Girgenti: Propaganda? That’s for the bad guys

R. Colin Fly

The possibility of a war in Iraq has been debated by many people, myself included. Many reasons have been given as to why the United States should not attack Iraq, discussing the civilian casualties, the implications for international law and the like. As of this point, I have not read anything including what a war in Iraq would do to American soldiers.

About a month and a half ago, I ordered a free video from the Navy that discussed all the career possibilities and training that one gets after joining the Navy. The video was very professional, with slick cuts and beautiful shots of the ocean and Navy ships. A number of those serving aboard the ships offered their descriptions of why I should join the Navy instead of wasting my time going to college. One sailor noted that it would probably have cost him $25,000 a year to go to a college somewhere to get the kind of training he gets in the Navy. He is referring, of course, to this state-of-the-art technology on which he is trained, which he feels will be useful to know when his time is up.

Throughout the 11-minute video, there is much discussion of the technology. The video opens with a sailor explaining that, in the Navy, he is doing something “really cool” and earning money toward college. Within the first minute, a barrage of words flashes across the screen: honor, pride, courage, commitment and tradition. Nowhere in the whole video is war mentioned; it does not even make any reference to war games. Is the Navy afraid that men would not want to join the military if they realized that they might have to go to war?

The video has a very clear audience in mind, as well. It is directly targeting the impoverished members of our society, by emphasizing that the Navy will help pay for college, and that the training one receives in the Navy will be helpful toward finding a well-paying job after one’s time is up. The result is that people join the Navy, expecting to receive all kinds of money and job training and suddenly find themselves in the midst of war.

On the U.S. Army’s website, on the other hand, military service is glorified. They have developed an ultra-realistic video game that puts one in an army unit. As the website puts it, one can “gain experience as a soldier in the U.S. Army, without ever leaving your desk.” How can one learn from a video game what it is like to actually shoot and kill another human being, to hear his or her cries of pain? I guess that is not what being in the Army is really about though. After all, the commercials on TV tell me that the Army runs around a lot, but never actually hurts anyone.

Timothy McVeigh, best known for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He once said, with regard to his role in the war in Iraq, “What right did I have to come over to this person’s country and kill him? How did he ever transgress against me?” Clearly, these are not the words of someone who was prepared to go to a foreign country and kill people just because he was told to do so by authorities. When his time in the Army was up, he was rejected from joining the Special Forces. He was soon discharged from the Army, with apparently no future. What happened to the Army’s promises that he would get a good job with his military training? Timothy McVeigh committed a vile act, there’s no doubt about that. But we never bothered to consider why he did it. Was it because he hated the United States? Possibly. Certainly, he was angry that he had been lied to and taken advantage of by his country. It’s unlikely that when he joined the Army he hated his country; this hatred could only develop as a result of the way he was used.

Robert Flores, a University of Arizona student and veteran of the Gulf War recently shot and killed three professors and himself. John Allen Muhammed, the man arrested for being the Beltway Sniper, was also a veteran of the Gulf War. Perhaps it is just coincidence that some of our soldiers are turning on us. I will end with this quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling our differences is not just.’ … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”