Mr. Bookworm still finds troubling my political transformation, which is actually something I understand. After all, when we stood under the chuppah so many years ago, he knew what he was getting — a stalwart Democratic life partner. It was bad enough when his siblings, after 9/11, betrayed him by going conservative, but his wife! I ask you!? He’s fighting a rearguard action by bringing DVDs into the house that he presents to me without comment, in the hopes that I will rethink my new ideas and return to the fold. I’m stubborn as an old pig, though, so I don’t think he’d better hold his breath.
In any event, as part of his effort, we watched two DVDs this weekend. The first had no effect on me at all; the second, I think, was a disappointment to him, as tending to prove my case more than his.
The first DVD was Outfoxed : Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, a movie made right before the 2004 election. The movie’s basic premise was that Fox News, despite it’s “Fair and Balanced” logo actually has a conservative slant. Were you ever more shocked? I think the guys and gals who made the movie really think that members of the American public watch people like Bill O’Reilly, Neil Cavuto, and the other regulars, and are hornswoggled into thinking that these commentators aren’t biased. In fact, O’Reilly, Cavuto, et al are a blessed breath of fresh air in the media in that they’re so absolutely up front about their biases. The Fox News audience, unless it’s really as dumb as the liberal establishment thinks it is, knows precisely what it’s getting and, judging by the numbers, that’s precisely what it wants: commentary that doesn’t pretend to be balanced, all the while hiding a profound agenda.
In any event, the main “horror” and “scandal” shaming Fox (that it supports the President) could just as easily be applied in mirror image to the other 90% of the broadcast media (they all hate the President). The shame, though, is greater for the latter, because they don’t have the decency to admit that bias. I’d read the NY Times with much more interest and pleasure if it would stop hiding in the closet about its biases.
The second DVD, which also dates from 2004, was much more impressive than the above piece of hysterical polemic. Mr. Bookworm and I just finished watching Voices of Iraq, a movie by and about the Iraqi people. The gimmick is that the producers shipped 150 digital video cameras into Iraq in 2004, and let the Iraqi people film themselves. The movie is about 95% footage by and about Iraqis, but it does include, at rare intervals, (i) American newspaper headlines that seem to be at odds which or exaggerations of the story on the ground; and (ii) videos of staged riots and Hussein era torture.
What was fascinating was how different the story the Iraqis tell about themselves is from the American media talking head version. Once the handheld videocams found their way out of Fallujah, where they were hostile to Americans, and Baghdad, where they were understandably resentful of the great hardships imposed on their previously urban lives, you heard from people who were grateful to have Hussein gone, regardless of the hardships.
These grateful ones were the people who had survived Hussein era torture, and who laughed at the idea that being stripped naked and having your genitals fondled could be considered torture.* They were the Kurds who have living memories of Hussein’s slaughter of almost 200,000 Kurds, as well as his poison gas attacks on their villages. They were the Marsh People, who live at the heart of the ancient Fertile Crescent (Ur), who were displaced and almost destroyed when Saddam deliberately drained their swamps. The list of people grateful for Saddam’s downfall, and willing to put up with almost any hardship as long as he was gone, was phenomenal.
It was also amazing to see the liberality of thought so many Iraqis displayed — a fact daily obscured by the evening news. Somehow it seems timely to point out in this regard that one of the biggest attacks the Outfoxed movie makers had against Fox News was that it had the temerity to show good news coming out of Iraq. Lies, lies, lies, the movie makers implied.
I’m not so naive that I think things are wonderful in Iraq. God knows that, if my home were reduced to intermittent moments of electricity and water, I’d be disconsolate. I’d be even more unhappy if IEDs plagued my City. But, on balance, I might still be happy to see the last of a man who led my country in an eight year war that saw 400,000 of my fellow citizens dead;** a man who committed genocide against hundreds of thousands of Kurds (including using chemical weapons against them); a man (and his sons) who routinely used unimaginable torture against those who merely disagreed with him; and a man who thought it was good public policy to behead people on street corners. The film says that the low estimates for the Iraqi deaths under Saddam’s watch are one million people, with the highs coming in at about six million. Freedom with limited electricity has to be preferable to life in that kind of nationwide torture chamber.
In the same way, I’d be deathly afraid of the Islamic death squads trying to impose their reign of terror throughout Iraq. I’d recognize that, until matters stabilize somewhat, America is the only bulwark against Iraq falling to the Iraqi equivalent of the Taliban. And I’d be damned resentful of American politicians and citizens who now want to cut and run — even if I wished that the Americans hadn’t come in the first place.
One last thought, which I’ll throw in here because I don’t have another place to put it — while most of use remember only a Germany resurgent in the late 1950s and onwards, thanks to the fact that the Americans got rid of the Nazis and instituted the Marshall plan, few of us like to dwell on the appalling period immediately after WWII ended. Much of Germany was in ruins; the continent was crawling with war refugees, who were augmented with those escaping the Iron Curtain; and the Americans were unpopular with unregenerate Nazis (just as they are now unpopular with the Baathists). It never occurred to the Americans, though, to walk away. Instead, they stuck it out until Germany was back on her feet. I’m pleased to say that, in another war sixty years later, with Bush at the helm, Americans are following the same pattern and staying the course.
*You don’t need to be reminded, do you, of the despair that current Abu Ghraib residents felt when the Americans turn the prison back over to the Iraqis? Our polls and papers may still feel a squirmy masturbatory excitement when they think about America’s humiliation over the Abu Ghraib scandal, but those Arabs at the receiving end of real torture, as opposed to degradation (which I don’t countenance or support) know the difference.
**No one needs to remind me that the U.S. at this time sided with Iraq, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy was my friend. The war started in 1980, while Iran still held the hostages, so I really don’t think you can blame the U.S. too much for sending words of encouragement when Saddam’s itchy megalomania had him facing off with the Iranians.