A thought I had elsewhere on war and the media

So a long time ago now Phil Donahue was fired from MSNBC for being too anti-war. When that firing came up again through a casual aside on Wonkette, it occurred to me to write something there in the comments that I now bring over here:

Going to war is the most consequential decision a nation can make. In the US, by virtue of how it practices war, the consequences can seem distant, and so too many people will fail to understand that going to war requires an increase in some combination of debt and taxes, that much of that increased financial burden at home will then be spent overseas, where the US people cannot benefit. Then, of course, the US military will kill. Not only will we commit thousands of murders in the name of our war, depending on the war we may easily commit hundreds of thousands, while destroying the homes and infrastructure that provides shelter, necessities, and economic engagement for millions more. As a result, the US war will cause internal struggles for any attacked peoples, bringing the death toll resulting from our decision as high as the low millions.

You cannot start a disaster that will claim millions of lives, or even tens of thousands of lives, and wreck economies for hundreds of kilometers without creating a huge amount of ill will. In addition to traditionally-understood blowback, there is also a difficult to quantify effect on the ability of US persons & companies to engage in international trade after such a reputational hit. Our diplomacy is negatively impacted as our credibility dives. In any number of ways other than military, the US loses.

And yet, it is the recurrent pattern in every time and every place that when a nation goes to war, dissent is quashed: the US is not so exceptional as to escape that pattern.

As a result, the closer a nation, yes, even the USA, gets to war, the less informed the public and the worse the information base used for making decisions.

We know this.

Knowing this, it is unconscionable that US media companies do not go out of their way to recruit and protect anti-war voices, long term voices that can gain in reputation and stature as criticisms of past wars are slowly acknowledged by the monied and political classes to have merit. Voices that we can point to, then, and say, “But they were right about the last war; we should listen to their warnings about this one.”

And they will not always be right. And there have been such things as wars the US should have entered, as World War 2. But without them we will continue to make our worst decisions when we need our best.

If you are a media company employing 10 or more reporters, there is no excuse for not having anti-war journalists and commentators on your staff.




  1. ardipithecus says

    “In war, truth is the first casualty.” – Aeschylus

    I think part of the problem is that the decision to go to war is often made before the populace is made aware that the government is considering the option. The propaganda war is already well underway before the debate begins.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Uh, aren’t Wonkette comments supposed to be, like, sorta funny?

    They may not let you in when you go back there to play!

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    ardipithecus @2: I think that’s a misattribution. The closest Aeschylus came seems to be “God is not averse to deceit in a just cause”, which looks like a justification for deceit in time of war.

  4. G Pierce says

    I did not realize that had happened to Phil. I have had a deep love for him since I was a teenager and he helped to shape many of my views. I would absolutely love to see him on TV again.

  5. Robert Estrada says

    i have often wondered what all the costs of wars and preparedness/defense for war have cost over the last 200 years and what our world would be like if that amount had been redirected to education, healthcare and infrastructure/ development.
    Sorry, I first commented this to the wrong post.

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