Strange Logic in the Lebanon War
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
[NY Sun title: "Press Bias Exposes Strange Logic of War"]
As staff at some of the world's most prestigious press organizations effectively take Hezbollah's side in its war with Israel, they inadvertently expose a profound transformation in the logic of warfare.
Some examples of their actions:
All these press and broadcast activities stem from a perception that taking casualties and looking victimized helps one's standing in the war. Mr. Hajj's distortions, for example, were calculated to injure Israel's image, thereby manufacturing internal dissent, diminishing the country's international standing, and generating pressure on the government to stop its attacks on Lebanon.
But this phenomenon of each side parading its pain and loss inverts the historic order, whereby each side wants to intimidate the enemy by appearing ferocious, relentless, and victorious. In World War II, for instance, the U.S. Office of War Information prohibited the publication of films or photographs showing dead American soldiers for the first two years of fighting, and then only slightly relented. Meanwhile, its Bureau of Motion Pictures produced movies like "Our Enemy – The Japanese," showing dead bodies of Japanese and scenes of Japanese deprivation.
Proclaiming one's prowess and denigrating the enemy's has been the norm through millennia of Egyptian wall paintings, Greek vases, Arabic poetry, Chinese drawings, English ballads, and Russian theater. Why have combatants (and their allies in the press) now reversed this age-old and universal pattern, downplaying their own prowess and promoting the enemy's?
Because of the unprecedented power enjoyed by America and its allies. As the historian Paul Kennedy explained in 2002, "in military terms there is only one player on the field that counts." Looking back in time, he finds, "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing." And Israel, both as a regional power in its own right and as a close ally of Washington, enjoys a parallel preponderance vis-à-vis Hezbollah.
Such power implies that, when West fights non-West, the outcome on the battlefield is a given. That settled in advance, the fighting is seen more like a police raid than traditional warfare. As in a police raid, modern wars are judged by their legality, the duration of hostilities, the proportionality of force, the severity of casualties, and the extent of economic and environmental damage.
These are all debatable issues, and debated they are, to the point that the Clausewitzian center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to the opeds and talking heads. How war is perceived has as much importance as how it actually is fought.
This new reality implies that Western governments, whether America in Iraq or Israel in Lebanon, need to see public relations as part of their strategy. Hezbollah has adapted to this new fact of life, but those governments have not.
Aug. 15, 2006 update: In an undated posting, Alex Safian of CAMERA posts this sort-of retraction by Thomas Ricks in a note to the Washington Post ombudsman, referring to his comment quoted above:
Safian finds an inconsistency and thus a "serious problem" in this note:
Aug. 18, 2006 update: The New York Sun reports in "Washington Post Editor Rebukes His Reporter for Television Comments on Israel" that
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