we can dance and sing
when it's said and done
we haven't told you a thing
we all know that crap is king
give us dirty laundry...
- Don Henley, "Dirty Laundry"
Lies, Villification, and Innuendo, or, how to be a newscaster
Sometimes, the messages you pick up from the media are broadcast not only in content, but in where each story is placed. Story placement defines whether we think a story is big or not - and even if we're likely to hear about it at all. Sometimes, looking at the order of stories and realizing what it says paints a picture of the state of the nation.
And right now it isn't pretty.
CNN.com is my venue of choice for this - it's the news source of the masses, fairly well-designed and with distinct "top stories" and lesser ones. For the past several weeks, it has been pounding out the exact same message.
Each day, the lineup has been nearly the same.
The top story - at least in the morning - is universally something about the victims/families/whatevers of September 11. Oh, look. They lost a loved one. Sad.
Over on the right hand side, in smaller text, more 9/11 references. Sometimes "newly discovered tapes" of dubious authenticity, other times discussions of planned memorials, tributes.
But around it, there is another story, always surrounded by the patriotic remembrances of nearly a year ago.
"Iraq has tons of chemical weapons." "Iraq may have nuclear capabilities." "Iraq is building arsenal."
Always, these stories are couched between accounts of terrorism. It creates an eerie guilt-by-association against a nation that, so far, cannot be proven to have any connection to the attacks or the Al Qaeda organization.
No one can prove anything, yet the implication is there, day after day. Iraq is doing these terrible things, making chemical weapons (like the US), acquiring nuclear capability (like the US, fifty years ago), and building up its supply of weapons (like any nation would if it faced imminent attack from a superpower). Each time, the linkage between Iraq and Al Qaeda is made slightly more explicit-but-not-really. "A possible marriage" between Iraq and Al Qaeda is something Dick Cheney thinks is worth warning us about - yet he seems to have no evidence of this beyond speculation into possibilities in the future.
Each article damns the Iraqis a little more with no solid evidence - indeed, no evidence at all - and brings us closer to war. With each step, we grow closer to the final goal: dehumanizing the enemy.
Your monster mileage may vary
Making an enemy inhuman is the first step in waging war against them. Don't let people think about the individuals, make the enemy into a single, huge unit. And make that unit a threatening monster, a menace lurking in corners or hanging everywhere, a spectre that may be all around, near-invisible.
But a monster is difficult to create, especially in this era of easy-to-get information. So the more mileage we can get out of a single established monster, the better.
September 11th provided us with a pre-made monster. There was no human who could perpetrate these attacks, it was felt. No humanity could even surround that. We had no moral obligation to anyone there, military or civilian - and more than that, people seemed to forget that people existed there.
Over the course of the week following the terrorist attack, people sent letters to the editors of local papers advocating "turning the desert into glass." Not "forcing people to die a slow horrible death from radiation poisoning." Not "incinerating the population of the cities instantly and burning their shadows into buildings." A desert, turned to glass. So simple. So far removed from humanity, from anything organic.
We always talk about enemies in inorganic terms. Inorganic things cannot command a measure of respect, of dignity, of personality or of reason. Those things are reserved for the human and the organic.
We do not call an enemy leader's place of residence a house, a palace. We call it a compound. We strike strategic targets, we do not bomb cities.
And now, needing some way to make the pre-made monster carry over to our other enemies, we lock them together with words and implication.
What do we call the other nations we'd like to make into monsters? Oh, they're all part of the "axis of evil."
Axis. Not only a mathematical, cold term, but one that conjures images of the Axis of the second World War, of Hitler and concentration camps. More monster mileage from very old pieces of propaganda.
Soon, between the innuendos and implications, we'll have the enemy - which is of course a single unit - sufficiently dehumanized. Once we do that, war is easy. We will vanquish the monsters! We will surgically strike strategic targets! We will tell numbers of civilian dead coldly, at the end of reports of destruction of buildings. We will keep hidden the fact that we're fighting people at all.
And when we can do that, it is not only the enemy who has become less than human.