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Devil's Advocate

[whitespace] A report from the Grim Reaper

By Norman Solomon

GLORY DAYS are here again! Not that I'm complaining about the last few years. Some great events have made headlines. But, as the Grim Reaper, I'm not easily satisfied. And right now, I can hardly contain my excitement.

With prospects growing for high-tech weaponry to shatter a lot of bodies soon, I deeply appreciate the enthusiasm for such marvels in the American news media. The mood is auspicious for us to get comfortably numb, so that Iraqi people blown up by U.S. bombs won't seem like real people. Hooray!

To make matters better, reporters and pundits often act as though the bombs are aimed at just one person--Saddam Hussein. When NBC's Meet the Press aired on Feb. 8, host Tim Russert was in step with questions like "What would an air attack on Saddam really accomplish?" and "Should the United States attack him with a massive attack from the air?"

It helps that the U.S. government has attached natural-sounding names to deadly assaults. Our media have obliged by referring to the 1991 Gulf War as "Desert Storm" --likening the carnage to a force of nature.

And it's good that very little footage of the human suffering made it onto American TV screens. Sure, I'd personally enjoy watching the gore on television, but that might set off protests from the bleeding hearts.

I've been gratified to see the top names of journalism so fully on my team. For instance, when the war ended seven years ago, CBS anchor Dan Rather concluded an interview with a U.S. general by shaking his hand and exclaiming, "Congratulations on a job wonderfully done!"

The human destruction was a media footnote. So, after the war ended, U.S. News & World Report buried the death toll as a one-paragraph item: "Although top U.S. commanders last week estimated that Iraq suffered at least 100,000 military deaths during the war, other sources in the Gulf say the final total--including civilian fatalities--will be at least twice that. These sources say the allied aerial attacks inflicted far more casualties than previously thought."

Since then, sanctions against Iraq have taken several hundred thousand more lives. According to recent estimates from UNICEF, 4,500 Iraqi kids under 5 years old are dying every month, mostly owing to the continuing sanctions.

Somebody else's problem!

Happily, the news media haven't stopped applauding the use of the latest technology to kill Iraqis. President Clinton probably remembers the accolades he won in the early summer of 1993. Time magazine praised his announcement of a U.S. missile attack on Baghdad as "one of his finest moments."

Of course, there are always some moaners and whiners, like the White House panel that just warned against bombardment of Iraqi chemical sites. Releases of poison gas, even in small amounts, could have severe health consequences--and the victims could include American soldiers as well as Iraqis. Hey, the more the merrier!

One of my favorite pastimes is observing the tortuous efforts to find legal justification for attacking Iraq. Although the U.N. Security Council now refuses to give approval, there are always reporters available to say that old Security Council resolutions gave a blank check for the United States to attack on its own say-so. When there's a will, there's a way.

I have fretted that some journalists might take it upon themselves to spread the vile contagion of conscience. But not to worry! The specter of computer-guided missiles raining on Iraqi people seems to mesmerize America's media professionals. With few exceptions, they're too dazzled to make trouble.

This kind of glorified warfare against the defenseless provides a lot of secondary gains for me. It sets a fine example for callousness and tacit cruelty in all walks of life. If people are accustomed to hardening their hearts to random Iraqis--a child in bed, say, or a family at the dinner table--then extreme insensitivity can calcify and extend to others, seen and unseen, abroad and at home.

So, as the Grim Reaper, I'm very happy. After all, I hate life. Nothing gives me more joy than to see it extinguished. And, now more than ever, I love the American news media.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books are Wizards of Media Oz (co-authored with Jeff Cohen) and The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh. Bob Harris will return next week.

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From the February 19-25, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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