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if they sank an American ship?
by George Szamuely [2-23-2001]
our outrage if a Russian submarine had
smashed into a Japanese fishing trawler
while surfacing and killed nine people, including four
high-school students! Imagine if the Russians had then
made no attempt to save survivors! Suppose further that
it was revealed that the accident took place not during a
military exercise but during a joyride to show off
Russian military prowess to wealthy chums of President
Putin. Acres and acres of newsprint, hours and hours of
airtime would be given over to self-satisfied
condemnations of the Russians for their recklessness. How
could they have been so irresponsible as to allow
civilians into the control room, to encourage them to get
their hands on the controls and even to pull the levers
during a particularly dangerous submarine maneuver?
William Safire would weigh in with profound reflections,
doubtless over a series of columns, about the low value
Russians seem to place on human life a legacy of
their oriental despotic past, so unlike our own happily
individualist one. We would be told that Russians are
just downright lazy and irresponsible. There would be
innumerable smug laments about the current sorry state
our once formidable adversary. Anne Applebaum would
sternly admonish the Russians to give up their imperial
ambitions and simply let Americans come in and carry out
the thoroughgoing "Westernization" that they
need so badly.
even though the destruction of the Ehime Maru was merely
the most recent instance of US military recklessness
towards civilians and particularly foreign ones
editorial writers and columnists have been
extraordinarily sparing in their indignation. To be sure,
there have been the pro forma demands for a full "inquiry"
as well as earnest advice to the Bush Administration to
do whatever is necessary to soothe Japanese ruffled
feathers. But, with few exceptions, the pundits have been
quiet. No one has even raised the issue of the vaunted
professionalism and effectiveness of the US military.
When it comes to the military, the media can always be
relied on to act as cheerleaders.
the bombing of Yugoslavia journalists did not think it
unusual that we bombed a refugee convoy, pulverized a
passenger train in broad daylight, blew up the offices of
Serbian state television, and
even destroyed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
Preposterous NATO claims that it was only hitting
military targets were accepted at face value. So why
should journalists now trouble themselves over the deaths
of a handful of Japanese fishing students? While the New
York Times fulminated for months
about the lascivious groping at Tailhook demanding court-martials
all round and mass dismissals, the loss of life as a
result of the US military failing to follow standard
safety procedures elicits little more than a yawn.
facts in the Ehime Maru case are shocking enough: The 16
civilians who were aboard the USS Greeneville during the
emergency surfacing maneuver were major contributors to
the USS Missouri Restoration Fund a group
dedicated to restoring the battleship on which Japan
surrendered in 1945. The pointless emergency surfacing
exercise was carried out not in the middle of the ocean
but in a busy area of the Pacific 10 miles south
of Honolulu. The USS Greeneville was two miles outside
the Navy submarine training area, which is marked on
navigation charts. The submarine was not operating the
active sonar at the time of the collision. (National
Transportation Safety Board officials say that or more
than 10 years the Navy has rejected recommendations that
submarines utilize active sonar when operating in coastal
waters.) One civilian sat at the helm of the submarine
and another pulled the levers during the sudden ascent.
to NTSB official John Hammerschmidt, the submarine had
detected the Ehime Maru 71 minutes before smashing into
it. One crew member now admits that the civilians were
distracting him as the submarine was preparing to surface.
The fire control technician, who plots the submarines
position using sonar contacts in order to prepare to fire
at targets, told investigators his duties were
interrupted less than an hour before the collision.
"He ceased this updating of the CEP (Contact
Evaluation Plot) because of the number of civilians
present," said Hammerschmidt. He also says that the
submarines sonar room should have been staffed with
two qualified sonar operators and a supervisor. Instead,
there was only one trainee, an operator and a supervisor.
In addition, the submarines sonar repeater was not
working. (This device allows the submarines top
officers to watch nearby sonar contacts on a monitor as
they work at the periscope.) Hammerschmidt incidentally
is also the man who came up with this prize quote: "The
accident certainly is unusual. In terms of civilians
being in those positions Im not sure thats
unusual." Well, thats a relief.
is, of course, a reason for this media insouciance. Arrogant
and reckless conduct goes
with the territory of being the "lone superpower"
and the "indispensable nation." Since there is
no one out there to challenge us, why shouldnt we
do exactly as we want? And, since we are "indispensable"
surely a few foibles can be forgiven? But there is
another and more sinister reason for this indifference,
something we only became aware of as a result of this
accident. Apparently, it has been the policy of the US
military for some years now to cultivate wealthy and
influential people, particularly journalists, by inviting
them to take part in military exercises. The Navy has
apparently hosted an estimated 25,000 civilian guests
over the last two years on its West Coast vessels alone.
The idea is to show off our military wares to wealthy,
ignorant but self-important civilians with a view to
winning their support for even more lavish funding of the
Pentagon. So dazzled are the visitors by all the high-tech
gadgets on display, by the death-defying skills of our
servicemen, and by the elaborate military maneuvers
worthy of a Hollywood summer blockbuster that they become
ardent lobbyists for the military.
to a story in the Los Angeles Times,
"the Navy hopes the on-board experiences will win
over civilians who are active and influential in
their community, business or government, according
to Navy policy. Reporters and editors from The Times, for
example, have participated. A 1989 directive by the chief
of naval operations said taking civilians aboard must be
in the furtherance of continuing public awareness
of the Navy and its mission. As part of the effort,
public relations officers aboard individual ships often
provide news releases and pictures of visitors on the
vessels to local media." It is now common practice
for Navy commanders to encourage journalists and other
lobbyists for the military to steer the submarine during
when the next US military intervention takes place
influential people will be on hand to rally the public in
support our brave men and women in uniform. Never mind
the issue of whether the United States has the right to
bomb a country that has done nothing to us, the important
thing is to be behind our troops. One has to say that as
far as journalists are concerned this Pentagon policy has
been remarkably successful. Journalists are notoriously
susceptible to flattery, and especially so when they are
elevated to the status of civilians "active and
influential in their community, business or government."
According to the Los Angeles Times,
"Commanding officers, eager to win such civilian
support, often flaunt the abilities of their vessel and
crew, according to retired military officers. The
submarine captain does put on a show, said retired
submarine Adm. James Bush. Of all the maneuvers, the
emergency surfacing, which the Greeneville did, is the
most knock-your-socks-off dramatic, Bush said." It
certainly knocked the socks off the passengers and crew
of the Ehime Maru.
wonders about further revelations. During the bombing of
Yugoslavia it turned out that the
US military was actually working inside the CNN offices.
Military personnel from the Fourth Psychological
Operations Group based at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina,
were installed at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. A
Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information Service confirmed
the presence of these Army psyops experts at CNN, saying,
"Psy-ops personnel, soldiers and officers, have been
working in CNNs headquarters in Atlanta through our
program, Training with Industry. They worked
as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have
worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in
the production of news." While confirming the story
CNN, needless to say, denied that these Army psyops
personnel decided news coverage or wrote news reports.
much the same way, the Navy assures us that civilians
pulling the levers during an emergency maneuver had
nothing to do with the destruction of the fishing trawler.
But why was the military working at the CNN offices?
Soldiers have no business being in the offices of any
reputable news organization particularly while the
United States is waging war. Similarly, civilians,
particularly journalists have no business wandering
around aircraft carriers and submarines, goshing and
gushing at whatever they are shown. And they most
certainly have no business pulling levers and executing
would the military be ensconced in a newsroom other than
to influence news coverage? Why would journalists be
invited to take trips on submarines other than to make
sure that they become advocates for the military? We have
a military directly involved in the production of news.
And we have journalists directly involved in the
production of war. During the next US military expedition
we will learn that journalists actually pushed the button
that released the cruise missiles. Doubtless, the
Pentagon will inform us that the media had nothing
whatsoever to do with the selection of targets. And CNN
will reassure us that pushing buttons on an aircraft
carrier in no way impedes objective news gathering. It
will be the final fulfillment of the military-media
George Szamuely 2001. Posted with author's permission.
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Further reading -
CNN Hooks up with the Military:
Media leis about the bombing of
a Sudanese pill factory in August, 1998:
Media lies about Yugoslavia:
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