Monday, June 11, 2007

All those years ago

image: 2 magnum photos from the 1967 war
magnum photos from the 1967 war

some recent anniversaries, courtesy our wikipedia friends:

June 5th,1967 - Six-Day War begins: The Israeli air force launches simultaneous pre-emptive attacks on the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

June 6th,1944 - The Battle of Normandy begins. D-Day, code named Operation Overlord, commences with the landing of 155,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France. The allied soldiers quickly break through the Atlantic Wall and push inland in the largest amphibious military operation in history.

June 6th,1982 - 1982 Lebanon War begins: Forces under Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invade southern Lebanon in their "Operation Peace for the Galilee," eventually reaching as far north as the capital, Beirut.

June 7th,1981 - "Operation Opera":The Israeli Air Force attacked and disabled Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

June 8th,1967 - The Israeli Air Force attacked the U.S. Navy intelligence ship USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 and wounding at least 173.

Now, keep something in mind: none of these things actually happened. I'm not saying this because of the faults that many people lay at Wikipedia's feet-- the wikis held up their part of the telling, at least here. But if you watch the nightly news on TV, whether on CBS or NBC, CNN, etc, you won't hear about these things. I am lying of course; they did talk about the Battle of Normandy. CIA chief defense secretary Robert Gates was in Normandy, attending the ceremony, perhaps because the French discretely requested that it not be Cheney, after his dress code faux pas in Poland. Who knows, maybe they even scheduled the G8 shindig when they did so that George Bush,jr not be there either. The Europeans are subtle like that.

Katie Couric talked about how the father of one of the CBS nightly news staffers fought at Normandy, and they had a nice story about how dad went back to the little French town where he helped take care of a sick cow in ‘44. I’m actually not making fun, at least not in this instance-- it was a nice story.

The problem is not the story itself, nor occasional sentimentality-- but the lack of context. Television insists that we regard life as lacking context. Stuff happens, then, inevitably, other stuff happens-- not because of prior incidents, but because each day is a new day, requiring new content. And when anything bad happens it’s genuinely shocking, unpredictable, and unimaginable-- just like the last shocking, unpredictable and unimaginably bad thing.

Although I try my best to avoid keeping up with “dancing with the stars” or the latest misadventures of Paris Hilton, etc, I don’t think of myself as a snob who looks down on his fellow Americans for being dumber than a can of paint, as Xymphora very memorably suggested we were.
Yes, it’s difficult sometimes. Millions of us still believe Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Millions more voted to re-elect George Bush,jr in 2004, and supposedly over 50 percent of the US population believes the planet is no more than 6,000 years old .

Should the nightly newscasts be teaching history? Yes, insofar as current events inevitably occur in an historical context, the news readers’ reluctance to note this notwithstanding. People make fun of the news readers, although I suppose they’re a pretty easy target, shooting fish with really good hair in a barrel. We’re often told they’re excessively ambitious, possibly stupid, probably amoral.

Imagine a young reporter at a smaller-market tv station, say, in Terre Haute or Columbus or Buffalo. She isn’t exactly crazy about her job, but she’s young and maybe even comparatively naive idealistic, and even regards TV news as real journalism. So she appreciates her opportunity to gain experience and hone her skills. They ask her to do a bunch of “man in the street” interviews about some topic or other. Maybe it’s for opinions regarding a bill being discussed in congress or the state legislature. She needs to go back to the station with 3 or 4 good ones, whatever that means. She likes talking to people, and talks to well over 3 or 4, and submits 4 clips that struck her as thoughtful yet unpretentious, and edits that. The very next thing she knows, her producer is livid, chews her out, explaining that they’re all wrong, that wasn’t what she was looking for at all. The smart people make viewers self-conscious about their failings.

The producer wants, well, lunkheads. People you can laugh at for their sheer ignorance. Our young reporter reflects on all the people she talked to, and she doesn’t think ordinary people are uniformly stupid, but she also recognizes that her opinion isn’t exactly valued in this equation, and would like to keep her job(at least for now.). So she re-edits, and considers herself lucky that she did talk to some lunkheads, and doesn’t have to go out and shoot again, and manages to meet her deadline-- barely.

I’ve never worked as a tv reporter, and I don’t know if it actually works that way, but I can well imagine it might. Like our hypothetical young reporter, I don’t believe that Americans are uniformly unreflective and stupid, although distressingly many are. What’s even more distressing, however, is how big-time journalism seems like a hermetic, tightly-coiled mechanism, purpose-built to reinforce our sense of ourselves as unreflective and stupid. And apart from people getting most of their news from teevee, it seems like the other stations and programming are part of the mechanism.

A couple of examples-- one I wrote about before:
they were the greatest generation, blah blah blah...”(feb 2003)

What is it with the History Channel? I just got back from the gym where the teevee was tuned to a documentary of sorts about the Normandy invasion entitled "Then and Now". They had the customary business of cutting between modern-day experts and stock footage of the events in question, only one of the experts sure looked like Dwight Eisenhower. ...Later they talked to Rommel's son, then eventually to Montgomery's son, and eventually cut back to the Eisenhower look-alike who turned out to be-- yes, Eisenhower's son.
(Apparently he wrote a book about the war too.)
How many documentaries about D-day already existed before this one, I don't know, but there must be many. Why this particular reshuffling of stock footage, at this time? What is this, Pavlovian conditoning? Are we supposed to respond to this procession of WWII sons as a suggestion about how "righteous" George W. Bush is, readying to liberate Iraq, the wheeling and dealing with Turkey and the counsel of the house of Saud notwithstanding? How about a program about, say, the My Lai massacre in the coming weeks? Do you think we'll see it on the History Channel? I'm not even asking about a show on the US role in Mazar-e-Sharif...

I will say one thing though. It would be nice if we had a president who was as articulate in English as Manfred Rommel is.

The second item is from the Speed Channel(which I believe is owned by Murdoch)from some time in 2005; they had a program about cars of the US presidents, including of course the fateful Lincoln Limo convertible JFK rode in. They discussed various personal and white house autos, with the customary cutting to car experts. At one point they discussed a Ford V8 convertible that FDR drove, which may have been the first car with hand controls for a paraplegic driver, and which is preserved today. Then the expert they cut to offered, just in passing, that “FDR gave people hope, even if he didn’t actually do anything about the depression.”

SON OF A BITCH. What, this car guy is suddenly an expert on the New Deal? If he was, they failed to discuss his credentials. I swear, the more you watch tv, the more you want to throw something at it.

FDR's 1938 Ford

I want to offer a solution, but I don’t have one. I don’t think it’s just an abstract problem, something for bloggers and op-ed writers to bemoan. Conditioning people to reject a sense of historical causality could help enable the nitwit-in-chief to launch a war against Iran, for one thing, and will very likely have more pernicious effects in years to come.

The other day I discussed some of these ideas with Arvin Hill, who is singularly pessimistic about it all. I tell myself that ordinary people had it far worse circa 1890, when Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to smash the railroad unions(which were still illegal), and he was the only democrat elected president from 1860 when Lincoln was elected, until Wilson came along in 1912, a period of even greater 1-party dominance.

Of course today’s 1-party state is slipperier, as it require large numbers of democrats to be shadow republicans, and the dynamic of what the parties(ostensibly) stand for today is very different from what it was in the 19th century. 21st century oligarchs have done their damnedest to learn the lessons of economics and the various social sciences, to make sure that they’ll never be caught unawares by a great depression or other phenomenon that might cast the obstacles they set for ordinary people in sharp relief.

Still. If there are any bright spots, maybe it’s found in discontent. Large numbers of people know something is wrong, even if they have a hard time articulating it. They can’t blame Paris Hilton forever-- eventually they’ll notice she never raided anybody’s pension fund or took away their health insurance. Will it happen in time? I don’t know. Will Americans look at the immigrant rallies, quit bitching about the Mexicans, and realize the illegals are doing a better job of being Americans-- demonstrating, causing a ruckus, demanding to be heard-- than most Americans?

also, see Gary Farber: “God Help Us

Sarabeth, at, "mirror, mirror"

Skimble:"desperate to kiss and be touched"
and the follow-up, "deleting the love"(and no, it's not worth noting just because he references me!)

Jonathan Schwarz(2005):“Now More Than Ever, It's Critical That We Learn Nothing From History
in which he notes that Mike Gerber refers to it as the Learn Nothing From History Channel.

and, as one of Schwarz’s commenters reminds us,
"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."--Philip K. Dick

Jeffrey St Clair, Counterpunch:"Israel's Attack on the USS Liberty, Revisited"

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