The Reasoned Review

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Def. Secretary Gates: War “appalling”, breach of “common decency”

with 4 comments

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.


Written by pavanvan

September 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I have no interest in seeing the press controlled in any regard–it just would have been nice to see them exercise some decency, some compassion for that boy’s family. They asked that the images not be shown–that is not a request from a politician, it is a request from a parent.


    September 6, 2009 at 2:39 am

  2. Don’t you think it’s a little hypocritical of Gates to sit there and point the finger at the AP when these military deaths are really the result of his actions?


    September 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    • Somebody has to be Secretary of Defense. That we are in Iraq or Afghanistan was not Gates doing, but W’s and Rumsfeld’s. He is making the best of a situation as is The Big O. It is turning out to be just a little more difficult that either expected. So goes the criticism of that which you do not know.

      Not only do I have a problem with the press displaying pictures against the family’s wishes, but I have a problem with them displaying the ugliness of war because their motives are for motives to increase readership and thus monetary gain through sensationalism. They attack capitalism on a regular basis, but never hesitate to practice capitalism themselves …. THAT is what is hypocritical.


      September 6, 2009 at 6:32 pm

      • Well, we could argue over the AP’s motives (I think a strong argument could be made in favor of the idea that the AP merely wishes to more vividly display the horrors of war, in the hopes that the US public will not find itself so easily led next time).

        But even assuming their motives are nefarious (sensationalism, etc.) the fact remains that Gates has escalated the war in Afghanistan, and shows no signs of a full withdrawal in Iraq. I should point out that as Secretary of War, it is well within his power to end BOTH conflicts within the matter of months. That he does not do so, and still bemoans actions leading to “yet more anguish” is the definition of hypocrisy.

        And again, the ultimate act of “compassion” for that boy’s family would be to ensure no more have to die in these lunatic engagements. Unless Gates does so, his criticisms of the AP ring a bit hollow.


        September 6, 2009 at 6:47 pm

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