Thursday October 14, 2010
Time: 11:00AM to 12:00PM
The Military and the Media: Things Are Unlikely to Change …and they’re certainly not going to change for the better. The military and the media are not going to learn to like each other, generally, though each may make exceptions for individuals. They’re not going to learn to cooperate, generally, though there may be some rare bouts of it. And, generally speaking, neither are their respective world views going to come into sync nor their structural antagonisms to diminish. They can’t.
So let’s start with the structural antagonism. That it exists is fairly obvious. Soldiers (likewise, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines) have a vested interest in keeping secrets. Their lives depend on it. Their mission depends on it. Their victory depends on it. Thus, their hope of ever seeing home in one piece depends on it. Moreover, for careerists, their future careers may well depend on it. This includes keeping secrets that, by rights, perhaps ought not be kept. Those careerists are human, after all, and most unlikely to want revealed anything that might show them in a bad light.
Conversely, for the media, their interest lies in the opposite direction. One needn’t attribute to them any particular hostility to the military – though that hostility is often enough too plain to deny – to recognize that their livelihoods, their standing, their personal “glory” is intimately tied to obtaining and revealing secrets that the military would wish kept, often for good reasons though sometimes not.
Secrets, however, are only part of the structural antagonism. Much also comes from the nature of war, itself, and of journalism, itself. Folks, war’s ugly and there’s little (nothing, really) to be done to prettify it. Moreover, in any society but 18th century absolutism or 20th century totalitarianism, winning the war requires popular support. Popular support and ugliness just don’t go together all that well. Thus, Soldiers want the ugliness suppressed, or at least elided over, to keep up popular support. Journalists, if they’re intent on doing their jobs (not all are), want the little girl with the napalm burns on the front page, the gut-shot trooper, screaming out his last, to lead on the Five O-clock News, and the human interest story in either to be about the wife and kids left bereft by the death of their husband and father…unless there’s a video of an allied policeman executing a prisoner which, naturally, would take precedence. It’s too much to say that all journalists are interested in undermining popular support, though some appear to be. It’s not too much to say that a substantial group is indifferent to maintaining popular support for a war.
Thomas Patrick Kratman, a political refugee and defector from the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts, is a retired infantry officer, a recovering former attorney, and a writer of political and military commentary, more or less disguised as science fiction, for Baen Publishing. You can also find him at www.tomkratman.com