Column: When in Doubt, Wave the Flag and Wag the Tail

News at Home

Mr. Carpenter is working on a book about American demagoguery. He is a columnist for HNN.

The logic of your average American war booster leaves a considerable something to be desired. As I was watching one of the seemingly White House-operated cable networks last week, a flag-waving California lass being interviewed said we should prosecute the war in Iraq to the fullest because "there are people over there with guns trying to kill us." She appeared genuinely insulted, puzzled and ticked off that more than a few Iraqis have chosen to defend their homeland.

One presumes that if Bush, Halliburton & Associates should opt for regime change in, say, China, there likely would be a lot of oppressed Chinese with guns trying to kill liberating American troops and our insulted West coast lass would be just as puzzled and ticked off. This tunnel-vision opinion of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is held by 50 to 70 percent of Americans today. Their analytical wherewithal is so stunningly skimpy as to make one rethink the possible benefits of private-school vouchers.

Perhaps if the bomb-boosters at CNN, MSNBC and -- it goes without saying -- Fox were to report rather than peddle this war "24/7," those percentages would be decisively lower. Yet, compared to the printed press -- which so few Americans bother to read these days -- these electronic harlots provide little analysis as to why so many Iraqis are disturbingly anti-"liberation," or why Iraqi-regime goons aren't playing cricket on the battlefield. Cable networks dwell instead on interviewing endless streams of retired American brass promoting the offensive and decrying the enemy's tactics. The only true instructional outcome has been in discovering there are more out-to-pasture generals, admirals, colonels, little colonels and majors wanting to be interviewed on national television than there are lesbian transsexuals dialing Jerry Springer.

It is, of course, axiomatic that totalitarian regimes -- left or right, makes no difference -- are brutal, inhumane, hypocritical, violators of international law and unwilling to play by Hoyle. Nevertheless, no matter how axiomatic or obvious that may be, cable networks cannot get enough of fingering Saddam Hussein as somehow unique in these qualities. Ergo, Iraq deserves a "freedom operation" while the networks ignore -- much to the White House's delight -- America's history of buddying up to Hussein and countless tyrannical others. The networks ignore as well -- even more to the White House's delight -- that humanitarianism initially was among the lessor of Bush's rambling justifications for war.

Nor do the cable networks remind their audience that it is the United States violating international law by invading a foreign nation without provocation or with a plausible, non-risible excuse of self-defense. Presently the U.S. is, quite literally, an international outlaw. Any network discussion or analysis of this historically profound and disastrous change in American foreign policy -- that is, the inevitable boomerang effect of preemptive assaults -- is mostly absent. In its place we are treated to another Hussein horror story, after which the audience unfurls yet another American flag in self-righteous indignation.

Nor do the networks emphasize the singular constant of war: that every combatant country, no matter what its form of government, will, in time, behave atrociously. This point could (should) have been driven home while rightfully deploring Iraq's Geneva Convention violation regarding photo-airings of American POWs. Case in point: American military coroners have concluded the deaths of 2 Afghani detainees resulted from "blunt force trauma" while in U.S. custody. They were ruled homicides. That's not the American way; it's merely war's way, and brutality knows no borders.

And then there's the mouth-foaming over Hussein's trashing of genteel war "rules." The swarthy bastard is burning oil fields; ordering sniper attacks; sanctioning offensive surrenders; and in general deploying unspeakable tactics in the course of usually polite carnage. With unintended comic effect, one Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakly let loose an officious dollop of disappointment that Hussein "is fighting an asymmetrical warfare" [sic]. And it just ain't right. The Mideast tyrant refuses to match us man for man, tank for tank and cruise missile for cruise missile as any sporting chap would. By playing unfairly he is most rudely giving the "coalition" fits. That's your typical, thoughtless dictator for you.

The fact that North Vietnam chewed up a superpower with similar guerrilla tactics eludes cable-network anchors, thereby postponing the audience's inevitable realization that once again we're in for a grueling, body-counting nightmare from which we cannot gracefully wake up.

Just as costly to America's welfare will be -- in all forms of media but especially on evening cable-network programs -- the Right's tired, 100-percent, right-or-wrong Americanism designed only to stifle dissent or any sign of independent thought. For every antiwar piece delivered on air or in print, hordes of dictatorial creatures from the Right's boobgeoisie will rant that the author or speaker is unspeakably antiAmerican, a Hussein-lover, a totalitarian rube, a commie apologist, or whatever utterly off-the-point accusation springs to mind.

It shouldn't be the case that dissenting voices must preface their remarks with love-of-one's-country declarations, any more than it's the case that pro-war automatons don't feel the need to. In a sane world, only pro-war voices should be required to defend their advocacy of bloodletting versus the more peaceful status quo. That is not a world in which we find ourselves, however, and that's a darn shame.

© Copyright 2003 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Walter Hearne - 4/8/2003

The byline states that Carpenter is working on a book about "American demagoguery." Since it will be written by a practitioner, I assume it will be quite good.

Thomas Wilde - 4/7/2003

I hope you're just playing devil's advocate.

>> (1) What's wrong with pro-war coverage?

The short version: the press has gone completely off the deep end. The TV pundits almost seem to be salivating at the idea of war; we're hearing tales of brave and heroic journalists more than we hear tales of brave and heroic soldiers; on the days leading up to the war, the press failed to give even the faintest scintilla of equal coverage to the biggest organized peace movement since the Vietnam War, while subtly inflating their coverage of pro-war demonstrations to give the impression that the two were equal.

The American media is, plainly and simply, showing its biases more than ever before. In a field where objectivity is a general rule that is to be aspired to if not actually followed, the American media has abandoned all pretense of it, and the world is starting to notice.


Alec Lloyd - 4/4/2003

Mr. Carpenter has once more returned to his preferred style of writing, which is that every who disagrees with him is stupid.

This is a venerable tradition, repeated on playgrounds across this great land, but generally by the time one enters higher education it is viewed as lacking much force.

Mr. Carpenter also pooh-poohs the notion that Iraq isn’t obeying “genteel” laws of war.

I suppose since they are rather fooling and outmoded, we should simply fire up the B-52s and carpet bomb the entire country.

Better yet, let us use that fine nuclear arsenal we’ve created to really fix the Iraqis.

Or would that be immoral? Mr. Carpenter’s article suggests it doesn’t matter. War is bad so fight “dirty”—unless you’r the US, of course.

I would direct Mr. Carpenter to the heartwarming stories of Iraqis finally overcoming their fear of Saddam’s brutal secret police and embracing our soldiers, but nothing Mr. Carpenter has ever written leads me to believe he cares about anything other than his tenure and ability to post self-righteous articles mocking his political opponents.

For that reason, there can be no logical defense of American involvement insofar as Mr. Carpenter is concerned because logic with him is useless. Any defense is, as far as he is concerned, inherently illogical. It’s a catch-22.

For example, he suggests reporters aren’t asking “hard” questions. What would those be? So far, most of the foreign press seem preoccupied with Zionist conspiracies and hilariously false rumors of Dick Cheney’s daughter being a human shield. Some have pushed articles alleging allied atrocities, only to subsequently retract them.

I’ve already wasted more time on this response to Mr. Carpenter’s screed than it deserves so I will leave you with this though: If Iraq does turn into a democracy, will Mr. Carpenter and his compatriots admit they were wrong?

Suetonius - 4/3/2003

Actually, I would like an answer to Herodotus' question from some of those who believe there is a 'pro-war' or 'anti-war' bias rather than just generally uninformed silliness from the news media.

Frank Lee - 4/2/2003

P. M. Carpenter: An insightful hard-hitting article, as usual.
But why not set a public example, and join those of us who proudly own no television ? With the internet it is obsolete, and basically exists only to sell beer and chips to obese couch potatoes who think patriotism is a kind of video game.

Stephen - 4/2/2003

Hell, even the New York Times finally conceded the election results.

What crystal ball are you consulting?

dan - 4/2/2003

"I'm an tired of the illuminati who know more than the electorate."

Were you similarly disposed in the mid 1990s? You know, when the electorate told their representatives to think carefully before they did anything drastic...

Just asking.

dan - 4/2/2003

What's wrong with pro-war coverage?

If you have to ask, you are beyond reason.

Read some writing from the late 18th Centruy and get back to us with a 500 word essay ansering your own question...

The media, in aggregate, has NEVER been left leaning.

At one time, the media was somewhat centrist. Ownership was dispersed and the few people/organizations who held significant parts were well known (and could be thus discounted). The industry was regulated to prevent it from being too powerful or biased (at least near election time).

Now a handful of people and companies OWN most of it and it is "deregulated." I'll let you guess what the ideology of most of the people with that kind of wealth and influence might be, and who they support financially.

dan - 4/2/2003

Just think back to November, 2000.

Most people STILL believe the boy king was somehow elected.

Or even November, 2002. Is it just coincidence that most states with non-record-keeping electronic polling (created by people with direct monetary ties to the Republican Party) had Republican candidates who trailed in the polls on election day take surpirse victories?

Republicans hit upon a beautiful strategy:

If you tell enough lies, people will believe!

Radio: continual repetition of small linked lies.
TV: continual guiding of coverage to avoid issues.
Paper: BIG FRONT PAGE lies, followed by small page 56 retractions only if caught.

If you want to know waht is going on, watch the stock market (not market reporting news services).

Tom Kellum - 4/1/2003

The LIBERAL media and LIBERAL professors have all been sacrificed in the pursuit of Iraq's oil booty. That so? Or is it that...

The whole LIBERAL conspiracy was just another cheap, tawdry GOP propaganda trick.

Take your TV's advice, and leave the oil to Gus boys.

Gus Moner - 4/1/2003

Tired of the media? Intrenet radio offers many internastional options and there is that time tested short wave radio. Satellite offers many other options, but is more costly.Internet foreign press sites ar good too.

This may limit most US people to BBC and Canadian press, but Ireland and NZ are also options. That alone ought to bring some semblance of balance.

Those blessed with the ability to use a foreign language such as French, German, Arabic, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindu, etc. have a world of options before them.

Gus Moner - 4/1/2003

I agree with Paul that Mr Carpenter's points are lost in his style of discourse. I also agree that we are not getting all the balanced coverage we should. One only has to listen, read and and watch foreign media to see that the reporting is incredibly broader and more insightful.

Perhaps bypassing his rhetoric insults and discussing his points might enlighten debate without excessive rhetoric as the note suggested, (although I believe they can be specific).

Stephen - 4/1/2003

Mr. Carpenter's comments are recycled tripe.

You're acting as if he has said something new.

I'll send you 6 million carbon copy articles written in the past 30 years if you can bear to read them.

Mr. Carpenter is a fool and a dolt. He comments about American boobs mark him as an idiot.

Stephen - 4/1/2003

"Bush and Cheney are in bed with the corporate interests."

30 years experience in the field of corporate law lead me to make this statement. The Republican and Democratic parties both receive their money from the very same "corporate interests."

Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view.

Americans are not too lazy to read. The war coverage is intense and unending. I'm an tired of the illuminati who know more than the electorate. You will discover that the American electorate knows what it is doing. If Bush is failing, they will remove him.

Herodotus - 4/1/2003

Boy you guys really are out in la-la land aren't you.

(1) What's wrong with pro-war coverage?

(2) Can't you allow your minds to open up to the possibility that the media is neither right nor left but in fact in its own universalist, internationalist, sound bite clip of the day world? IT's a third force, guys, and it's time you all realized that it isn't going to be your friend when the world seems to be against you.

Judith Squires - 4/1/2003

Mr. Carpenter is absolutely right about the stunningly pro-war TV coverage. At least in the print media one can read a few voices of protest--but the TV flag waving Bush boosterism is incredible. We know that Bush and Cheney are in bed with the corporate interests, but to think they have this much control--it's enough to make me want to throw up. Meanwhile, Peter Arnett gets booted for telling the truth! Meanwhile, most Americans are too lazy to read, so they take in all the TV garbage as absolute truth. Lord help this country.

Suetonius - 4/1/2003

Paul says:
"They have not been critical or asked tough questions or reported on anything other than what they have been fed by CENTCOM."

Embedded reporters aside, who are free to ask whatever questions they want, what would you have the news media ask of CENTCOM or about the war in general.

People have become hostile, it seems to me, to Carpenter's comments because he doesn't present a coherent argument. To refute his statements would require a lengthy post, probably double the size of his, and it isn't worth the time and energy expended on it because he doesn't even post to this site.

Paul - 4/1/2003

The reason most reposnd the way those below this thread respond is simple and complex. Simple being that if you critisize Republican actions you are deemed anti-american and a Marxist. Its simple there is no need to go further for those that spout these lines. Though they, I belive were critiszing administrations pror to Bush II they beleive that they were being as american as they could be. (caveat I critisize all administrations when they are doing somethign against the best interest of the american people). So instead of taking Carpenter to task point by point it is easier and less time consuming to remain broad in their responces.

Thogh I do not agree with the voice that Carpenter is using he does bring up some points that should be delved into more deeply in order to get a true picture of what is going on. So far the major news agencies have not performed as news gatheres sould. They have not been critical or asked tough questions or reported on anything other than what they have been fed by CENTCOM.

What about civilian casualties. What about our precision weapons falling short or being misguided and falling in Saudi Arabia or not hitting their intended targets. Or about the 7 women and children fired a upon and killed at t check point. Or the market place bomb in Baghdad. I would rather hear more than just "fierce fighting around such and such a town but coalittion forces control this such and such a town. Well you can't control a town if there is still feirce fighting. So far teh major news agencies have failed teh American people in reporting this conflict. They seem to be being used by the adminsitration and armed forces PR as propganda machines.

Asking tough questions and getting the correct story out be it critical or not is not anti american. being against the current administration is not anit american. Critisizing the whys, hows, and what's with this war is not anti american nor is it pro Hussain.

Tom Kellum - 4/1/2003

Why in the world Mr. Carpenter's commentary would cause some people to respond hysterically, rather than critically, is beyond me.

Bob Greene - 3/31/2003

Mr. Carpenter's brief bio informs us that he is working on a book about American demagoguery. It should be an informed book since Carpenter's columns are some of the finest examples of demagoguery to grace the internet. They are full of distortions, half-truths and outright lies. Yes Mr. Carpenter knows a lot about demagoguery.

Suetonius - 3/31/2003

Carpenter is becoming more and more of a joke each week.

Kasper - 3/31/2003

I hear that Chirac wants a French version of CNN...perhaps P. M. should apply for a job there.

Stephen - 3/31/2003

Here's more of the contemptible foolishness that pervades this brain dead site.

Americans are, of course, boobs. Carpenter is a member of the illluminati. Hell, every other poster to this site has been to the top of the mountain to get his engraved tablets from the gods.

The problem with Carpenter's comments is that the left has been reflexively anti-American and neck deep in its infatuation with Marxism. The problem is not that people are calling the left on this foolishness.

Having painted itself into a corner with its foolish rhetoric, the left is now angry that it is characterized by that rhetoric.

Once again, I will state that a well-intentioned, sensible argument can be made against this war. Although I nominally support Prez Bush, I could make that argument for you.

Is there anybody out there who isn't infected with the stupid anti-Americanism and the brain dead Marxism who will make the argument against the war? If you can't, I will. Later.

First, let's wait for more knee-jerk hysteria from the profs.

Herodotus - 3/31/2003

I get the sense that if Mr. Carpenter were put in a position to effect the changes he continues to demand be made in the administration and in the entire way of life here in this country (such as our general habits of watching the war and not reading newspapers), he wouldn't have a clue what do to.