March 27, 2003

The rhetoric of war…

Speech-act theory says that to say something is to do something. And I would assert that the flip side of this theory claims that to do something is to say something. What was the Bush administration saying by deciding to leave Iraqi TV intact? Michael Gordan claims this:

It seems to reflect the calculation that Mr. Hussein’s regime was so brittle it would quickly fall. Bush planners appear to have left television off the initial target list because they wanted to use it to administer Iraq immediately after the war and to limit the damage to civilian infrastructure.

Possibly. And I can think of another reason. If the decapitating strike worked, Iraqi TV sans Saddam would send a stark message of domination. We have no way of knowing exactly what message President Bush may have been sending; we’re engaging in interpretation here. But, if either of us are close to correct, the tactic didn’t work. As Gordon says:

Reports from Iraq, however, suggest that the American restraint was seen by many Iraqis as an indication of Mr. Hussein’s resilience, undermining the allied message that his days were numbered.

In other words, just because you send a message, by words or actions, doesn’t mean the auditor will get your drift. The auditor may have another agenda. And, in this case, it’s certain that the auditor has another culture–one that does not necessarily prize what we Americans have to offer. This is a tough sell.

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  1. Alexander 

    I doubt very seriously that the so-called restraint and ‘rules of engagement’ are as much for the Iraqi people as they are for the American people.

    The essential problem is that the military finds itself with a population unable or unwilling to face the realities of a war. (This should not be mistaken for an endorsement of this Invasion on my part).

    What the media has failed to recognize when they so quickly point out the use of Iraqi handlers, is that the embedded media is a massive handling campaign.

    This has two main effects… First, the sanitized news coverage of Vietnam in the early half of the war is often credited with not preparing Americans for the reality of war, and thereby helping to fuel anti-war sentiment in later years. The military by admiting the deaths of 14 civilians here, one commanding officers there can effectively desensitize the population to these civilizan deaths rationalizing that the great god technology is in fact saving more than it harms.

    Also by co-opting the media and issuing implicit threats of danger and unpredicitability of war they can and have effectively reduced (at least for the time being) the number of independent news coverage in the region.

    One could of course argue that foriegn media can overcome this censorship. That does not matter. It is not the American who logs on the BBC that the administration is concerned with… it is the vast majority of this country with little to no education that craddles down before the Orwellian “info”-tainment of FoxNews and MSNBC… control them and you control the majority.

    Supplement gaps by preying on the fears of the population over an ill-defined abstract spector lurking in the background of “reality” and you immobilize real dissent.

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