Can You See War?

The buzzing noise of a drone never ceases. A missile screaming into your house is hard to miss. Gun fire. The door kicked in. These are not subtle gestures. Yet Norman Solomon’s new book is called War Made Invisible. What?

Of course, the people whose government is the leading war maker and weapons dealer mostly have nothing to do with war. Most of them are not in the military. Most of them do not work for the weapons business. Most of them cannot name most of the wars currently happening. And most of them do not know that their nation is the leading weapons dealer, base builder, coup instigator, drone killer, and war wager.

The people of the United States do not directly experience the bombings, the destruction, the darkness of electricity gone, the hunger, the homelessness, the poisoned environment, the endless violence and bitterness. War looks a lot like a video game or a movie. And, in fact, most people see a lot more video games and movies than even sanitized news “reports” on wars.

Numerous wars are never “reported on” at all by U.S. corporate media. Congress Members learn of wars, sometimes, only when U.S. troops require funerals. But mercenaries reduce that problem. So do robots. So do proxies.

Of course, there is a war holiday every time you turn around, and sporting events begin with publicly-funded war celebrations before thanking U.S. troops for watching from 175 nations. The whole culture is militarized — armed to the teeth, guarded and metal detectored, the language of militarism normalized, discarded veterans on the streets and in the prisons. Borders are war zones. But this is all viewed — if that’s even the word — as normal and inevitable, not as any indication that there is any war underway. In U.S. culture the word “war” most often refers to something unrelated to war — a war on Christmas, a war on privacy, a war on woke, etc.

Actual wars are waged without public debate, without Congressional debate, without Congressional authorization or awareness. Congress dumps over half of the money it appropriates each year into the war machine, but pays very little attention to what happens to it. In a video last week, a leading progressive Congress Member declared that he supported shipping weapons to Ukraine for a war, but that he did not know the meaning of “Donbas” or “Crimea.”

Why should he? Every single Democrat and every single Republican in the U.S. Congress supports the war machine. Why learn the subtleties of a debate that will never be held? Corporate media attention to war is not in proportion to its percentage of discretionary spending. It’s usually not there at all, and when it is we’d be better off without it. (There’s also no reporting on what percentage of federal spending goes into war, so it’s not as if people know and accept that either.)

Ukraine is the special, chosen war. It’s in U.S. corporate media. The reporting even includes victims of war in a way that many of us have wished media outlets would report on victims of numerous other wars. But there’s nothing on what led to the war, on U.S. government opposition to ending the war, or on the evils of more than one side of the war. The victims are reported on, but not counted. The scale of the senseless destruction is not made clear. The risk of nuclear war is evaded. The notion that war may not be perfectly legal gets a brief mention (finally!) in reference to one side. The idea that cluster bombs, shredding the flesh of little children, may be anything less than pleasant enters the U.S. media as Russia uses them, and departs as the U.S. government proposes to supply them to Ukraine.

Norman Solomon gives us some insights into how this picture-worse-than-blindness is generated, how journalists who step out of line are dealt with, how those who toe the line are rewarded, how whistleblowers are punished, and how spinning is spun. Any mention of people dying in Afghanistan on CNN was required to include a discussion of September 11, 2001, as a complete justification. Wars that are one-sided slaughters of distant people are made invisible by not considering those people to matter. U.S. media consumers think that in U.S. wars the victims are about half made up of U.S. troops. Yet the same people would be outraged by any suggestion that a mass shooter in a U.S. shopping mall had suffered roughly as much as his victims.

Dubya banned U.S. caskets from the airwaves. Biden declared the United States to be at peace. Many might wonder whether it hadn’t already been at peace for all the years stretching out between that trouble a longtime back in Iraq and the new appearance of war in the world in Ukraine. But whatever happened in Iraq must not have been George W. Bush’s fault, since he’s as welcome in government and media circles as Henry Kissinger, and far more welcome than anyone who’s opposed any wars. If anyone’s been made into a celebrity or even a holiday, like Martin Luther King Jr., they are simply stripped of any antiwar history and presented as more-or-less Santa Claus who once made a cheerful speech about how everything was right in the empire.

The use to which we should put Solomon’s book is to understand how war is made invisible and to begin to make it visible. The reason to do so is discernable in all the massive efforts that go into making war invisible. That wouldn’t be done if not for a very serious fear — the fear that if people only saw war they would put an end to it.

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