A Warning from Rachel Maddow about Moral Cost of Apathy towards War

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 03:43 pm

On Meet The Press, Rachel Maddow discussed her new book and troubling development of collective American apathy towards perpetual war.

Here is the video from MSNBC:

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David Gregory: There’s a lot to this. As I was reading it I got out the black pen and underlined this particular section of the book that I’ll put on the screen. While America has been fighting two of its longest ever boots on the ground wars in decade following 9/11, the fighting them simultaneously, less than 1% of the adult U.S. population has been called upon to strap on those boots. Not since the peace time years between World War I and II according to a Pew Research study has a smaller share of Americans served in the armed forces. Half the American public says it’s not been marginally affected by ten years of constant war. Never in our long history been further from the ideal of that America would find it impossible to go to war without disrupting domestic civilian life. That carries a high cost.

Rachel Maddow: That has a moral consequence to the country. you can talk about the strategic costs, too. i think there’s an argument to be had. It’s not necessarily the argument of this book, if the public doesn’t feel it, we use more and more. i think that’s sort of the implicit case we found ourselves in. what we decided to do is give ourselves a giant trillion dollar tax cut. And right after we started a second simultaneous giant land war in Iraq, we gave ourselves another round of tax cuts. That is a symptom of something wrong. That is a symptom of a country that doesn’t feel it, that we’re at war. We feel like the military goes to war. The country doesn’t go to war. When the Iraq war ended, more than 4,000 lives lost, St. Louis threw a parade, New York decided not to. The overall feeling among the American population was, oh, was that still going on? We ought to be a country that goes to war.

Gregory: We talked about this off the air, what strikes me about this as a progressive and somebody who knows program obviously knows your views, your analysis and criticism is distinctly bipartisan.

Maddow: Yes. This is not a problem that emerged because one party did something wrong and one party had the right idea but they lost. This is something that emerged over multiple administrations with people not acting in a conspiratorial way. There isn’t a lot of George W. Bush in this book. There isn’t a lot of Barack Obama in this book. I think a lot of the changes that we went through happened post-Vietnam and leading up to 9/11. The Clinton administration bears responsibility. Certainly, the Reagan administration bears a lot of the responsibility the George H.W. bush administration as well. We went through the changes over time. Rational political actors, presidents trying to get around the political problems, they made rational decisions about how to get around them. We didn’t want to upset the public. We had a political constraint from the congress ,we figured out ways to go to war around the congress. All of those decisions have been decisions to make war easier, less upsetting.

One of the main reasons why Americans have become desensitized to perpetual war isn’t just because they aren’t fighting in, but also that our government and our media have conspired with each other to make sure that the American people don’t see the true moral and human costs of war. No single development has done more to propagandize war coverage than the embedding of military approved reporters and correspondents.

The Pentagon learned their lesson from Vietnam, so when the first Gulf War began, the Bush administration restricted journalistic access. Journalists weren’t free to go out and report on their own. Their coverage areas were limited to military approved areas. Journalists were also forced to travel in pools, so that they would all be reporting a similar pro-military message. By the time invasion of Iraq was launched the Pentagon and the second Bush administration decided to restrict and control the message to an even greater degree by embedding reporters with the troops. This development made journalists de facto members of the team, who relied on the troops they were covering for their own safety and protection.

The American people would be more informed about the wars carried out in their name if the media acted like the Fourth Estate instead of a corporate partner.

Maddow was right to warn about the collective moral apathy in many Americans caused by desensitization to war. She is also correct that there has been a conscious effort across administrations to keep the American people in the dark about the activities being undertaken under the flag that represents us all, but there is a companion topic that also mist be discussed. The media’s changing role in war coverage.

There are two images that standout in my mind. During the Gulf War, CNN showed live footage the Baghdad night sky being lit up by “smart bombs.” As the invasion of Iraq began, the images were of tanks and soldiers storming across the desert, (U-S-A, U-S-A). One thing was missing from both. There were no people. The American people were never shown the death and destruction that were being on their own men and women in uniform, and that U.S. forces were inflicting on others.

War has been scrubbed, sanitized, and turned into flag waving feel good TV. Americans haven’t seen any real war coverage since the end of Vietnam. Maybe in a future book, Rachel Maddow will take the public policy ideas that she wrote about in Drift, and discuss their consequences on how the American people do and do not see their country at war.

Jason is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements. Awards and  Professional Memberships Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association

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