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How to Resolve the Conflict Between the Media and the Military

Every once in a while we encounter an ethical dilemma that should lead us to rethink the assumptions that produced the dilemma in the first place. One such dilemma is prayer in public schools. On the one hand, we shouldn't support such prayer because it would have to be idolatrously amorphous and State imposed; but, on the other hand, we should oppose anti-prayer advocates because we know that all of life, including education, is religious. The solution to the dilemma is to reject the assumption that the State should interfere in education at all. Once we reject that assumption, then the dilemma vanishes: all schools would be private and could pray faithfully, or not, as they choose.

We find another such dilemma arising out of current American war policy, namely, the now regular conflict between the military and the media.

The media, for whatever actual motive, aim to "get to the truth" behind Pentagon pronouncements. They want the people to know what is "really" going on. They complain about military censorship and the limitations of "pool" reporting.

The media believe that when government officials declare that the Gulf war will "not be another Vietnam," they mean that the media will not have the access to subvert this war like they supposedly subverted the Vietnam war. So, we hear from Ed (not Ted) Turner, Executive Vice-President of CNN, that "the public wants us to be a Watchdog."

Hence, the media claim to be skeptical of all government reports. After all, the government has a long history of lying to the people. As Virgil Jordon, President of the mainstream, pro-WWII, think tank, the National Industrial Conference Board, glibly noted in 1940, "In peace time it is the accepted custom and normal manners of modern government to conceal all important facts from the public, or to lie to them; in war it is a political vice which becomes a necessity." It is no news that Roosevelt and others have lived up to this dictum well.

In direct opposition to this pervasive media skepticism, we have a military who wants to keep some element of tactical surprise. The military claims that to allow full and free coverage of the war would not only jeopardize tactical surprise but also American lives.

For the military, such media skepticism is dangerous to the war effort. Unbelievable media questions to Pentagon officials of the type, "When and where is the next military offensive," are now regular material for late night comedians. Noted government defender, Reed Irvine, ironically head of Accuracy in Media, complains that the media "is not on the U.S. side." He reminisces that "in World War II, they were for us."

But beyond tactical considerations, the military also sees the need to play-down failures, like Iraqi civilian deaths, in order to maintain U.S. civilian morale for the war. Media pictures of maimed women and children ("collateral damage" in ugly war euphemism) do not bolster American morale.

The popular solutions to this conflict are clearly unacceptable. On the one hand, the media might desire fully unrestrained reporting, but this would jeopardize even a just war. On the other hand, the military might desire complete censorship of the media so as to "get the job done properly," but this easily opens the door to tyranny. Neither of these options is acceptable.

However, like the dilemma of prayer in public schools, we can resolve or at least greatly minimize the media/military conflict by rethinking its assumptions.

In short, the practical solution to the conflict lies in aligning the self-interest of the military with the self-interest of the media. Impossible? No. We could do this by rejecting our humanistic penchant for modern "crusade" wars and only fight defensive wars.

The current media is skeptical because they doubt the propriety of interventionist goals: Oil? Defending tyrannical monarchies? A New World Order? However, if the military was used defensively, then the war aims would be clear, and the self-interest of both military and media would be largely aligned.

In a defensive war, media lives, property, and families would be at stake. Hence, they would, for the far greater part, defend military action for the sake of their own interests. They, like the military, would want to preserve tactical surprise and support morale.

The military leadership, too, wouldn't have to resort to disinformation tactics to counter the people's interests or sustain morale. Moreover, in a defensive war, we would not need to consider a military draft since individuals would gladly defend themselves.

Defensive wars would not resolve all the conflicts between the military and the media arising out of modern crusade warfare, but it certainly would be superior to the present situation


Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1991
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