Spectator Wars

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

By Robert C. Koehler

“Pakistani authorities have long denounced the strikes, out of concern that civilian deaths caused by drone strikes inflame the local population, bolster militant groups and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.” – CNN, July 26

“Analysts said the administration was still grappling with the fact that drones remained the crucial instrument for going after terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan — yet speaking about them publicly could generate a backlash in those countries because of issues like civilian casualties.” – New York Times, Aug. 2

Oh, the serious news! I read it with ever-fresh incredulity. It’s written for gamers. It reduces us to gamers as it updates us on the latest bends and twists in the geopolitical scene. We’re still playing War on Terror, the aim of which is to kill as many insurgents as possible; when they’re all dead, we win (apparently). The trick is to avoid inflaming the locals, who then transition out of passive irrelevance and join the insurgency. They get inflamed when we kill civilians, such as their children.

This is the news: without moral depth or even curiosity. America is carrying out “targeted killings,” over and over and over. The government has determined that doing so is necessary to keep us safe and that’s all that matters. The mainstream media purvey the data to Spectator Nation, otherwise known as the American public, which goes on about its business. The disconnect seems almost total.

“But because the drone program remains classified, administration officials are loath to discuss it in any detail. . . .”

This is the Times again. Same story. The facts just sit there, objective, shallow, unquestioned. Reading the news from an “of the people, by the people and for the people” perspective is excruciating. I believe, with a burning impatience, that if we had a truly independent media in this country – a courageous and angry media, which revered the planet and human life and the concept of democracy – we wouldn’t be mired in our present wars and would, in fact, be deeply challenging the institutions that perpetuate war itself.

In point of fact, we the people are not at war. The militarized government and the corporatocracy are at war, and they own the media, which, in its reportage, assumes and thus continually strengthens the illusion that the government is a separate, independent entity, empowered to pursue its interests – which are the same as our interests – however it sees fit. And the peace movement, in all its multiple manifestations, remains on the social margins.

There is a serious yearning in this country and around the world to end war, and this yearning has become increasingly organized. But I don’t know how it can gain sufficient political and social clout to influence national policy without the media on its side – or rather, without a media grown up enough to articulate its vision. The Obama presidency, which successfully gamed this yearning for votes, has shown us how easily it can be ignored.

Even the best of the mainstream is boxed in by censorship and self-censorship. For instance, Mark Weisbrot writes this week in The Guardian/UK about a powerful, Peabody Award-winning episode of NPR’s “This American Life,” which aired a year ago. The reporting is sterling, except for one small detail.

The show revisited the village of Dos Erres, Guatemala, where a ghastly massacre took place in 1982, with government troops, under the regime of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, savagely murdering more than 200 people, including many women and children, and burying them in a mass grave. The hellish incident was part of the genocide against indigenous peoples the government of Guatemala carried out in the ’80s, in which over 180,000 died or disappeared.

The missing detail: Ríos Montt was an ally of the United States. We supported him with arms, money and love. President Reagan called him “a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” Weisbrot noted. Central America was then the central battleground of the Cold War and ruthless right-wing dictators there were our hedge against Communism.

The U.S. mainstream media ignored the atrocities being committed in our name at the time and, three decades later, still can’t face our complicity in them. “For a program broadcast in English throughout the U.S., this is arguably the most important thing Americans need to know about the genocide,” Weisbrot wrote.

I would second that. Something has to give in the Great American Consensus. We will never get to the business of choosing a peaceful future until we declare war obsolete, and that will never happen until we are able to look squarely at what we ourselves have done as a nation over the years, and what we’re doing right now.

And we have to do so not as spectators but as participants.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.