History selected one man to oversee critical points in the defeat of the United States Armed Forces by two nations in Southwestern Asia. And in the short term, the ever obsequious American media rewarded him lavishly for it. That man was General David Petraeus.
The corporate perception managers, the governments of both Bush and Obama, the military itself, and most of the general population of the United States, participated in a mythology about Petraeus – that he was a modern-day Clausewitz specializing in counter-insurgency, an intellectual warrior for the post 9-11 era.
Emblematic of that genius was a media event called The Surge, which accompanied an operation that was characterized mostly by paying people not to attack US soldiers in Iraq. The second surge was in Afghanistan, and we can see clearly now that this operation inaugurated the end game of defeat for the US in Afghanistan. The US was, contrary to its wishes, expelled by the Iraqis – another defeat.
That these are not seen as defeats by most Americans is a testament to that perception management bloc of military and media, which has managed to report on these wars for years now without ever using the word “defeat.” At this point, helicopters are never shot down; they “crash” under circumstances that are not yet clear.
This Veterans Day, we aging vets will again crawl out of our suburban foxholes to form Jingo Phalanxes on Main Streets all across the home of the brave; a national show of force for aging phallo-centrism.
We aging vets are soldiers left behind – by our own bodies, damn! – who have not been told the war is over. For us, it is over.
Now we enter into the precious body of war only on our national Easter, wherein the dead combatants are raised, and the newly-armed actors praised. Every soldier is a hero. We need a ribbon magnet for that.
We idolize war in the United States of America; and that is why the perception management bloc doesn’t honestly need to work that hard to get the general population with the program. The Bloc, so to speak, can look at militarized America and say, “Our work is done here. Mars be praised.”
This week, Petraeus, the Director of the CIA, stands disgraced by his extramarital affair with… a member of the media, his co-biographer, in fact – Paula Broadwell. The extremely tight relationship between the military-security apparatus and the media is now embodied, and as such, it has become a scandal.
I mean that in the biblical sense. Skandalon is the Greek equivalent of mikshowl in Hebrew, meaning a stumbling block. It is something that “trips people up.” One of the ways skandalon trips people up is by revealing something that deflates power – again in the biblical sense. And in this sense, the Petraeus affair has revealed, at least parabolically, the incestuous relationship between media and military.
Journalists are now seated on advisory boards for the CIA; and no one questions the journalistic propriety of that.
In the last two decades we have seen the media monopoly-military merger develop to the point that our wars are selectively used as reality TV. Generals are feted as if they are great public intellectuals. The lines between politics, entertainment, and official violence have been effaced – almost, as Petraeus just discovered.
In Petraeus, the merged-role of a General and that of a media star, both now mutually reinforcing, proved hazardous. Once upon a time, Petraeus was seen as a future President. No mas.
With your resume on the screen in the early 21st Century, in an age of the spectacle, the way to get noticed is to be spectacular on screen. Future historians will marvel at the superficialization of our culture as we slid into a state of mindless bureaucratic individualism. Images reflect images that are reflections of images. We buy books on personality makeovers. We take a lot of pills.
Power stumbles, power is revealed.
The scandal in the modern sense – doing things that are public outrages – is that Petraeus cheated on his wife. Fair enough. He resigned. Full stop. Loss of efficacy, and all that.
The more serious scandal might be that he revealed classified information to his confidante; and here is where the contradiction between journalism and the military is most clear. The security of the nation-state is paramount, more so when that state is already highly militarized.
What we have not heard, which ought to be a scandal, and is not, is that Petraeus may be guilty of war crimes. He was a commander when crimes were clearly committed: plunder and failure to protect civilians, torture, and wanton destruction. These are violations of law; and they did happen on his watch –quite a lot.
But since no one has the power to bring charges except Petraeus’ colleagues and the current government, he will never face those charges. The decision has been made. No prosecutions, because the wars themselves have been started and maintained by illegal means.
The media supports with silence. One peep, and they “lose access.”
Might makes right, and we oughtn’t forget it. Maybe I’ll carry that sign in the next Veterans Day parade.
Since none of his predations as a General will be a public scandal – because in the United States, we love war and men with guns – then we are left with little else to do but reflect on what we are. Here’s what I see.
We are a technologically-disembodied society without a justifying morality, captured by the economics of war. We have one civic God – the nation-state called United States of America – and our sacred relics are soldiers and former soldiers.
I can decry the elite PR apparatus ‘til the cows come home; but the fact is – as we can see every Veterans Day – we participate in this war-idolatry en masse. We are a lost people; and no government can fix that.