A Crooked Mirror
More on the war (4):
By Uri Avnery, 02.04.03
# Read the Bible. George Bush, we are told, is a deeply
religious person, and so is his yeoman, Tony Blair. It is a pity that they do not read the Bible more.
One of the most beautiful Hebrew sentences can be
found in I Kings XX. When he attacked Israel, the King of Syria boasted of his mighty army and demanded surrender. King Ahab replied with four immortal Hebrew words, rendered
thus in English: ”Let not him that girdeth on (his harness) boast himself as he that putteth it off.”
# Retroactive Terrorists. Schoolbooks in dozens of
different languages must now be rewritten.
The old books said that the men and women of the
French resistance in World War II were heroes. These civilians went out in the night to bomb German trains, kill German soldiers and execute collaborators. The instructions
came from London. They knew that if they were caught, they would undergo gruesome tortures and put to death. Dozens of American and British movies sang their praise.
The Russian partisans, whose slogan was “Death to the
Invader!” turned the life of the German soldiers into hell. The partisans were hanged in droves. The original guerillas – for whom this Spanish word meaning “little war” was coined –
attacked Napoleon’s soldiers. Goya immortalized them in his magnificent picture. A whole generation of Israeli children was taught to admire the Irgun and Stern Group fighters, all
civilians, of course, who blew up the installations of the British army and killed its soldiers. It appears now that they were all vile terrorists.
# Presstitution. In the Middle Ages, armies were
accompanied by large numbers of prostitutes. In the Iraq war, the American and British armies are accompanied by large numbers of journalists.
I coined the Hebrew equivalent of “presstitution” when I
was the editor of an Israeli newsmagazine, to denote the journalists who turn the media into whores. Physicians are bound by the Hippocratic oath to save life as much as
possible. Journalists are bound by professional honor to tell the truth, as they see it.
Never before have so many journalists betrayed their
duty as in this war. Their original sin was their agreement to be “embedded” in army units. This American term sounds like being put to bed, and that is what it amounts to in practice.
A journalist who lies down in the bed of an army unit
becomes a voluntary slave. He is attached to the commander’s staff, led to the places the commanders is interested in, sees what the commander wants him to see, is
turned away from the places the commanders does not want him to see, hears what the army wants him to hear and does not hear what the army does not want him to hear. He is
worse than an official army spokesman, because he pretends to be an independent reporter.
The problem is not that he sees a small piece of the
grand mosaic of the war, but that he transmits a mendacious view of that piece.
In the Falklands and the first Gulf wars, journalists were
simply not allowed to reach the campaign area. It seems that a bright fellow at the Pentagon had an idea: “Why keep them out? Let’s allow them in, they’ll be told what to write and
broadcast and eat out of our hands like puppies.”
# Shame. Since the age of 19, I have been a journalist. I
was always proud of it. On innumerable forms I wrote “Profession: Journalist.”
I am ashamed when I see a large group of journalists from
all over the world sitting in front of a many-starred general, listening eagerly to what is called a “briefing” and not posing the simplest relevant questions. And when a courageous
reporter does stand up and ask a real question, no one protests when the general responds with banal propaganda slogans instead of answering.
Remember the virtual surrender of the Iraqi 51st division?
The “uprising” of the people of Basra that never was? The thousand and one other lies, that have gone with the wind? Where were the journalists when all this happened?
Almost all the journalistic reports of this war are a
crooked mirror. We see in it a distorted and mendacious picture. Therefore, praise be to the few who, like Peter Arnett, are ready to sacrifice their career on the altar of truth.
# The bottom of the barrell. I am ashamed of being a
journalist. I am doubly ashamed of being an Israeli journalist.
In this war, all sections of the Israeli media have hit a
new low. No criticism at all gets published. The opponents of the war have effectively been silenced. Even in the American media, some voices of dissent are being heard. In Israel, this
is not possible. It would be worse than treason.
The only exception I know of is the TV reporter San
Semama, who stole into Iraq, was caught by the Americans, imprisoned in a jeep and starved for 48 hours. He saw what is really happening. Parts of his reports were published here and
there, and then the curtain of silence came down. All the rest – journalists, pundits, the bunch of ex-officers and who not – appear on our screens, hour after hour, and repeat like
parrots the American propaganda-line, even when it is manifestly ridiculous.
# Chocolate soldiers. I am especially allergic to “military
correspondents”. They are indeed a unique human species, the ultimate he-men, the ultimate soldiers. They are also ridiculous pretenders.
I saw them first in our 1948 war, when I was a combat
soldier. When we were lying in the mud and crawling among the thorns, we saw from time to time such a “soldier”, well shaved, in clean uniform, wearing a helmet, radiating all the
martial virtues. These were the military correspondents, attached to brigade headquarters, associating with senior officers, far from the front line.
(I really shouldn’t complain. When I published my
combat-diary after the war it became overnight a run-away bestseller – simply because not one of these chocolate soldiers was able to write an authentic book about the war.)
# The theater of operations. I read somewhere that the
briefing room of General Tommy Franks was created by a professional designer for a quarter of a million dollars. The American army does invest a lot of money in designing this theater.
I assume that much bigger sums are paid to the
professional designers who shape the public appearances of President Bush. One should pay attention to the scenery – it is much more interesting than George W.’s words.
For some months now, Bush is almost always seen on a
background of soldiers. The stage designer sees to it that the soldiers are all around the President, so that from any photo angle the admiring faces shine behind him.
A few days ago, the designers achieved a special effect:
behind the President there stood a white Coast Guard ship, with red-uniformed sailor tastefully dispersed on it in photogenic groups. Other sailors were in front and on both
sides of the President. No scene from opera could have been better arranged. I would not have been surprised if the President had started to render an aria. But he only uttered the usual inanities.
# The Great Patriotic War. When the Nazis invaded the
Soviet Union, Stalin understood that the Russian people would not lay down their lives for Marxism-Leninism. Overnight he changed his message. Ivan the Terrible, Peter
the Great, Field Marshal Suvorov and Prince Kutuzov were resurrected in order to win the masses for what was officially named the Great Patriotic War.
Saddam Hussein does it now. He calls upon his people to
stand up and kill the invaders – not in the name of the Ba’ath party (whose founders were Christians) but in the name of Allah and the Muslim homeland.
by courtesy & ©2003 Uri Avnery