the U.S. were a healthy parliamentary democracy, Donald Rumsfeld's
remarks of January 7 would have brought down George Bush's government,
necessitating new elections. Instead, the man with the demonic
grin continues as the drum major for new foreign wars, even
as he belittles a previous war's dead.
soldiers of years past added "no value, no advantage, really..."
to the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense told reporters
at his Pentagon briefing.
filled 30 percent of the body bags in Vietnam - but that's of
little "value" to Rumsfeld, or to the chicken hawk
media that cover the Pentagon. Apparently, the people who decide
what is news in America share Rumsfeld's nonchalance on the
subject of 17,725 American corpses.
something profoundly out of synch about a society in which the
Secretary of Defense can violate with impunity the most sacred
taboos concerning those who have died on the battlefield, while
simultaneously fomenting war hysteria. The fact that Rumsfeld
still has a job is shocking evidence of the near total disconnect
between the ranks of the U.S. military and the classes that
shape American policy and public opinion.
It is as
if Rumsfeld were talking about dead men from a different country.
with Trent Lott's birthday praise for Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat
legacy, the corporate press initially treated Rumsfeld's statement
as a minor event, hardly worth mentioning. Not until January
21 - two weeks after reporters from virtually every national
corporate news outfit heard Rumsfeld cavalierly diminish the
value of the dead - did Rumsfeld issue a bland apology. The
defense chief was compelled to respond to complaints from Senators
Tom Daschle of South Dakota and John Kerry of Massachusetts
and Illinois Representative Lane Evans, who did not rouse themselves
until long after Jan 7.
the news. The corporate press are self-starting, self-generating
news engines, fully capable of creating controversy out of whole
cloth. Yet they played little part in forcing Rumsfeld to reconsider
his insult to the dead, bereaved and wounded. Instead, it fell
to veterans groups, both pro- and anti-war, to denounce Rumsfeld's
outrage - cries that eventually moved a few prominent politicians.
of media eyes and ears were focused on Rumsfeld's January 7
briefing, from reporters and producers on the scene to editors
watching the live feed back at their bases. Their collective
job is to await the newsworthy quote, package it and, if one
of their reporters is present, direct him to pursue the story.
Top editors scan the submissions of their teams in the field,
looking for the standout items, "news" that is fit
to hype. At most print and electronic outlets, Rumsfeld's verbal
assault against draftees failed to make the cut. The Washington
Post devoted five sentences to the story, in its page 5, Washington
in Brief column, a potpourri of federal agency blurbs.
a commentary about class. Rumsfeld escaped media-driven censure
for two weeks because the class that populates the media machinery
have little or no connection to actual soldiers, sailors
or Marines. The vaunted U.S. military that is inexorably
garrisoning the world is made up of men and women that editors,
producers and talking faces have never met, except on assignment.
The U.S. military is drawn from five percent of U.S. families
- not much of a Nielson rating and, more importantly, far too
narrow a spectrum to intrude on the consciousnesses of the more
influential sectors of society. They are abstractions.
callous remarks failed to register as such among the social
cohort that was his immediate audience: media professionals.
And they are no different than their counterparts in the upper
middle classes from which the professions are drawn. For 30
years, military service has been neither a threat nor an option
for most of the U.S. population. The social distance between
those who serve and those who do not has grown vast. How else
to explain the collective, cold disregard for 17,725 not-so-long
is colder still: the failure of Rumsfeld's remarks to ignite
a human response among his media audience indicates a general
lack of empathy with soldiers as people like themselves.
It is not just draftees that pass unmourned, but the rest of
the fallen 58,000, as well.
sense, Rumsfeld was indeed denigrating dead men from another
country, whom he could - quite literally - devalue with impunity.
soldiers can expect no more empathy than that accorded the disrespected
dead. If soldiers were truly valued as fellow citizens, could
Rumsfeld remain Secretary of Defense?
Senator Ernest Hollings has joined Black Congressmen Charles
Rangel and John Conyers in calling for a return to some form
of compulsory national service.
not the Army going to war. It's the country going to war,"
said Hollings. But 95 percent of the country would never consider
going to war. Other people do that for them.
loves his perfect weapon, the volunteer military. They may die
in the nation's imperial enterprise but, among the people whose
opinions count, they will not be personally missed.
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