A Media Victory
By Rogel Alpher

He deserves it. Morally, there are plenty of justifications for humiliating Saddam Hussein a bit in front of the world. He is a psychopathic mass murderer. But the American media treatment of his capture is an Orwellian nightmare for the following reasons:
The main reason America went to war in Iraq was the claim that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing and in possession of weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to expose to international inspectors and which he refuses to dismantle. America claimed that if he exposed and destroyed those weapons, Iraq would not be attacked. It presented apparent evidence that strengthened its argument against Saddam. It was against the background of those assertions that the U.S. invaded Iraq and continues to hold it under occupation.
However, the weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found. Now there is serious doubt if they ever existed from the start. Maybe some will yet be found. Until they are found, any reasonable media consumer should doubt American motives for the invasion of Iraq and suspect they have fallen victim to the use of lies or errors to shape their opinion. After all, the war was only a means to discover the weapons of mass destruction. True, there's no need to be too much of a bleeding heart liberal. But the truth should be demanded - and right now, it is being blurred.
The images of the humiliated Saddam were another and most significant building block in the changing dynamic of the public relations campaign of this war. It is a form of brainwashing. The pictures were broadcast non-stop, innumerable times. They sent the message to the planet's residents that the goal of the war was not the discovery of weapons of mass destruction but the capture and humiliation of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam, to use the language of the American media, is the "Bad Guy." America, according to that same lexicon is a nation of Good Guys. The good won. That's all that matters. Nothing else is important. Americans should hate Saddam Hussein even though no weapons of mass destruction were found. The pictures emanating from the screens are accompanied by implied imperative from commentators: hate, hate, hate.
A critical consumer of the media should be worried, uncomfortable. The hypnotic images aren't fading from the screen and they present the public with its enemy, a kind of devil, even though the declared casus belli has disintegrated, or regrettably, is very shaky. Moreover, the images are the message. The images are the victory. The hunt inside the mouth of the deposed tyrant, the search through his hair for lice, his own neglected and battered image, his general pitiable state, the sheer defeat of the enemy of the American nation - Orwell envisioned it all in "1984."
That's what happened to the saboteur Winston Smith; that's how the dissident Goldstein looked when his image was broadcast on the huge screens. The message was that it is impossible to escape the long and determined arm of the empire and that Saddam's body, even his body, was occupied. He did not swallow cyanide, didn't shoot himself and didn't fire at the soldiers. The Americans wanted him alive to show him off to the world, on the TV screens, and prove, as in "1984," that they broke his spirit, defeated his resistance. The dead Winston Smith was useless to the oppressive regime depicted in Orwell's novel. A live Winston Smith, his spirit broken, was the great victory, to be shown and feared.
"Shock and Awe" was the name given to the American military campaign against Iraq. But the impact of all the advanced bombs that were dropped on Baghdad pales in comparison to the shock and awe of the images of Saddam. Once again it was made evident that the media front, which shapes public opinion, particularly through TV, has the greatest impact. It makes one forget the bleak and cloudy Iraqi future under an American occupation with no end in sight. It erases from the consciousness information about the bodies of American soldiers who are dying in a war that was officially justified by a reason that has evaporated. It sears the consciousness of the viewers with visual images saturated with symbolism that fan the flames of feelings. It reduces everything to the simplistic matter of "good" and "bad," "victory" and "defeat." It makes the American governor in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, speak like a copywriter in an advertising agency or an astronaut landing on the moon equipped with a finely honed slogan ready to be written into the chronicles of mankind.
As a result of the images, the humiliation of Saddam appears to be a goal unto itself. Ridiculously, it now justifies the entire war effort, even though if Secretary of State Colin Powell had gone to the UN Security Council to claim that America must invade Iraq to turn Saddam into a homeless man, public opinion would have been shocked and outraged. There is no evading the feeling that the well-oiled propaganda machinery managed in this case to rewrite history and that public opinion has bought it. Fortunately, Saddam really is a bastard. But such passive public opinion is a horrifying sight to behold.
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