It's too Early to Declare Victory

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Mr. Briley is a teacher at a prepatory school in New Mexico.

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Baghdad has fallen, and the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein has collapsed. We are treated to television images of Iraqis dancing in the streets of America and Baghdad. American troops join Iraqi citizens in toppling a statue of Saddam. Surely, those of us who protested the invasion of Iraq must admit the error of our ways. Unfortunately, life and history are rarely as simplistic as Fox News would have us believe.

One of the major problems in observing this televised war from our living rooms is the lack of multiple perspectives. The corporate mainstream media in this nation has ill served the American people, uncritically accepting administration and Pentagon claims of the war's aims. For example, before the invasion of Iraq, Secretary of State Powell focused the administration's case on Saddam developing weapons of mass destruction and his alleged ties to international terrorism, which have never been adequately documented. On the other hand, in his speech on the eve of invasion, President Bush gave Saddam forty-eight hours to get out of town, while using Wilsonian rhetoric to shift the focus of the war to liberating the Iraqi people. The mainstream media unquestionably accepted this shift in emphasis, even adopting the Pentagon's nomenclature of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In a rush to embrace images of World War II and liberating Europe, the media seemed to forget all the issues that had driven debate at the United Nations in the months preceding the war.

Much of the nation's one-dimensional perspective of the War in Iraq came from journalists embedded with the American troops. And, indeed, this was an important point of view which should be available to the American public. Much like Albuquerque's acclaimed Ernie Pyle in the Second World War, these embedded journalists identified with the soldiers with whom they share the war experience. There is a natural tendency to lose objectivity in such a situation, but some fine reporting, as the work of Pyle attests, may result. The problem with the current situation is that the war was only viewed through the eyes of American soldiers. The media effort to support the troops severely limited the American public's ability to attain differing perspectives on the war.

We viewed footage of protests against the war in foreign capitals, but where were the interviews and analysis which would explain why much of the world was--and is--so opposed to military action by the United States and Britain? In a similar vein, images of protesters being arrested in the streets of America were a staple of war coverage, but did reporters bother to inquire why these individuals were challenging the policies of the Bush administration? Nor did we see the mainstream media presenting alternative perspectives on the war. Every major news network seems to have had embedded former generals to analyze the war and military strategy for television audiences. But did we see any prominent scholarly critics of the war, such as Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, provided with precious air time? (Of course, there was more opportunity for expressing differing opinions on the op-ed pages, but most Americans do not get their news via the print media.) A democracy should have a contentious but civil discourse, yet this was hardly evident on the public airwaves.

Also, we need multiple perspectives. Why weren't some journalists embedded with Iraqi doctors so that we might have been better able to evaluate the human cost of American military intervention? Some pictures from Iraqi hospitals might have presented Americans with a less sanitized view of war than that produced by "shock and awe" explosions. And why not some stories on Iraqi soldiers who fought bravely and died with little choice? Each Iraqi casualty was more than a number. Just as with each American death, which the media justly treated on an individual basis, every Iraqi soldier killed in combat had a personal story with grieving friends and relatives. Such a perspective, however, would humanize the enemy and make it more difficult to fight a war. Such media coverage, similar to great works of art like Erich Maria Remarque's classic antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front, might have given us pause in our rush to war.

Yet, defenders of the war will take us back to the Iraqis cheering the troops and observe that the human cost was necessary for freedom and liberation. These scenes of jubilation, however, should be viewed with a more skeptical eye than that expressed by the mainstream media. Of course, many Iraqis are glad that Saddam is gone and that the war is over. But will the American be perceived as liberators or colonizers in the days ahead? Despite official statements regarding support for Iraqi democracy, the administration's plans for a postwar Iraq envision a greater role for the American military than UN humanitarian organizations. Also, the role of American oil companies and lucrative contracts for such corporations as Haliburton in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq certainly suggests that the United States will frown upon an Iraqi nationalism that might threaten American economic interests. In addition, aggressive rhetoric from Washington aimed at Syria and Iran suggests that the military conflict in the Middle East may be expanded.

The mainstream media have termed the war against Iraq a success for the Bush administration, while poking fun at celebrities such as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon who voiced opposition to the war. It is much too early to leap to such conclusions, reflecting the media's short attention span and lack of historical perspective. Certainly, the military strategy of the United States achieved its purpose of defeating Saddam's regime upon the battlefield, yet it is premature to declare victory. American troops who were cheered for overthrowing Saddam may become the target of Iraqis frustrated in the months and years to come if political and economic expectations for self determination are not forthcoming.

The quagmire in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, may come as the United States becomes entangled in sectarian and tribal conflicts from which the administration appears to have no exit strategy. The American experience in Afghanistan should raise some qualms regarding premature victory celebrations. President Reagan provided financial and military assistance to combat the Soviet invasion, comparing the Afghan freedom fighters with America's founding fathers. Yet, a few years later embittered Afghans provided bases from which terrorist attacks were launched against the United States. Long-term American occupation of Iraq will undermine political stability in the Middle East and threaten the security of the United States. News headlines obscure the fact that the history of the Iraq War has yet to be written.

The embedded media, focusing upon the prophecy of Iraqi liberation, has raised few such questions. Many of us who initially opposed the war continue to have major reservations, but we seem embedded in an America that seeks to quell the voices of dissent.

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Bill Heuisler - 4/23/2003

Mr. Mutschler,
No apology necessary. Your gracious, cheerful posts are welcome with or without perfection. When Bill Richardson calls me for advice I'll pass on your good wishes.
Bill Heuisler

Charles V. Mutschler - 4/23/2003

Mr. Heuisler,

I believe I owe you, and more importantly, Governor Richardson an apology for attempting to transfer the Governor's party affiliation. Shame on me - I should have followed that old carpenter's axiom of "measure twice, then saw." In history speak, 'check your sources before you commit anything to paper (or electrons). Cheers!


Bill Heuisler - 4/23/2003

Enough Derek,
You have erroneously used the term "scare quotes" before. When I quote and refer to the quote I use quotation marks. Simple.

Required text books in certain classrooms will inflate book sales; don't be so impressed. Zinn and Chomsky are not worth my time or yours. Their irrelevance in a high school class is part of the point you apparently don't want to address. Frankly the odd article and rambling discussion is pointless. Let's wait for more interesting subject matter to wrestle with.
Best, Bill

Derek Catsam - 4/23/2003

Bill --
Yes, he did mention Zin in his post, which makes it all the more bizarre that you would say I was "slithering" and going off point when I referred to Zinn after you referred to Zinn after the article referred to Zinn, your inexplicable descent into sociologist-ese in your first sentence notwithstanding.
Are you serious when you put scare quotes around "prominent" and "scholarly" when you write about Zinn and Chomsky? They are demonstrably both if being on the NYT best seller list is indicatiove of the former and if their positions in academia are reflective of the latter. You may not like them, but to pretend that Zinn and Chomsky are minor figures is to engage in wishful thinking.
Mr. Mutschler, Richardson is a Democrat. Served in Congress, in Clkinton's cabinet and for a while was a frontrunner to be Gore's VP running mate.

Charles V. Mutschler - 4/23/2003

New Mexico's Governor, Bill Richardson, might be a bit offended, not to mention surprised, to learn that he has become a Democrat. Governor Richardson is a Republican, I believe. While it may be a small point, I would note that Governor Richardson has managed to keep the New Mexico budget in the black (one of four states not running a projected budget deficit), and find money to put into a rather large historic preservation project in his state this year.

Charles V. Mutschler

Bill Heuisler - 4/22/2003

A paradigm for misdirection, you're morphing this discussion into a mediumistic visit through my psychic modus operendi. It could be serendipitous, but Briley did mention Zinn and Chomsky in his central (fourth paragraph). Significant or just lucky?
He said, "Every major news network seems to have had embedded former generals to analyze the war and military strategy for television audiences. But did we see any prominent scholarly critics of the war, such as Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, provided with precious air time?"

At risk of pedagogy, may I point out: Briley evidently considers these two elders of the angry Left "prominent" and "scholarly". Change the subject all you want, but our Prep School teacher has chosen peculiarly gnarly champions for his schoolyard charges.
Which might have been my original point, but I forget now.

New Mexico is doomed anyhow...Democrats rule there, you know.
Bill Heuisler

Derek Catsam - 4/22/2003

Bill --
You say Zinn is not the point, yet he was at the heart of your initial post here, and he has been at the heart of many of your points lo these many months. You can't have it both ways -- you can't use him as a whipping boy then claim that those who also mention him in their posts are avoiding what you've decided the issue is. The issue often changes. this is not an exervise in deconstruction. it's an exercise is people getting their minds around complicated issues that themselves sometimes morph into other, occasionally more interesting topics.
As for what you call Zinn's skewed and fatuous opinions, if you own a tv and if you watch any of the news networks, you are getting skewed, fatuous opinions almost on the minute. William J. Bennet can spew the fatuousness with the best of them, and he is on tv all the time. Zinn opposes war because of the deaths. While his view may be a bit reductionist and idealistic, it hardly seems to me an invalid stance, especially if he is consistent about opposing war, which to my knowledge he has been. You don't like Zinn. Fine. But to say someone does not deserve to be a teacher because he advocates hearing from a historian you don't agree with seems bizarre. Does this mean that if I disagree with you about someone whose views you'd like to see on tv I can say you are/were not qualified to be in the military? Zinn has, for better or worse, sold Millions of books (I'd say generally for worse)which in and of itself makes him relevant to more than a small segment of the market. Believe it or not, the union will not collapse, nor will that prep school in New Mexico, if someone is allowed to disagree with your rendering of American history.

Bill Heuisler - 4/22/2003

Zinn is not the point, Briley is. Why can't you address his impossible complaints about TV coverage in Iraq?
But if you insist:
Zinn opposes the profit motive, the military, both political parties and believes class warfare is desirable. Has he said, "I hate the US"? Probably not, but he certainly has said he loathes much about what we call America.

The following Bill Moyers interview on 1-10-03 is informative because it illustrates Zinn's world view, his moral relativism, his bad judgement, lousy predictions and opinion of his country.

BILL MOYERS: "What are the real reasons, in your opinion, for why we're going to war? I mean we know the stated reasons, weapons of mass destruction, all of that. Why do you think they are so eager to go to war?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, I mean there's no doubt-- as you say there are stated reasons. None of those stated reasons make sense, you know? Saddam Hussein is a tyrant-- well-- we've tolerated tyrants-- lots of them. We've put tyrants in power. You know, weapons of mass destruction, well we just had an example. Korea has more weapons of mass destruction than Saddam Hussein but we're not making war on Korea. So, if-- I think oil is one of the important factors. But I think that there are others. And one of them has to do with something psychological. That macho feeling that people in power have about the United States being the number one superpower and determined to show it.
BILL MOYERS: Is there any evidence they could present or any argument they could make that would give you second thoughts about your opposition to the war?
HOWARD ZINN: (LAUGHS) I can't think of any. And I think there's a fundamental reason why I can't think of any. If we go to war, we will kill thousands, tens of thousands, we don't know how many people. A hundred thousand? We will kill huge numbers of people. And who will we kill? We will kill the victims of Saddam Hussein. If we go to war against Iraq, we are killing the victims of the tyrant. That to me creates a moral equation which is intolerable."

Why would such skewed, fatuous opinions be important enough to a teacher for him to advocate their exposure on TV?

Derek Catsam - 4/22/2003

Bill --
I'm not slithering. You just always think you get to determine the parameters of the discussion. I mentioned civil rights because your constant iteration of Zinn is a caricature. He DID play a role in the CRM, which at least gives him credibility as an activist, even if his credibility as an historian is suspect. And has Zinn actually said that he "hates America?" Citations, please. Not inferences. Not reading between the lines. Actual quotations from serious sources.
As for "hate America," that's your hobbyhorse, so how I'm slithering by addressing it is beyond me. Why gee, right there in your third paragraph you bring it up again, Sidewinder Bill!
I certainly did not read anything in his article to indicate that Mr. Briley does not deserve to be teaching high school history or that he is not qualified. I am not certain that the Bill Heuisler (or, for that matter, Derek Catsam) ideology litmus test is exactly the gauge that most high schools should use.

Bill Heuisler - 4/22/2003

Civil Rights, Free Markets, Hate America? You're slithering.
How do you expect me to be the final arbiter on everything if you can't stay on message.

Briley's sour-grapes theme was, "In a rush to embrace images of World War II and liberating Europe, the media seemed to forget all the issues that had driven debate at the United Nations in the months preceding the war."
Note to the teacher: UN Debated weapon inspections and Cease Fire Agreement violations. His point was?

Then he complained imbedded reporters didn't concentrate on American excess and blood-lust - how TV journalists ignored the angst of the Iraqi soldier and failed to contact grieving Iraqi mothers. Prep-school-teacher Briley then deplored the absence of Zinn and Chomsky in the news and questions why our news media have not foretold the future ("News headlines obscure the fact that the history of the Iraq War has yet to be written."

Zinn and Chomsky say they hate the US. Why is this relevant to high school? Interviewing Iraqi mothers and recording anguish in Iraqi hospitals for some morally-relativist argument would not have been logistically possible nor would it have been in the interest of worried American parents or the American War Effort.

Does the mind that produced such illogical confusion have any business in a classroom? Can a rational reader say Briley is happy with our American victory? Your final arbitor says no.

Derek Catsam - 4/22/2003

Bill --
You've made it more than clear how you loathe Zinn -- almost preternaturally -- and while I don't much care for him as an historian, a case can be made that he has done every bit as much for America as any veteran ever has. He was on the front lines in the Civil Rights Movement, for example, as good and virtuous a thing as any Americans have ever done. Meanwhile you (twice!) point out that Mr. Briley, whose intentions at least seem noble whether or not you agree with them, point out that he is a prep school teacher, as if that is somehow relevant. In fact it seems rather sneering -- odd that a conservative free marketeer would sneer at someone teaching at a private school. But then you've never seemed to have been the biggest fan of the free market of ideas. As for whether students want to hear prominent opponents of the war, well, it seems clear that in fact they do if you spend so much as a minute on any campus in America. Lots and lots and lots of students opposed this war. Why such disdain for the opinions of both students and teachers? meanwhile why fall back on the "they hate America" dogma? Do you truly believe that everyone who spoke out against this war hates the United States? What a twisted litmus test: "agree with me, or you are not a good American." Though I'm not sure why you are the final arbiter of these things. It took me a lot of painful soul searching to support this war, and I still have serious qualms with the way the Bush administration went about it from the very beginning. I am glad that rape will no longer be a de riguer political tactic in Iraq. I am glad that torture as state policy will (we hope) be a thing of the past. I am glad that we will (we hope) no longer have to deal with Saddam. But that does not mean that those who opposed the war are somehow on a lesser moral or political plane than those who supported it.

Herodotus - 4/21/2003

to be left way out beyond the walls by everyone else in the country. What Mr. Briley fails to engage is the revolutionary idea that the print and video media, and public that reads or watches it, no longer cares about Zinn or Choamsky's views anymore.

That must really hurt. *shrug* Irrelevance stinks. Oh well.

Bill Heuisler - 4/21/2003

A Prep School teacher, complains of " America that seeks to quell the voices of dissent"? Bemoans the absence of Chomsky and Zinn on Evening News shows and wants American TV to show Iraqi children injured by US bombs? How radical. Such juvenile outre. Unsatisfied with American victory, the chic Prep-school teacher would like another perspective. Patriotism passe in New Mexico? Long for the coffee-house mantras and Leftist sneers of your youth? Want to share careless poison with students? Wake up.

Haven't you noticed? Chomsky and Zinn have spewed similar hatred for years - criticism and party-line jargon. Thirty five years, same script, same people, different occasions; hatred posed as discourse; Marxist bombast disguised in bookish prattle; envy sheathed in faux-history. We've heard it before. Haven't you? And what makes you think students would welcome such garbage?

Interview protestors? Why would any journalist want to interview Brian Becker, Stanley Cohen, Ramesh Chandra, Sara Flounders or Larry Holmes. All the same. They hate the US and spout the same dull dogma-of-the-day to stolidly rabid disciples. Boring.

Relax, Briley, nobody will bother to quell opinions like yours.
Bill Heuisler