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The Pentagon and the Banality of Evil

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The New York Times today scratched the surface of the phenomenon that is crying out to be exposed. In their article "4,000 U.S. Deaths, and Just a Handful of Public Images", Michael Kamber and Tim Arango unpacked the whole, sordid story of Pentagon news control and spin which has been a crucial part of the fabric of the war in Iraq. Not only did the Pentagon co-opt the press with "imbedded" journalists who joined the mission and the perspective of the US military, but they censored and controlled the stories, making sure we did not see real images of the war and its cost.

I have discussed before (in my last post) the ways the Pentagon has positioned itself as something other than a huge machine built for murder and mayhem. They are simply managers, immune from the anguished accusations of families -- American and Iraqi families -- who have lost loved ones. This is all part of the effort that began in 1975 to get the Americans over the "Vietnam Syndrome" - that troublesome determination the American people had to avoid stupid and racist wars. Such sentiments were likely to put the military out of business and to undermine the fantasies of conquest held by the group that came to be known as the neo-cons.

The American war-mongers have been successful enough to drag us back to that horrific precipice, to commission of war crimes and unimaginable horrors. And, because of their control of "the message," most people have only a vague idea what is going on over there.

Besides the Times exposé on photo censorship, what other signs do we see of the Pentagon's ability to "normalize" the culture of war and conquest? National Public Radio recently ran a story of the Pentagon's effort to keep reporters away from military funerals. In "Access Denied: Arlington War Dead Funerals," Talk of the Nation examined the ways the Pentagon keeps a lid on the reality of war death =- in order to be able to serve up more youths for the next battle.

Listen to this "Talk of the Nation" topic NPR reporter Ashley Grashaw, unfortunately, assumed a typically reverent tone, speaking of the hallowed ground and the honorable sacrifice. But even those disposed to tell love stories about the war effort were barred from getting close enough to tell the story. Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness gave us a more accurate picture of the western military, and that was over 100 years ago:

They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force -- nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind -- as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.

NPR ran another interesting story, "Military vs. Tinseltown" on Talk of the Nation.
Listen to this "Talk of the Nation" topic.

Again, the story cried out for a hard-hitting exposé. Here we have paid military personnel stationed in Hollywood, aiding some film-makers, chiding others, in an effort to make the military look good in our supposed entertainment industry. Does this really happen? Are you succumbing to military propaganda when you go to the movies? It does and you are. Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale proudly talks about the mission of the US Army in Hollywood, to make military enlistment, military life, seem adventurous, heroic, and supremely patriotic. When the host mildly suggests that perhaps the office is promoting only the military point of view, Colonel Breasseale harrumphs that there is no difference between the interest of the American people and the American military -- it is the people's military and there is no divergence of perspective. This sounds like the kind of propaganda talk we so ridicule when it comes from the People's Army in China. Really, Col. Breasseale? There is no difference in interest between the military and the broader body politic? Never? Amazing. What did our NPR correspondent do in response to this ridiculous claim? Backed off, conceded, went on to another topic. Where are our journalists?!

Finally, you must have caught the interview on NPR's Fresh Air show with Marc Garlasco. Utterly amazing. Listen Now.

This guy was the chief of "high-value targeting" for the Pentagon during the invasion of Iraq. That is, he planned the targets of laser-guided bombs that would crash into military and civilian targets. He blithely tells Terry Gross how many civilians can be slaughtered by one bomb explosion -- that is, the acceptable threshold of killing of innocents. Then, he lets us know, there was a higher level of civilian deaths (he can't remember the number -- can't remember! - but it is something like 18 or 25) which required checking with the white house for special permission. Wait. President Bush can issue this special permission? Permission for the number of civilians in a foreign country that Americans can kill? Incredible. And Terry Gross just rolls with it. She asks a few meek questions about whether it bothers him, keeps him from sleeping. Garlasco is calm as can be. No regrets. No PTSD. He's cool with it. It is the banality of evil, its normalization into our culture. Is no one screaming out -- you've all gone mad, mad!? And what is Garlasco doing now? He's been hired as senior analyst with Human Rights Watch. Don't ask. I can't imagine how that happened. If the war crimes courts ever really get going won't he be high on the list of indicted?

Don't believe all these developments just sorta happened. Conscious actors, high paid consultants and military officers, did a thorough analysis of the "problem" of the Vietnam Syndrome and the consequences for their war-making plans. Extensive initiatives, to control the news, to emphasize service and sacrifice, to manipulate the truth, were planned and executed. We are living in the backwash of their success in that effort. How stupid will we continue to be?