Thursday, March 12, 2015

Poetics of Humble Soldiers and Media Ethics

Despite a certain classic poem, featured in my previous post, I don’t expect very many people to know about mercenaries, of course not. But I sure wish everyone would know about “journalist ethics.” Maybe most people get it, I can’t exactly judge…. Meanwhile, before I cover media, I must say:
I get a strong impression that most leftists —and eco freaks, longhairs, sandal-wearing vegetarians, commie-pinkos and—you know, the whole nine yards—I think they can’t judge whether the rest of us, in or out of uniform, know whether war is glorious or not, or judge whether soldiers/sailors/air crew are arrogant or not…

I would tell leftists that at one level, our servicemen and women are humble: My dad, who served in WWII, referred to his medals as his “gongs.” (Clanking like bell)   

While mercenary troops might need to believe in glory, to do what they do, risking their warm blood for cold cash, free men can effectively oppose them, and Nazis, and Communists—the whole eight meters—without too much belief in glory. Here’s what George Orwell said (How unlike an Islamic state) about the British people:
No politician could ever rise to power by promising them conquests or military “glory,” no Hymn of Hate has ever had any appeal to them. In the last war the songs which the soldiers made up and sung of their own accord were not vengeful but humorous and mock-defeatist. The only enemy they ever named was the Sergeant-Major.

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class is morally sound is that in time of war they are ready to get themselves killed. Several dukes, earls and whatnot were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders. This could not happen if these people were the cynical scoundrels they are sometimes made out to be.
(When Orwell said “Flanders” he meant the WWII retreat to Dunkirk: He was writing during the Battle of Britain.)

Things haven’t changed since my dad’s war. I read that when the common Argentine soldiers were standing in the cold windy Falklands, with more shells, more bullets, more weapons and more men than the British would send against them by sea, they nevertheless knew they had lost as soon as they heard the British were going to fight. This, I read, was partly because they knew that in Britain the upper class, even the royal family, believes in military service. The implication being: Britain had effective armed forces.

The Junta of Argentine colonels, replacing their community’s strength and fairness with corruption and weakness, ruling at the price of weakening the backbone of the common man, faced the classic dilemma: choosing a strong democracy or a weak anything else, a dilemma at least as old as Confucius.

The sage was well respected in ancient times. Back when China was a number of small kingdoms, Confucius traveled around to various courts as a consultant. Each king wanted Confucius to use his wisdom to strengthen the state’s agricultural and military might. As for defence, Confucius always advised each king he would be unconquerable if he gave his people a fair deal: The very peasants of the fields would rise up to fight. History is clear: No king ever took his advice.  

The old Chinese states are still with us today: States like Kuwait where the rich young men, in exile in London, were notoriously going out to discos every night rather than enlisting for Desert Shield to take back their country from Iraq.

 Or States like South Vietnam, where, of course, the army officers would come from the educated class. In the Vietnam War, by the time the Americans had lost several generals the Army of the Republic of Vietnam had lost no senior officers at all, no majors or colonels, let alone any generals. Fighting “for their country,” the South Vietnamese went from one enemy contact per 100 patrols, to one per 200 patrols. The U.S? One contact per 38 patrols. This according to Senator Robert Kennedy, at the height of the Vietnam War, shortly before he was assassinated…

When reading the history of that war, our sympathies are with the South Vietnamese, of course, not the communists, but we must admit the South Vietnamese, in contrast with the North’s motivated  “people’s army,” may have deserved what the Carthaginians deserved: National defeat. The Vietnam years may have been an agony for us, but they weren’t a total waste because at least we learned something about whether people will fight or not if they don’t have a fair democracy—right?

Well. A fair and ethical democracy needs an ethical media. Everybody knows that.

Being ethical means: If a reporter has a science degree, and if there’s a “needless” outbreak of measles at Disneyland then of course the Center For Disease Control should be quoted. And then, even if the reporter privately thinks, “May the anti-vaxxers rot in hell!” the anti-vaxxers (ant-vaccination) will also be quoted. The reporter will show faith in free speech.

Putting it another way: Journalists are taught to have balance as part of their ethos, in order to avoid editorializing. For example, suppose a river is to be dammed for irrigation, and the reporter heartily agrees with all the government experts, and with all the farmers, who think the dam should be built. Nevertheless, the reporter should seek out someone who disagrees, perhaps a university soil expert (such as my roommate who could tell you a thing or two about salt leaching up after such dams) and present both sides, and then allow an informed public to decide.

As for the intersection of media ethics and soldiers, recently I read yet another US newspaper article implying the Iraqi army will finally become effective, real soon, because the Iraqis will be receiving more training from the U.S. army. When I observe the poor news reporter has not been able to ethically “balance” his article, because he or she has been unable to find anyone to quote who disagrees that for the Iraqi army training is the issue, then I have to wonder if Vietnam, for Americans, somehow never happened—such a waste… Such a waste.

…Sometimes, late at night, I reflect that, like the British, we don’t need to glorify war, but we do need to be appreciative of our land, sea and air armed forces, of civilians in the Peace Corps, and of local citizens willing to volunteer and participate. Because if we don’t deserve them, we won’t have them.

From my “couch,” (rocking chair) by my “entertainment center,” (cathode tube TV) I say, “Let’s not be like the leftists.” When we watch TV shows glorifying war, the Soprano crime family, young rebels, or some galactic space mercenaries, then let’s heartily enjoy our fantasy… yet still keep our sense of reality.

Here’s a poem fragment about non-arrogant soldiers.
 They are somewhere “east of Suez.” I imagine them temporarily sheltering on the lee side of a hill, sheltering not from less rain but from less bullets.

“The ‘Eathen”
by Rudyard Kipling

And now the hugely bullets, come pecking through the dust,
An’ no one wants to face ’em, but every beggar must;
So like a man in irons, which isn’t glad to go,
They move ’em off by companies, uncommon stiff and slow.

Here’s the link for the whole poem; this verse is at line 55

Sean Crawford

~Orwell’s essay, The Lion and the Unicorn, has one of my favorite opening lines: “As I write this, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” Here is a link to a lengthy Part One of his essay.

~ For my reasoning on TV violence, using the lens of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, see my essay of July 2013, Morality, Boys and Hollywood.

~My university, even after the fall of the Berlin wall, still had a weekly Marxist-Leninist study group, (They’d get angry if you simply called them “communists,” as they wanted nothing to do with Moscow’s party line, you know, the Stalinist-Khrushchevists) but I was attending another campus group at the same time: I regret missing out on a bit of history.

A couple posts back I mentioned some Mainland Chinese causing trouble at Harvard, at the model United Nations. To the communists, both here (as I remember well) and over in China, if the non-communist side is disrupted and prevented from speaking, then that is “free speech.” The Americans, complained one Chinese person, don’t believe in free speech. Here’s a link to that quote.

~Here’s a less scary glimpse of the horror of communism, less scary because it documents an easing of conditions: the Khrushchev Thaw.

~Incidentally, most of the hits for my old November 2012 essay on Media Ethics (One of my top ten posts, by hit count) are from Mainland China. Maybe Chinese student-journalists are preparing for China to thaw during our lifetime… do you think so?

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