Thursday, January 12, 2006

Catch 22 and The Hidden Face of War

In Joseph Heller’s World War II satire, Catch 22, his main character is John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier stationed on an island off the coast of Italy. Yossarian is obsessed with the idea that the Germans are trying to kill him directly, by attacking his plane and his superiors are trying to kill him indirectly by increasing the number of missions required for discharge. He tries to claim insanity for a discharge but can’t because of an Army Air Force rule "Catch 22". It goes like this:

* One may only be excused from flying bombing mission on the grounds of insanity;
* One must assert one’s insanity to be excused on this basis;
* One who requests to be excused is presumably in fear of his life. This is taken to be proof of his sanity, and he is obligated to continue flying;
* One who is truly insane would not make the request. He would continue flying missions even though as an insane person he could be excused by simply asking.

That circular logic is a conundrum posited at the heart of every speech or comment made by President Bush in defense of his Iraq war. It goes this way:

* Criticism of my war in Iraq undermines our troops;
* Undermining our troops is unpatriotic;
* Only those who are unpatriotic would undermine our troops in time or war;
* Therefore criticism of my Iraq war is unpatriotic.

The other Catch 22 bolsters Bush’s sanitized war. It goes like this:

* Publishing photos of the war dead shows a lack of respect for the families.
* Showing lack of respect for families divides America
* A divided America cannot win the war on terrorism
* Therefore those who publish photos of the war dead support terrorism

Meanwhile bodies continue to pile up behind the sanitizing veil of media timidity and the Bush Administration sloganeering. While General Tommy Franks said, "We do not do body counts", the current conservative estimate is over 31,000 Iraqi dead. We specifically know that as of this posting 2,345 Americans have given their lives for Bush’s war. Yet we most Americans have not seen the hidden face of this war.

A recent Los Angeles Times article reported, "To measure how American publications have depicted the war in pictures, The Times reviewed six months of coverage from Iraq. The period from Sept.1 of last year until Feb. 28 of this year included the U.S. assault on Fallouja and the escalating insurgent attacks before January's election.

Despite the considerable bloodshed during that half-year, readers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Washington Post did not see a single picture of a dead serviceman. The Seattle Times ran a photo three days before Christmas of the covered body of a soldier killed in the mess hall bombing. Neither Time nor Newsweek, the weekly news magazines, showed any U.S. battlefield dead during that time.

" There can be horrible images, but war is horrible and we need to understand that," said Chris Hondros, a veteran war photographer whose pictures are distributed by the Getty Images agency. "I think if we are going to start a war, we ought to be willing to show the consequences of that war."

Given the present mind-set in the mainstream media and in Washington, I would not hold my breath. For those who want a serious look at the face of war try:

Bill Sanders

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