THE BLOG
07/18/2006 01:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hell's Garden: The GOP, The Press, And The Flowers of War

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It's beautiful in a way, isn't it? Just don't think about what's really happening where those flames are rising, behind those buildings over there.

This image appeared under Friday's banner headline in the Times, giving news of war in Lebanon. It has the quality of a Las Vegas stage spectacle, or a new production of 'Les Miz.' There were no pictures of bleeding Lebanese children on the front page. There was just this Cirque de Soleil panorama of smoke, fire, and glittering lights. You half expect to see Celine Dion rising from the flames.

Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, North Korea, Palestine ... Apocalyptic prophecies seem to be fulfilling themselves right and left. There's war in the East, war in the West, and fire on the sacred mountains. You might think it's happening for no reason, that it's just God's will - but you'd be wrong. The press, so eager to report and illustrate the tragedy, doesn't bother much with the backstory.

War everywhere. That's what you get when a rightwing cabal seizes control of the world's only superpower. The cabal's defining characteristics are greed, negligence, and an interlocking directorate with massive arms and oil conglomerates.

Papers like the Times don't like to connect the dots too much that way. Nor do they often explore the connection between the behavior of the US and events elsewhere in the world - at least not on the front pages.

When they do, it's usually to puzzle over the government's seeming passivity about North Korea and Iran. Instead of looking for the throughline that links seemingly inconsistent patterns of behavior, they personalize history: Has Bush changed? Gosh, he was so anxious to act unilaterally in Iraq! Now he's just sitting there while Iran and North Korea charge forward ...

The Administration's indifference toward the Israeli/Palestinian situation barely gets mentioned, even though US diplomacy could have made a substantial difference there at any number of points in the past two years.

The Times' confusion - passive Bush vs. aggressive Bush, neglect vs. pre-emption - stems from their failure to find the common thread. Direct diplomacy is always ignored in favor of military solutions - either immediately (as with Iraq) or some time in the future (as with North Korea, Iran, and Israel/Palestine - where the future has just arrived).

The new Bush, it turns out, is not so new at all. And the press gives this country's ongoing abhorrence for diplomacy short shrift. After all, you can't run great photographs like this one with a diplomacy story:

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In this picture, an Israeli bomb strikes a suburban district in the moderate southern region of Lebanon. The cloud of smoke blossoms over a landscape strangely empty of human life. That absence of human faces is typical of US press war photos. You won't see wounded children like the one Larry Johnson shows here (warning: graphic content.)

These images are the flowers of war. Their splashes of color distract us from what lies beneath, the network of stem and roots driving deep into the ground below us.

Muslim children have died in the last few days for the sins of men in another country, with whom they have no connection but ehtnicity and religion. I'm afraid Jewish children will start dying, too, if they haven't already.

But you won't see them on the front pages. Instead, you'll see soldiers striding heroically through empty burning landscapes:

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When it's over, you'll see strong fighting men displayed starkly against a post-apocalyptic landscape. It'll look like this:

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The victims of war, ordinary men and women from both sides, will recede into the background until its impossible to see them as separate and living individuals.

No sense of history or context. No sense of the human toll of war. Sure, you'll see a grieving mother or two- but never the source of their grief. No sense of our country's role in the carnage - through negligence, blind aggression, and the war profiteering of our giant corporations.

That's why I consider the press part of the war machine Eisenhower warned us about, the "Military/Media/Industrial Complex" that's leading us all deeper into this madness. The media's self-interest is too bound up in the war-making process to report the news any differently than it does.

And as for us, the audience? We'll watch the images as they appear and we'll hope for peace, for some gesture of diplomacy to slow or stop the killing. Who knows? One may come soon, from somewhere else on the planet, and slow the destruction for a while.

But the flowers of war will be back again, on your newspapers and TV screens. Right where they've always been. No tears. No faces. No children. Just the flowers, blooming in their terrible beauty again and again and again.

A Night Light