Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Rise of the Machines

In the SF Chronicle, Matthew Stannard explains how the United States might go about attacking Iran:

A B-2A Spirit thunders down the aging airstrip of Whiteman Air Force Base and takes off, curving east over the rolling forests of Missouri. It flies past the empty silos where Minuteman nuclear missiles slumbered through all the long years of the Cold War, past the nation's capital, across the Atlantic Ocean, to where the first of three giant KC-135R Stratotankers it will encounter in the long night waits with fresh fuel.
Note that the article doesn’t start by saying “George W. Bush calls the Pentagon,” before proceeding tediously – but instructively – through the chain of command. Instead, the protagonist is a machine.

This impersonal, pseudo-objective approach is popular among journalists who are obliged to describe or promote political crimes. (Stannard even manages to anthropomorphize the Minuteman missiles.) Somehow, downplaying human agency is supposed to indicate sober neutrality, rather than subjectivity gone berserk. There’s no conspiracy, of course; it’s simply the path of least resistance in a highly imitative field that rewards puerility.

The human events after the attack are missing, too, but that's no surprise. An article in which the take-off of a bomber were described down to the chemistry of fuel ignition would never be half so thorough about the process of bleeding to death.

And why should it? Everyone knows that people die in wars. And what everyone knows, there’s no need to discuss.

Having put readers in the proper frame of mind, Stannard goes on to explore the options for attacking Iran, and presents a new (to me, anyway) theory of warfare:
[S]ome analysts say there is little point in limiting the strikes.

"There's no difference between bombing one site and bombing 1,000 sites, politically," said Andrew Teekell, a security analyst at Stratfor, a private intelligence consultant.
This is an astonishing thing to believe, and I’d think the average reader would be curious about why Mr. Teekell believes it. But there’s no explanation. All we know for certain is that it’s the opinion of a Serious Person.

To be fair, the article also says:
The grim features of each option facing the United States if it chooses to fight leave many analysts arguing that there is no military solution to the Iran crisis.
Still, there’s no discussion of the legality of attacking Iran, and no mention of its possible effect on our standing in the world (which, despite BushCo’s efforts, can indeed sink lower). In media discussions of "the Iraq crisis," the legality of preemptive attack was at least addressed, however tangentially and dishonestly. But now, BushCo’s thrilling success in Iraq has apparently answered all such concerns, and the only question that matters is how best to use our power to get what we want.

Which is a very interesting thing to contemplate in a week when Bill Frist has embraced the Taliban, and North Korea has announced a plan to test its nuclear weapons, and Iraq continues its descent into civil war.

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