Obsessions in the media: casualties and horror

Strategy Page wonders “Where Have All The Dead Americans Gone?” in the Iraq struggle. Military tactics have been developed to minimize both military and civilian casualties. Some have noticed. Others have not.

There was also an emphasis on keeping civilian casualties down. It was difficult for most Americans to realize this, given the media’s fixation on real or imagined atrocities.

In hindsight, U.S. troops will get credit for keeping their own casualties down to historically low levels

Less well appreciated are the efforts the Americans made to keep civilian losses down. But foreign military experts are coming to appreciate that this aspect of the war paid long term benefits. Iraqis saw, day by day, the efforts by American troops to avoid hurting civilians. Initially, Iraqis saw that as an American weakness, but in the long run they recognized it as a sensibility rarely seen in the Middle East. This will have long term consequences for relations between the United States and Iraq.

The military is inhibited in waving this flag because of fears that the emphasis would be on its rules of engagement. Knowing those rules becomes a weapon of the enemy. Again, that is a media thing: with an obsession that is anti-US, the story is about the rules and not about the results.

Israel is demonstrating similar sensitivities. The ratio of civilian to terrorist casualties in its campaign against terror has improved over time. It is now to the point that a civilian casualty in an attack against terrorists is an exception and not the rule. This effort by Israel is not one that is easy to find reported. Instead, what you hear is the exceptional case – often presented as the norm.

The fact that the exercise of this sensibility shows strength of might as well as strength of values is not one that is easy to pin down. You can’t show it with a gory picture. It does not denigrate western culture. Those may be reasons why the media has trouble reporting it. Where it does show, and where it really counts, is in the conflict zone. The Iraqis and others in the area see and feel the strength and that may help them to understand that submission as required by their religion does not necessarily mean what they think it does.

Comments are closed.