. Only time will tell how long it will take for this war to produce the first murmurs of doubt in the Congress. The most likely place this will emanate from is the Democratic Party. But for now, any possible differences between the two parties are being kept private, as are any negotiations that would resolve them.

But already noticeable is the beginning of a very subtle divergence between the Bush administration and some of the major broadcast TV networks. This divergence concerns the single most important question of the war: why did bin Laden attack? President Bush’s war speech to Congress on Thursday informed the nation that it was because the bin Ladens hate US freedom and democracy. The Friday ABC show Nightline addressed this issue and seemed to imply, ever so timidly, that Mr. Bush’s analysis was simplistic at best, and erroneous at worst.

Nightline informed its viewers that the predominant Middle Eastern grievance against the US is the US policy in the Middle East. Some Arabs and Moslems do disapprove of US freedom and democracy, but those interviewed on Nightline tried to make self-absorbed Americans understand that disapproval was not hatred. Clearly, Nightline was suggesting to its viewers that it is hatred more than disapproval that inspired the murder in New York City. And it suggested to its viewers that this hatred was itself inspired by the years of crimes and murders in the Middle East in which US government and its military have been either the accomplices or the perpetrators.

So, already some of the networks have begun this very subtle dissent from the Bush administration line on the preeminent question of the motivation of the enemy. This dissent reflects the long-standing ideological nuances of the different broadcast networks. ABC, CBS, and PBS have long stood somewhat to the left of center politically. That is why those network news operations are giving viewers a somewhat different understanding of the situation than are the more right of center networks like NBC and Fox. Those two are essentially repeating the Bush Administration line.

The Friday Nightline did interview a Bush administration spokesman and asked him if it was possible that bin Laden was indeed primarily motivated by the US military occupation of and imperialism in the Middle East. The Bush spokesman scoffed at this notion characterizing it as a mere excuse on the part of the bin Ladens who, he asserted, would actually not be placated if the US military were to withdraw from the Middle East. Nightline did nothing to follow up or counter that assertion. Such deference probably stemmed from the fear that it might not yet quite be the time to press dissenting questions upon the Bush administration.

Truth, therefore, is again the first casualty of war, simply because the potential dissenters are as yet too timid to insist on the truth. But the current timidity will lessen as time goes on, after the boldly stated visions of the President’s first war speech become increasingly thwarted by reality. When that happens, liberals will again ask the administration about the enemy’s real motivations. Some in the media, like Nightline, will ask the administration why bin Laden only attacks the US and not the many other wealthy nations of the world that espouse freedom and democracy.

This media will point out to the administration that of all the wealthy nations in the world that espouse freedom and democracy, only the US is the great imperial power in the Middle East. This media will point out that the US is the only wealthy free democracy that has been constantly at war with bin Laden and his allies ever since the US waged its 1991 Gulf War.

This media will point out to the administration that the bin Ladens have directed their attacks only at the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. This media will ask if it is wealth, freedom, and democracy that these three have in common, or if it is governmental and military assaults on people who are asking to be free of the rule of these imperious governments. When enough segments of the broadcast media persist in assailing the administration with a reality check, only then will there be a real chance for peace. How long will it take for such a reality check to begin? That length of time will, tragically, probably be counted in the number of body bags.