SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/124210_ourplace30.html
Lights, camera, rescue
Friday, May 30, 2003
By STEVE LUDWIG
Contentious at its inception, confusing in its execution and devastating in its effect, the invasion of Iraq reeked of impending disaster. Iraqis resisted, sandstorms slowed the advance, "smart" weapons hit markets and residences and U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner. An impending humanitarian crisis loomed, as Basra and later Baghdad were deprived of water and electricity.
Then the miracle occurred. The damsel-in-distress was rescued (Pvt. Jessica Lynch) and the evil tyrant was pulled down and beheaded while joyous Iraqis celebrated (Saddam Hussein's statue at Baghdad's Firdos Square). It was a feel-good ending to an otherwise disturbing script.
The press raved: "This story is 'Mission: Impossible,' but it's real" ... (an NBC official commenting on the Lynch rescue in reference to a possible made-for-TV movie on the affair). "After Saddam's tumble, Americans could finally gaze enthusiastically at their TV screens," (Post-Intelligencer columnist Joe Copeland).
We do want to feel good, to believe that we are good. We want to be seen as virtuous liberators, not conquerors. Yet these two signature stories from the invasion of Iraq are, in fact, too good to be true.
Shortly after the world was wowed by TV coverage of the toppling of Saddam's statue, doubts were raised. A Reuters photo of the square was circulated showing a much smaller crowd than the close-up TV footage implied. Eyewitness accounts belied the news coverage of a "jubilant" crowd: " ... it happened at only about 300 meters from where I was, and it was a very small crowd. The rest of the square was almost empty, and when we inquired as to where the crowd came from, it was from Saddam City (a poor neighborhood some distance away). In other words, it was a rent-a-crowd" (Rev. Neville Watson, interviewed on SBS-TV, Australia).
British columnist Robert Fisk, writing from Baghdad on April 11 for The Independent, described the statue episode as " ... the most staged photo opportunity since Iwo Jima." And this from David Robie, senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology: "I watched BBC World in the lead-up to the toppling. The square was largely empty except for three strategically positioned U.S. Abrams tanks and an armored personnel carrier plus a small paltry crowd of 100 or so, many of then apparently journalists. A BBC World news presenter kept asking, 'Where is everybody?' "
As for Jessica Lynch, her "heroic" rescue seems also to have been a sham staged for the media. "It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'Go, go, go,' with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show -- an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors," said Iraqi Dr. Anmar Uday when interviewed by the BBC. Apparently the hospital staff even tried to deliver Lynch to the Americans prior to her "rescue," but their ambulance was repelled by gunfire from a U.S. checkpoint (available from the BBC online and reported in the May 17 P-I).
Truth and objectivity suffered other blows in this conflict but if these two "defining moments" were just staged photo ops, what are we left with?
* An ugly, cowardly war visited on the long-suffering people of Iraq who were already in dire circumstances from two previous wars and 12 years of sanctions.
* A war on terrorism that " ... is not over and may never be." "In a world in which there is a single super conventional military power, random acts of terror with rudimentary weapons will be a reality of life." (P-I editorial, May 14).
* A military whose only means of fighting terrorism seems to be by responding with even more devastating terror. (Do victims really care if the instrument of their demise was a "smart" bomb or a pipe bomb?)
* An administration that will fabricate news to deceive its own citizens while flouting world opinion and international law to attain its chosen ends.
No feel-good here. Yet there is a silver lining. Out of the ashes of Iraq, a movement has arisen. A huge majority of the world's people oppose the use of pre-emptive force. This movement expressed itself on Feb. 15 in the largest anti-war rallies this Earth has ever known.
As the movement grows, we will see an end to the use of mass murder as a means of social engagement. Bloated military budgets will be cut and cut again. The freed resources will spark revolutions in health care, education, food production and distribution, transportation, energy and environmental protection. Ending poverty will become a realizable goal. The reign of terror can be broken at last. Let this be our true and enduring Hollywood ending. Another world exists!
Steve Ludwig is a member of Sound Non-violent Opponents of War and works with SNOWFremont; www.snowcoalition.org Submissions for Our Place in the World, of up to 800 words, can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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