Socialist Worker

Getting lost in the desert

by Mike Rosen
Issue No. 1844

IF YOU were reading the Daily Express last Saturday (and I realise that's unlikely) you would have come very quickly to the conclusion that this war was going to be a pushover.

This was their front page: 'Rumours Saddam is dead-Allies in Baghdad by Monday-B52s launch terrifying blitz-Britain in mourning for our hero Marines-8,000 Iraqi soldiers give themselves up' - all above a huge headline 'SURRENDER' and a photo of Iraqi soldiers with their hands on their heads being marched along in single file by an American soldier.

Clearly, this was meant to make for cheery reading. Elsewhere in the media we heard on Saturday how the Iraqi regime was 'crumbling' and resistance was 'caving in'. This was due mostly, we learnt, to the fact that this was a 'new' kind of war. 'Smart weapons' with 'pinpoint precision' were taking out the command structures of the regime, giving the 'signal' to the Iraqi people that this was a war on the regime and not on them.

The 'precision' point was slightly undermined with the news that three missiles had landed in Iran by mistake. Whoops! Meanwhile, millions of leaflets and broadcasts were waging a 'psy-ops' war of 'hearts and minds' convincing the Iraqi soldiers to give up and go home. The phrase here: 'their armies were melting away'.

The Express's headlines reproduce some classic bits of war language. By saying that 'Britain is mourning', an editor goes in for a mix of wishing and bullying. He doesn't know if all of Britain is mourning but he sure hopes it will.

It's interesting to see the word 'our' yoked to mention of UK soldiers. This is the usual way that everyone is lured into accepting the government view of a nation's actions. I've noticed that for the first time in this war, most of the broadcast media have dropped the 'we' and the 'our'.

It's only the gung-ho newspapers doing it. This suggests to me an acceptance that 'we' are not all united behind this campaign.

The main headline 'Surrender' is another bit of editor's hope overcoming sanity. And significantly, the word that would be used of the Iraqis two days later that they 'paraded' US military personnel in front of cameras, is not used here! Inside the paper, a US soldier is pictured as he 'gives water to an Iraqi soldier' and 'helps to patch up a wounded Iraqi'. This is an army that kills with kindness, you see.

By Monday morning, as I write this article, the mood has changed. BBC Radio 4's ex general has to keep saying, 'It's easy to be gloomy' - which of course begs the questions, who was happy before, and who's gloomy now? The Express's prediction that the coalition would reach Baghdad by Monday seems to have slipped off the desk.

The buzz phrase of the morning is 'serious resistance' and something unexpected seems to have happened. Some of those who 'melted away' were only pretending. They turned around and ambushed the Marines.

All this raises the question of who believes what. Clearly, Blair and Bush know that they have a massive problem with this war. With most of the world against them, their main chance of holding back the protests is to claim that this is a war to 'liberate' the Iraqis.

At first, it all seemed to be going right. Geoff Hoon, the UK government dalek, told us that it was a 'textbook operation'. As cruise missiles hit Baghdad, over and over again we heard from the media boys that word 'successfully' - not 'tragically' or 'sadly'. It's possible that this kind of guff convinces some of the people, some of the time.

But there's an interesting issue here: does it convince the people saying it: Bush, Blair, the generals and the pro-war journalists and editors? Are they victims of their own propaganda?

My view is that they've told themselves so often that Saddam is a crazy tyrant who kills his own people that they think that the consequence of this is that a war will be a pushover. They had at least two massive reasons for not thinking this: Stalin and Hitler. Both liquidated whole sections of their own populations, ran terror regimes, but when it came to conquering their countries, the invading armies didn't find it easy.

Most of the soldiers who died in World War Two died within the borders of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. I notice that some of the more astute commentators have described the Saddam regime as 'Stalinist', which should have rung some alarm bells in the Pentagon and Whitehall.

Somebody somewhere must have wondered if many Iraqis might consider the US a greater enemy than Saddam. But the whole propaganda language-machine has been telling the world that the Iraqis hate Saddam so much that this would be a 'clean war'. Not so 'clean', not so 'successful', not so 'smart', huh?

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Sat 29 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1844
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