FOR AFGHAN KIDS, STARVATION AND DOLLAR BILLS
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's air drops of food parcels and President Bus= h's plea for American children to aid Afghan kids with dollar bills will go=
down in history as two of the most cynical maneuvers of media manipulation= in the early 21st Century.
Many U.S. news outlets have been eager to play along. A New York Time= s editorial proclaimed that "Mr. Bush has wisely made providing humanit= arian assistance to the Afghan people an integral part of American strategy= ." Four days later, on Oct. 12, the same newspaper still had nothing but = praise for the U.S. government's food aid charades: "His reaffirmation of t= he need for humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan -- including dona= tions from American children -- seemed heartfelt."
While thousands of kids across the United States stuff dollar bills into= envelopes and mail them to the White House, the U.S. government continues = a bombing campaign that is accelerating the momentum of mass starvation in = Afghanistan.
Relief workers have voiced escalating alarm. Jonathan Patrick, an offici= al with the humanitarian aid group Concern, minced no words. He called the = food drops "absolute nonsense."
"What we need is 20-ton trucks in huge co= nvoys going across the border all the time," said Patrick, based in Islamab= ad. But when the bombing began, the truck traffic into Afghanistan stopped.
In tandem with the bombing campaign, the U.S. government launched a publ= ic relations blitz about its food-from-the-sky effort. But the Nobel-winnin= g French organization Doctors Without Borders has charged that the gambit i= s "virtually useless and may even be dangerous." One aid group after anothe= r echoes the assessment. The U.S. has been dropping 37,000 meals a day on a= country where several million Afghans face the imminent threat of starvati= on. Some of the food, inevitably, is landing on minefields.
The food drops began on Sunday, Oct. 7, simultaneous with the start of t= he bombing. "As of Thursday, a Pentagon spokeswoman said more than 137,000 = of the yellow-packaged rations had been dropped," the Knight-Ridder News Se= rvice reported on Oct. 12. "International aid organization officials say, h= owever, that around 5 million Afghans are in danger of starvation because t= he nation's borders are sealed and food supplies are diminishing by the day= -- meaning that only a tiny percentage of the hungry are receiving the U.S= . food." The borders are sealed because of the continuous bombing.
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld wasn't worried about provoking appropriat= e derision and outrage when he told reporters on Oct. 8: "It is quite true = that 37,000 rations in a day do not feed millions of human beings. On the o= ther hand, if you were one of the starving people who got one of the ration= s, you'd be appreciative."
Avowedly, the main targets of the bombing are the people in the bin Lade= n network and their Taliban supporters. But the rhetorical salvoes will be = understood, all too appropriately, in wider contexts. "We will root them ou= t and starve them out," Rumsfeld said, just before closing a news conferenc= e with a ringing declaration: "We are determined not to be terrorized."
Supposedly, bombing Afghanistan is going to make us safer back here in A= merica. But as soon as the attacks began on Oct. 7, the FBI called for heig= htened alerts across the United States -- because the risk of another deadl= y attack in this country had just increased. What's wrong with this picture= ?
Unlike the media herd, longtime foreign correspondent Robert Fisk is exp= loring key questions. "President Bush says this is a war between good and e= vil," he writes in the London-based Independent newspaper. "You are either = with us or against us. But that's exactly what bin Laden says. Isn't it wor= th pointing this out and asking where it leads?"
Fisk asks other questions that aren't ready for prime time: "Why are we = journalists falling back on the same sheep-like conformity that we adopted = in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo war? ... Is there some kind of rhe= torical fog that envelopes us every time we bomb someone?"
In wartime, media accounts seem to zigzag between selected facts and eas= y sentimentality. Michael Herr, a journalist who covered the Vietnam War, l= ater wrote that the U.S. media "never found a way to report meaningfully ab= out death, which of course was really what it was all about." Obscured by c= ountless news stories, "the suffering was somehow unimpressive." Accustomed= to seeing its military might as self-justifying, America powered ahead. "W= e took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maxim= um brutality," Herr observed. "Our machine was devastating. And versatile. = It could do everything but stop."
In its Oct. 12 editorial, headlined "Mr. Bush's New Gravitas," the Ne= w York Times concluded that the current president is providing exactly = the kind of leadership we need: "As he reflected on the sorrow, compassion = and determination that have swept the country since those horrifying hours = on the morning of Sept. 11, he seemed to be a leader whom the nation could = follow in these difficult times."
Among the leadership qualities most appreciated by editorial writers is = the Bush administration's aptitude for shameless propaganda. While the Pent= agon keeps dropping tons of bombs, it scatters some meals to the winds. Whi= le the U.S. government persists with a bombing campaign that shows every si= gn of resulting in mass starvation, the president urges the young people of= the United States to send in dollar bills -- "to join in a special effort = to help the children of Afghanistan."
Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. His lat= est book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."