Def. Secretary Gates: War “appalling”, breach of “common decency”
Well, to be fair, Secretary of “Defense” Robert Gates doesn’t object to war per se, only the effects of it. Not even that, actually – Gates merely objects to the public’s ability to see such effects firsthand.
For a vivid demonstration, please see this article in today’s Politico. The piece describes Secretary Gates’ objections (“in the strongest possible terms”) to an Associated Press decision to transmit a photograph featuring a mortally wounded 21-year-old Marine.
Thus far, the Pentagon has exerted all its powers, both legal and illegal, to prevent our media from displaying pictures of dead soldiers. By and large, our mainstream outlets have complied. Nobody wants any trouble, you see – least of all from the Pentagon. So while the American public can be treated to heroic stories of “sacrifice for your country”, we are allowed precious few images of such sacrifice firsthand. Until the Obama Administration, even flag-draped coffins were considered inappropriate for public consumption. The White House has slid back in that respect, but they still clamp a tight lid upon any images of combat casualties.
It would be useful to examine the letter Secretary Gates sent to the Associated Press, which I excerpt below:
“Out of respect for his family’s wishes, I ask you in the strongest of terms to reconsider your decision. I do not make this request lightly. In one of my first public statements as Secretary of Defense, I stated that the media should not be treated as the enemy, and made it a point to thank journalists for revealing problems that need to be fixed – as was the case with Walter Reed.”
“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family. Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”
As you can see, it is “beyond” Mr. Gates to contemplate why the AP might make a decision “knowing full well that it will lead to yet more anguish”. Irony is another concept apparently beyond Mr. Gates’ cognition – if it were not, he would surely see how his own decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan unquestionably lead to “yet more anguish”.
We have all heard our liberal press moan that our government “learned nothing” from Vietnam, but that statement is not entirely true. Of course, lessons regarding the folly of imperialism, the implacability of national independence movements, or the grim cost of war itself were lost on our government, but they nonetheless learned a very important fact about the media: it must be controlled at all costs.
Much of the popular furor regarding the Vietnam War was stroked by two things: mandatory conscription (the dreaded “draft”), and a steady stream of atrocities, both US and Viet Cong in origin, which were graphically displayed to the American public on the nightly news. On this latest imperial go-round, our leaders learned the value of strict media control. Hence, we have seen no images of battle, no motion pictures of combat deaths, and most importantly, no visual reminder of the human cost of our empire.
No wonder Mr. Gates is appalled by this latest breach of protocol.