Sometimes we wake up and wish there was something to write about other than war. Other times, we wake up and wonder why Americans are seemingly silent in the face of a permanent state of war? (They're not silent; it's called censorship).
War is beyond death and destruction. It's also about the values we pass on to the next generations. Got a problem? Blow up your neighbor. The truth not on our side? That's irrelevant, as long as our
goals are noble (too bad if innocent civilians get killed in the process). That's the message war teaches us.
War is always a battle over truth and memory. We're currently seeing this battle played out in the mythification of former president Ronald Reagan and the attempt to legitimize the Iraqi war.
It's understandable that when presidents die, their admirers lionize them. That's what's done when anyone dies. We sing their praises and gloss over their deficiencies. It's their time.
We expect that from the admirers (detractors are expected to hold their tongues, at least during the mourning period). What we also expect is for the media to report the myth-making, not partake in it.
For instance, it's true that Reagan was greatly admired ... by perhaps half the country. For the other half, he was an extremely polarizing and controversial figure. Children born after 1988 should not
be expected to know this, but seasoned media professionals know full well that compassionate to the poor, a friend to the environment and "the prince of peace" he was not. It's not disrespectful to acknowledge this.
Reagan's role in ending the Cold War will always be debatable. And that's the point. For history's sake, those debates should be acknowledged, rather than papered-over. The end of the Cold War is
monumental and it cannot be overstated. What should not be muzzled is the price of this war. While the superpowers trained, financed and provided the lethal weaponry to conflicts worldwide, it was peoples of color, indigenous peoples worldwide, who became the fodder.
Abroad, Reagan's name will forever be tarnished by his support of the bloodthirsty Nicaraguan Contras, the death squads of El Salvador, and the genocidal regimes of Guatemala that led to the deaths of easily over half a million people in the 1980s, and the internal and external
displacement of additional millions. His name will also be associated with the despicable apartheid regime of South Africa and the counter-revolutionary forces in Mozambique, Angola and other African nations that resulted in the deaths of millions more.
No need to rehash the bitter domestic battles either. If he was right, history will vindicate him. (His admirers want history to enshrine him now before the historians do their judging.)
Expecting media analysts to remain truthful and impartial is not a sign of disrespect. Similarly, propagating great omissions of history is not a sign of respect. Instead, it's a dereliction of duty.
It is these kinds of omissions that help explain the kind of reporting that preceded the current war in Iraq. An unquestioning media is what permitted an arrogant administration to aggressively impose its war, based on bogus information. It's what also recently caused the influential New York Times (but not The Washington Post) to belatedly acknowledge that it had been duped by the administration.
The failure of the media -- because it succumbed to administration pressure -- to live up to its watchdog role is what permits the president to claim that it warred on Iraq on behalf of the
United Nations. It is what allowed him to pursue ways to evade the Geneva Conventions and then express shock that a "few bad apples abused prisoners" in Iraq. It's what permits him to claim that permanent pre-emptive war is the roadmap to peace.
This is today's reality. It's a genuine debate that should not be muffled. Again, history will be the ultimate judge.
But imagine a generation from now if the media were to lionize our current president as the man who invaded Iraq because he wanted to bring peace, freedom and democracy to the region (without mentioning that he sold his war on the basis that Iraq constituted an imminent threat to the United States). We don't actually have to wait a generation as the media, up until a few months ago, was already proclaiming him a great visionary and peacemaker.
This is what happens during tragedy and war. Society's values become warped and our mirrors become fogged. It is times like these that permit Bush, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft to inhabit a world of secrecy and to proclaim that the rules that govern civil society (bans on torture, assassinations and waging immoral war) do not apply to them. But they do.
(c) Universal Press Syndicate 2004
The Aztlanahuac UCLA Map exhibit runs through June 30, 2004 at the Young Research Library, UCLA. Proceedings from the recent 3-day symposium will soon be posted. For related info/research go to: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/chavez/Aztlanahuac/index.htm