I am a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I use this blog try to promote critical thinking about mainstream media, establishment politics, and popular culture.
Thursday, March 01, 2012
Media on Soldier Responsibility: DON"T THINK
Note:This piece was submitted to the SCENE several days before chaos broke out in Afghanistan over the burning of the Koran. Glenn Greenwald provides the appropriate historical context for that chaos. Current events in Afghanistan are tragic, yet completely predictable given not only the history described by Greenwald, but also the courageous report written by Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis (and mostly minimized or censored by American corporate media). That report is discussed in the essay below. -TP
Virtually all mainstream media news producers say they subscribe to a free marketplace of ideas model of free speech. The model says that on controversial issues, the public is best served by being presented with the widest possible range of reporting and commentary. From the clash of diverse views emerges a well-informed citizenry and better public policy.
What news producers say they subscribe to and what actually happens are two radically different things. For most issues the “free marketplace” of ideas features narrow presentations of establishment talking points, with the mainstream media often looking like a Chamber of Commerce newsletter. Engaged citizens find themselves forced to search elsewhere for wider discussions.
Given that the United States has been fighting two wars continuously since 2001, with horrific consequences for thousands of volunteer troops, millions of civilians abroad, and military families at home, you’d think the issue of soldier responsibility might be worth talking about. Yet on that issue the mainstream media rigidly reject the marketplace of ideas model and in the process end up sending the message most destructive to democracy: DON’T THINK.
I have in mind two messages not allowed into the marketplace: Ian Murphy’s “Fuck the Troops” blog post from 2008 and Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis’ recent “Truth, Lies, and Afghanistan” in the Armed Forces Journal. Murphy’s piece, perhaps easy to dismiss because of its George Carlinesque lite cursing and satire, argues that we shouldn’t blindly treat as heroes those who make the choice to fight unheroic wars. Murphy you may recall was the individual who impersonated billionaire Republican king maker David Koch and in that role recorded a conversation with Scott Walker confirming our worst fears about the guv’s contempt for political opponents. The GOP pounced on Murphy’s 2008 blog post in an attempt to deflate the phone recording’s impact and put on the defensive any Democrat caught cavorting with him.
Davis, an Army whistleblower putting his career at risk by speaking out, argues that pretty much everything we’re hearing from the generals about our “successes” in Afghanistan is a lie. For his efforts he could face an investigation by the Pentagon for possible “security violations” along with what looks like a smear campaign possibly coordinated with elements of the mainstream media.
In dramatically different ways Murphy and Davis remind us of the moral obligations of military personnel. Superior officers are obligated to tell the truth and direct subordinates to act lawfully. Subordinates are obligated to disobey unlawful orders. Civilian and uniformed military leaders would prefer we not introduce critical public discussions of the morality of our war engagements, a preference enabled by the corporate media establishment since the end of the Vietnam War.
What should a responsible corporate media do when confronted with controversial war commentary? Unless their goal is to be the capitalist equivalent of Pravda and Xinhua News Agency (official organs of the former Soviet and current Chinese ruling classes) they should at the very least urge citizens to READ and THINK ABOUT the issues raised by Murphy and Davis.
From what I had read and heard about Murphy’s blog post, I thought he was doing nothing more than cheering on the death of American soldiers; one person told me that Murphy “clearly sympathizes with anti-American terrorists.”Then I actually read the entire piece, and I found this in it:
“As a society, we need to discard our blind deference to military service. There’s nothing admirable about volunteering to murder people. There’s nothing admirable about being rooked by obvious propaganda. There’s nothing admirable about doing what you’re told if what you’re told to do is terrible.” In my experience, the people who most support statements like that are veteranswho understand and appreciate the “new normal” that should have governed the military protocol of all nations after the post-World War II Nuremberg trials. What Murphy seems not to appreciate is the fact that the most principled, patriotic dissent against the Iraq War actually comes from soldiers, a fact that hardly reinforces his picture of “rubes” that “got what they asked for.”
Colonel Davis, who says he will get “nuked” for telling the truth about Afghanistan, seems determined to start a conversation about the war. The mainstream press doggedly refuses to facilitate that conversation. Writes Davis:
“When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid,graphically, if necessary, in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it . . . our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.”
Rolling Stone published Davis’ entire report online. So at least one publication supports a marketplace of ideas not just in words, but in deeds.