Tuesday, March 19, 2013

War and Media Revisited

This may be completely off topic, but it’s an extension of the argument I tried to make in the discussion on war and media:

How do we know that there is a war going on in the Middle East?  Think about it.  If I asked you how you knew there was a war going on in the Middle East, how would you go about explaining that?  Would you show video coverage from a journalist who was caught in the middle of an ambush?  Show the planes crashing into the Trade Center towers?  Maybe present spreadsheets, documents, or orders for deployment?  Satellite footage of Bagram Air Base… How would you even know that a place like Afghanistan even exists?  I’d tell you that I believe there is a place called Afghanistan, and I do believe there is a war going on there, but only because I’ve spoken to soldiers who have fought over there, who have seen horrible things and tell me about them.  And I’d believe any story they told me over any news story covering the war. 
I guess the point is that we’ve become so concerned with global affairs, but we don’t live our lives globally.  We live them locally.  We are involved in the communities surrounding us and it’s ok if we have no interest in foreign affairs.  It’s like when you see that old, white-bearded man holding the two-year-old girl who’s looking at you like a lost puppy in a third-world pound.  Sure you feel sympathy.  I’d question you if you didn’t, but are you going to do anything about it?  No!  Of course not.  Why would you?  There are so many unanswered questions.  Who is this guy?  What country is this?  Is this a legitimate program?  What happens when she gets my money?  New shoes?  New shirt?  Will she use it for drugs, alcohol, or give it to her older brother who is fundraising for his gangster horde who buys arms from the old, white guy?  I’d much rather give this money to my church, or use it at a bake sale for my little cousin’s trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, or maybe I need to buy groceries.  That’s important right? 

Do you want a fantasy reference?  I don’t care if you don’t because here it is:  I keep thinking of those little hobbit guys living in the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books.  These people literally lived within five miles of themselves.  Their food, their clothes, their beer, entertainment, education, all of it could be found within a five mile radius of their homes.  Thos little creeps didn’t know a thing about the outside world and they were all happy as a clam, or I guess, clams.  Sure, we may be called to a global purpose at some point in our lives, but why are we so damn opinionated about things we aren’t even sure are actually happening?  Maybe it’s a little extreme, but it makes a whole heck of a lot of sense.
I’m reminded of another story.  This is it and then I’m done.  I promise.  But it’s a story about a boy who left home and traveled the world and came back an old man.  And when his family and friends asked him about his travels and what the cities were like, you found out that the old man had an extremely outdated view and described the cities as they were fifty years ago.  Imagine someone visiting America, then going back home and describing our culture today as it was in 1963.  Wrong! 
We do not live in a global community.  Maybe someday we will, but not today.  I’m all for being opinionated, but let’s discuss topics we actually know something about.  I’ve never seen war.  I’ve taken terrorism classes from a LTC who’s had many deployments.  I’m studying military science, been to basic, AIT, and LDAC so I may have a few opinions about the war and the United States army in general, but I honestly don’t give a rat’s tail about anything outside my immediate, day-to-day life.  And I think that’s alright.


  1. I think this is an interesting point, and I have thought about this before. It actually reminds me of the Hunger Games District 13. The people were told by the capital that it was obliterated, but really the district still existed. They used the same image of the district on the news, and the people believed it.
    I agree with you that we live our lives locally, and there is little I can do to influence what is happening overseas. However, I think the government likes that, because they don't want us to have influence or control. They want the control. Interesting topic!

  2. I think that your opening seems to start hitting a quantum-physics-like boundary. The idea of knowing something without ever seeing it and vise versa. It seems to be a bit insane that we can show war on television. Beyond that even, the fact that what we do see on television looks more like fire works than actual war. We have romaticised war in a weird way. It is as though we are completely numb to it. I even feel like from about 2007 forward that there wasn't even a war.

  3. Warning. Biased opinion alert.

    At this point, the war on terror has lasted for way too long. It's not happening in America, either. If reporters keep reporting about the same thing for hours like they did at the beginning after the attacks on 9/11, we'd be over-saturated with updates over the same thing. After awhile, the war just got boring to talk about and caused nothing but arguments when discussed about. Postman makes the point that our entertainment needs to be spicy, interesting, and different from day to day to keep our interest, and reporting the same thing over and over isn't how you obtain views.

    At this point, I think that Americans and the American media are just bored with the war.

  4. " but I honestly don’t give a rat’s tail about anything outside my immediate, day-to-day life. And I think that’s alright."

    I don't think there's anything more true than that last line, and this is the case for most people. I'd like to think that everything would be just fine if people just minded there own and lived their own lives without worrying about what was going on with the rest of the world, but the fact of the matter is that if certain people stopped paying attention then everything would start going to shit. I'm just glad that I'm not one of those people that needs to pay attention to things like going to war.

  5. I think its perfectly fine to not care about more than one's day-to-day life. If a person cared about every problem being encountered in the world today, they would not last long. But I also think its okay for people to care, and some of those people who care go on to do things about world issues. Members of the Peace Corps, Doctors without Borders, and other organizations are full of such people.

    Of course, getting information about issues such as war from public discourse provided by news agencies is hazardous. Everyone has bias, and many news agencies do not even try to address those biases. That's why it is important to find diverse sources of information and think critically when forming opinions, especially about charged topics like war.

    If anyone is interested in a unique perspective of war, I suggest reading Shadows of War by Carolyn Nordstrom. It takes an anthropological view of war, and the author, an anthropologist who has spent time in several different war zones, tries to keep her biases to a minimum.

  6. I couldn't agree more with you. Why is it that we, as a nation, have such strong feelings about what goes on overseas, but only a fraction of us actually go over there to experience it?

    This goes back to Postman's point about "knowing of" things rather than knowing them. Most people consider themselves informed because they pay attention to a war overseas and they form their own opinion of it. Of course, the media will influence their viewpoints with its own biases.

    In the end, what is the value of these opinions? Are they conversation pieces? Do they affirm your political affiliation? Will they motivate you to enlist in the military? The questions and answers are different for everybody.

    Do the majority of people influence any sort of policy to affect anything outside of their daily lives? Well, they vote. Then they carry on with life for the next four years. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed.

  7. I think this post brings up some really interesting questions regarding global ethics that a lot of us probably don't think about very much. While we may know that there are plenty of problems going on around the world, are we obligated to do anything to help those who are suffering? We are all human beings after all, and some would argue that it's in our best interest to look after one another regardless of nationality, race, or religion. Does "knowing" but not taking action about these things make us bad people? I believe that's something worth thinking about. As for the war, my uncle served in Afghanistan, my little sister was just deployed there today, and a couple of my friends saw their fair share of hard times there. In that sense, I have first hand accounts to rely on for what things are actually like over there, but even those can't be completely verified as true. Do I deny everything as false if I haven't experienced it myself? I hope I don't have to.

  8. I've thought ab little bit about this before and for the most part I think you're right. People do tend to be too opinionated about things that they really don't know very much about. I'm guilty of it too, but for the most part I am much more concerned with my own life and the things going on locally. I'm not sure if I'm willing to write that off as totally alright right now (I think I should be more involved in things going on outside my community), but I think it is pretty typical.

  9. I agree with what you are saying. It is a little concerning knowing that media coverage is what we rely on to find out what is going on in the world. With media, it can be twisted and turned into anything someone wants. I mean - look at all of the propaganda ads that surrounded WWII- (In Germany about the concentration camps.) The news today can choose the content they want us to see . Also, look at what you find out on BBC compared to MSNBC...it's a little different.