Several days after the mass killings at Virginia
Tech, grisly stories about the tragedy still dominate front pages and cable
television. News of carnage on a vastly larger scale the war in Iraq
ebbs and flows. The overall coverage of lethal violence, at home and
far away, reflects the chronic evasions of the American media establishment.
In the world of U.S. mainline journalism, the boilerplate legitimacy
of official American violence overseas is a routine assumption.
"The first task of the occupation remains the first task of government:
to establish a monopoly on violence," George Will wrote three years ago
in the Washington Post. But now, his latest Newsweek column laments:
"Vietnam produced an antiwar movement in America; Iraq has produced an
Current polls and public discourse in spite of media inclinations
to tamp down authentic anger at the war do reflect an "antiwar
America" of sorts. So, why is the ghastly war effort continuing
unabated? A big factor is the undue respect that's reserved for
American warriors in American society.
When a mentally unstable person goes on a shooting rampage in the
United States, no one questions that such actions are intrinsically,
fundamentally and absolutely wrong. The media condemnation is 100
However even after four years of a U.S. war in Iraq that has been
increasingly deplored by the American public the standard violence
directed from the Pentagon does not undergo much critical scrutiny
from American journalists. The president's war policies may come
under withering media fire, but the daily activities of the U.S.
armed forces are subjected to scant moral condemnation. Yet, under
orders from the top, they routinely continue to inflict or serve
as a catalyst for violence far more extensive than the shooting
sprees that turned a placid Virginia campus into a slaughterhouse.
News outlets in the United States combine the totally proper
condemnation of killing at home with a notably different affect
toward the methodical killing abroad that is funded by the U.S.
Treasury. We often read, see and hear explicit media commendations
that praise as heroic the Americans in uniform who are trying to
kill, and to avoid being killed, in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In recent decades, the trends of war have been clear. A majority of
the dead estimated at 75 to 90 percent are civilians. They are
no less innocent than the more than 30 people who suddenly died from
gunshots at Virginia Tech.
It would be inaccurate to say that the bulk of U.S. media's coverage
accepts war launched from Washington. The media system of the USA
does much more than accept it embraces the high-tech violence
under the Pentagon's aegis. Key reasons are cultural, economic and
We grew up with and continue to see countless movies and TV
programs showing how certain people with a handgun, a machine gun or
missiles are able to set wrongs right with sufficiently deft and
The annual reports of large, medium and small companies boast that
the U.S. Defense Department is a lucrative customer with more and
more to spend on their wares for war.
And the scope of political discourse, reinforced by major news
outlets, ordinarily remains narrow enough to dodge the huge
differences between "defense spending" and "military spending."
broadly, the big media rarely explore the terrain of basic moral
challenges to the warfare state.
Everyone who isn't deranged can agree that what happened on April 16,
2007, at the campus of Virginia Tech was an abomination. It came
about because of an individual's madness. We must reject it without
the slightest equivocation. And we do.
But the media baseline is to glorify the U.S. military yesterday,
today and tomorrow bringing so much bloodshed to Iraq. The social
dynamics in our own midst, fueling the war effort, are spared tough
scrutiny. We're constantly encouraged to go along, avidly or
Yet George Will has it wrong. The first task of government should not
be "to establish a monopoly on violence." Government should work to
prevent violence including its own.