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The War of Images - an essay by Lee Harris 
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Post The War of Images - an essay by Lee Harris
The following essay was copied and pasted off Tech Central Station, where Lee Harris is a contributing editor. Lee has the balls to say things that aren't politically correct, but really hit home. Read this essay, and then check out some of his others at the Author Archives of Tech Central Station.




It is often said that we are fighting a war of ideas. We are not. We are fighting a war of images, and right now our enemy is winning this war, while we are losing it, and losing it badly.

Consider the images that have worked their way into our collective mind since the beginning of April: the images of the massacre at Fallujah; the images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib; the images of the decapitation of an American civilian. Now compare the overwhelming intensity of these images with the "idea" that the Bush administration is invoking in order to fight against them, namely, the abstract ideal of justice.

First, the Bush administration pledged to "bring to justice" those who committed the massacre at Fallujah; then it pledged to "bring to justice" those who were responsible for the prison abuse; and now, it has pledged to "bring to justice" the men who videotaped the killing of Nick Berg. How can such an abstract idea hold its own against such vividly concrete images? How can the pledge of due process hope to exorcise the searing memory of a severed head held aloft in triumph?

What is worse, the odds are that the only culprits who will be brought to justice are those Americans who abused Iraqi prisoners. They will be brought to justice in open and public show trials that the Bush administration feels will prove to the Iraqis that we Americans are really the good guys, after all.

Unfortunately, the justice to which these Americans will be brought will fail to satisfy the Iraqi people. No matter what verdict the military court hands down, the Iraqi street will go wild with anger and indignation at the perceived lightness of the punishment. For us, justice lies in the fairness of the process; for them it lies in the rightness of the outcome -- and how can any punishment short of death be appropriate for the Americans who defiled them?

Meanwhile, back on the home front, those Americans who instinctively believe in supporting our troops in far away lands, and supporting them "right or wrong," will watch with mounting exasperation as the Bush administration tries to appease the unappeasable Iraqi streets by putting Americans on trial in Iraq. At which point those Americans at home will began to ask themselves: Why are we bringing our guys to justice, while their guys, whose crimes are infinitely worst, not only remain at large, but are busily doing whatever they can to kill even more of us? Why are we punishing our own, in a futile attempt to pacify the Arab world, at the very time when we should be sticking together to fight an enemy whose collective will is to destroy us?

So we must be prepared to brace ourselves, not only against more images of Arab atrocities and American prisoner abuse, but against the inflammatory images that will emerge from the spectacle of Americans being exhibited in public trials in Iraq -- images that will have much the same impact on the collective mind of middle America that the images of prisoner abuse had on the collective mind of the Arab world.

When the average American sees images of other average Americans on trial in Iraq, howled and screamed at by mobs of Iraqis, whose side you do think he will be on -- the side of the Iraqis or the side of men and women whose only difference from himself is that they were assigned to a miserable job in a hellhole of a prison in the midst of a war that isn't quite a war, fighting an enemy who isn't quite an enemy.

Liberals complain that the Bush administration's approach is too simplistic. Quite frankly, it is nuanced to the point of incoherency. It asks of Americans that they hate only "the bad guys" in the Arab world, while it simultaneously calls on Americans to be willing to sacrifice their sons and their pocketbooks in order to create a happy future for "the good guys" in the Arab world. Yet our television and computer screens are full of the images of the bad guys of the Arab world doing unspeakably ghastly things to us, while we search in vain for the image of even one of the good guys for whom our nation has staked its resources and its prestige. Show us just one photograph of Iraqis publicly denouncing this gruesome act as a slander against Islam and a blasphemy against God.

From the photographs of men and women jumping from the World Trade Center to the videotape of Nick Berg's butchery, our enemy has flooded us with images that will haunt us all until our dying day. But Americans have been given no images of our friends in the Arab world; and certainly none that can match the potency of the images offered by our enemies.

The enemy's compelling images show what we are fighting against in Iraq; but there are no equally compelling images that show us what we are fighting for -- an "image gap" that is already causing many well wishers of the administration to question a policy in which we are endlessly willing to help a people who refuses to offer us even a single image of themselves caught in the act of displaying friendliness toward us -- a people who, on the contrary, take every photo opportunity given to them to show how much and how deeply they hate us; and who, when not given such an opportunity by us, are quite able to make one for themselves.

Most Americans are from Missouri: we must see it before we believe it. And we are not seeing why we should be fighting in Iraq for the good guys; indeed, we are not seeing the good guys at all, and many of us are beginning to wonder if there are any good guys, in our sense, to be found there; and if so, why they so adamantly refuse to show their faces to the camera.

Right now the Middle American psyche is being overwhelmed with reasons to hate the entire Arab world; and yet the Bush administration insists that we are in Iraq to help the Arabs. Unfortunately, the administration seems to be completely unaware of how sick and tired of Arabs the average American has become, unaware because it is politically incorrect to express such sentiments of outright hostility: but what is politically incorrect to express is all too often the motive force behind those sudden and spontaneous movements of the popular psyche that only seemed to come from nowhere because they came from a place unfamiliar to most pundits and paid prophets, namely, the gut level feelings of the average guy.

Many Americans simply wish the Arabs would go away; others wish to blow them away -- and wish to blow them away not because they see this step as inevitable and tragic, but because they rejoice at the prospect of getting them back for what they have done to us. Most normal Americans today just don't care any more about the Arabs and their welfare, or about their humiliation, or about their historical grievances, simply because all the images that come to us from their world horrify and appall us, including the disturbing images of Americans doing things that no normal American would ever dream of doing to other people back at home, if only because they would never be given the opportunity.

This is how most normal Americans now feel, but they dare not express it in public. But make no mistake, this feeling will be expressed -- somehow, somewhere: a fact of which our leaders and the world must be made aware before it occurs.




Chris O'Connor

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Sat Jul 03, 2004 5:53 pm
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Post Uggh...
If this essay is any indicator of the book, we can expect little more than apologetics and rationalization of American abuses and crimes in history. It's just what we need, another book to applaud our great virtues- all the while in deadly denial of our vices and disease.

Yes, you great Nation, pat yourself on the back for being for grand and noble, while you steadily sink into intellectual sewers you no longer control.

Jeezus, can't we just tell the truth about our abuses and let our virtues speak for themselves? IF the greatness is there, it will speak far more loudly than all the intellectuals, commisars, and writers combined.

Otherwise, for those of us who are more interested in fixing what's broke and healing what's sick....let's look at the abcessed sore fearlessly and openly, and let's tell ourselves the truth about our abuses.

This essay panders to the worst of our natures...encouraging ignorance and self-righteousness, fueling xenophobic distrust of foreigners and further burdening an already impossible stupidity regarding the world outside of Missouri...if this is what 'normal Americans' think, then shame on 'normal America'.

Here's an antidote to such ignorance...a timeline of just a fraction of American abuses in the 'Arab' world.

Quote:
The list below presents some specific incidents of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The list minimizes the grievances against the United States in the region because it excludes more generalized longstanding policies, such as U.S. backing for authoritarian regimes (arming Saudi Arabia, training the secret police in Iran under the Shah, providing arms and aid to Turkey as it ruthlessly attacked Kurdish villages, etc.). The list also excludes many actions of Israel in which the United States is indirectly implicated because of its military, diplomatic, and economic backing for Israel.


www.zmag.org/middletimeline.htm




Sun Jul 04, 2004 4:05 pm
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Post Why the surprise?
The way I remember it we went there to find weapons of mass destruction not to make friends. We did invade their country, killed civilians, humiliated, abused and tortured innocent people, seriously damaged the civilian infrastructure which made a mess of their everyday lives. It would be nice to get some gratitude since we removed a ruthless dictator but we shouldn't be surprised that we are not getting it and we definitely shouldn't feel entitled to it.




Sun Jul 04, 2004 8:29 pm
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Post Re: Why the surprise?
I'm amazed that I rarely see anyone saying anything positive about the United States online or in the media, yet in real life I hear it everyday. It seems the media is extremely liberal, and I don't think anyone would argue that point. But I'm also becoming increasingly convinced that liberals spend more time on the web. Or at least they're the ones speaking their minds the loudest.

So in this essay are there any valid points?

Chris

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Sun Jul 04, 2004 9:45 pm
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Post Re: Why the surprise?
The main points of the essay are valid I believe. The brutality and barbarism of some stories and pictures coming out of Iraq are making Americans less likely to try and see the Arab point of view. It will be progressively more difficult to keep Americans patient. It will be extremely hard to sell issues like amnesty for insurgents with the American military taking casualties at the same time. So as a description of the public's state of mind the essay is not off the mark. Unfortunately this is a complicated situation and there are no easy solutions.




Sun Jul 04, 2004 11:02 pm
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Post Re: Why the surprise?
costas v

Thank you! That is exactly what I was hoping for - an understanding of the message the author is obviously trying to convey. We can not approve of most, or even all, of the decisions the United States is making in its foreign policy, but do we have to tune out every decent analysis or argument presented that doesn't completely bash the US? Of course not. Harris has some excellent points and I'm happy to see you recognizing them.

Chris

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Post Re: Why the surprise?
Chris,

It's not bashing, but truth telling. You know, accurately describing those elements in foreign policy that promote injustice, secure misery, and increase the profit of a few men at the expense of entire nations....and the planet.

A 'decent' analysis begins here, where the disease is most prominent and detrimental. An 'indecent' analysis pushes this aside, makes believe it's not there, and accuses those who bring it up as 'bashers' or 'America haters'...while pushing the blame for the problem squarely on the shoulders of those currently living in rubble...and excusing the most ridiculous forms of parochial ignorance.

The Arab world has its own problems, no doubt....terrible problems that may or may not be solved any time soon...if it all. What this author is telling me is that Americans are tired of trying to help....

This is the key, core basic issue....America is not there to help the Arab world.

Get it?

Now, any analysis that avoids that axiom, no matter the detailed points along the way, will secure further ignorance in America and devastation in the Middle East.

If this point can't be conceded, I can't take the author seriously.

Nor can I understand how anyone else would.




Mon Jul 05, 2004 10:12 am
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Post War of Axioms
"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own.... And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the "haves" refuse to share with the "have-nots" by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans."
General David Sharp, former US Marine Commandant

"We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism and in the future, nuclear terrorism."
Robert Bowman, Vietnam Veteran, bishop of the United Catholic Church in Melbourne Beach, FL.

" ... the United States, for generations, has sustained two parallel but opposed states of mind about military atrocities and human rights: one of U.S. benevolence, generally held by the public, and the other of ends-justify-the-means brutality sponsored by counterinsurgency specialists. Normally the specialists carry out their actions in remote locations with little notice in the national press. That allows the public to sustain its faith in a just America, while hard-nosed security and economic interests are still protected in secret. "
Robert Parry, investigative reporter and author

" U.S. Ieaders commit war crimes as a matter of institutional necessity, as their imperial role calls for keeping subordinate peoples in their proper place and assuring a "favorable climate of investment" everywhere. They do this by using their economic power, but also ... by supporting Diem, Mobutu, Pinochet, Suharto, Savimbi, Marcos, Fujimori, Salinas, and scores of similar leaders. War crimes also come easily because U.S. Ieaders consider themselves to be the vehicles of a higher morality and truth and can operate in violation of law without cost. It is also immensely helpful that their mainstream media agree that their country is above the law and will support and rationalize each and every venture and the commission of war crimes. "
Edward Herman, political economist and author

" The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."
George Orwell




Mon Jul 05, 2004 10:49 am
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Post 0
I feel that this essay hits on some important issues. It is a war of images. It's all about perception.

In the U.S., America has always managed to create an impression that it is good. Everything that is good is American. Everything that is American is good. What isn't American is bad, if not plain evil.

I think that many Americans are shocked to discover that other country's do not share this view. They become amazed at the lack of gratitude shown to them for their help in defeating evil communists and nazis.

The American actions in Iraq occur in a context. The middle east was used as a football between the soviets and the Nazis for years. THe U.S. has used and abused these countries. People don't forget that. It may be simplistic to suggest that the U.S. is the single most powerful cause in of the misery experienced, but they share responsibility for many atrocities. They have acted amorally. They have acted in their own interests. The 'Arabs' have no reason to believe that the U.S. acts for altruistic reasons.

The problem, as I see it, is that people don't want to see the world as complicated. They want it to be about good versus evil. They group. You are either part of the good 'in' group or you're part of the bad 'out' group. And as Harris points out, people have created simplistic schemas in which Islam is bad, America is good or Islam is good, America is bad.




Fri Jul 09, 2004 6:22 am
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Post Excellent post!
Niall

I think you're bringing up some good points that are worth further exploration.

Quote:
The middle east was used as a football between the soviets and the Nazis for years.


Forgive my ignorance of world history, but I would appreciate an explanation for this.

Quote:
THe U.S. has used and abused these countries.


How so? And I'm not challenging what you say. I just don't know how we've ever used and abused the middle eastern countries. As Harris says in one of the early chapters, these middle eastern nations have produced nothing themselves in the way of goods and services that other nations are ready, willing and able to buy. They are sitting on top of oil fields that they didn't create. Yes, the oil is their oil...but Harris makes the point that they didn't struggle to attain this product, and therefore don't fully appreciate all that goes into the building a company, an economy, or even a nation.

The US hasn't stolen their oil, although doing so would be rather easy. How have we used and abused them?

Quote:
It may be simplistic to suggest that the U.S. is the single most powerful cause in of the misery experienced, but they share responsibility for many atrocities.


I agree with you completely. People want to oversimplify complex issues. We're not innocent by any means and many people can't grasp this.

Quote:
The 'Arabs' have no reason to believe that the U.S. acts for altruistic reasons.


We don't, which is somthing that pisses me off to no end. The only justification for this war in Iraq would be to remove a brutal dictator that was killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi's. Had we pushed this issue, the UN might have come aboard and supported the objective. But instead this was all about chasing an imaginary stash of nukes and chemical weapons.

Quote:
The problem, as I see it, is that people don't want to see the world as complicated. They want it to be about good versus evil
.

Bingo! I agree completely. And I'll admit that the conservatives are MUCH more guilty of committing this type of irrational thinking than the liberals. I've argued this point so many times. Conservatives think in black and white, when there are a million shades of grey inbetween. Look at any issue - like abortion. They seem unwilling to consider the possibility that there is not a precise moment that a human deserves the "right" to life, and that this is currently a subjective subject.

Anyway....good post.

Chris

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Fri Jul 09, 2004 1:11 pm
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Post Ten Things to Consider
Quote:
I just don't know how we've ever used and abused the middle eastern countries.


Chris,

I suggest we consider these ten points when discussing the American abuses in the Middle East. Taken from,

TEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT
U.S. POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
by Stephen Zunes AlterNet Septeber 26, 2001
from the book
Another World Is Possible
edited by Jee Kim, Jeremy Glick, et al
Subway and Elevated Press, 2001

1. THE UNITED STATES HAS PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN THE MILITARIZATION OF THE REGION.

2. THE US MAINTAINS AN ONGOING MILITARY PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

3. THERE HAS BEEN AN ENORMOUS HUMANITARIAN TOLL RESULTING FROM US POLICY TOWARD IRAQ.

4. THE UNITED STATES HAS NOT BEEN A FAIR MEDIATOR IN THE ISRAELI - PALESTINIAN CONFLICT.

5. US SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL OCCUPATION FORCES HAS CREATED ENORMOUS RESENTMENT THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE EAST

6. THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN INCONSISTENT IN ITS ENFORCEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW AND UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS.

7. THE UNITED STATES HAS SUPPORTED AUTOCRATIC REGIMES IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

8. US POLICY HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF RADICAL ISLAMIC GOVERNMENTS AND MOVEMENTS.

9. THE US PROMOTION OF A NEO-LIBERAL ECONOMIC MODEL IN THE MIDDLE EAST HAS NOT BENEFITED MOST PEOPLE OF THE REGION.

10. THE US RESPONSE TO MIDDLE EASTERN TERRORISM HAS THUS FAR BEEN COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE.

Each of these points are spelled out in further detail here .

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 7/9/04 3:56 pm



Fri Jul 09, 2004 2:47 pm
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