Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, December 13, 2004


If any foreign-policy guru is entitled to be considered the prophet of the Bush Revolution in Foreign Affairs, it is Robert Kaplan. In the course of extensive world travels in the 1990s, he wrote many poignant portrayals of the developing world that went against the grain of the optimism of the times. He has the unique ability to write think-pieces that are at the same time intimate and immediate reporting.

I heard a rumor once that Kaplan was one of the first scholars that Bush consulted with in 2001.

My impression, though, is that he failed to reap the harvest of fame he deserved over the past four years. He seems to have been rather quiet. His book "Warrior Politics" got poor reviews

Now he's back with a brilliant essay: "The Media and Medievalism." Read the whole thing about five times.

The essay is many things: a searing critique of the mainstream media and its sanctimonious irresponsibility; shrewd worrying about the power of the mob and the death of authority; an analysis of totalitarianism. It reinforces my "Guelfs and Ghibellines" hypothesis:

The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety...

To the extent that the left is still vibrant, I am suggesting that it has mutated into something else. If what used to be known as the Communist International has any rough contemporary equivalent, it is the global media. The global media’s demand for peace and justice, which flows subliminally like an intravenous solution through its reporting, is — much like the Communist International’s rousing demand for workers’ rights — moralistic rather than moral. Peace and justice are such general and self-evident principles that it is enough merely to invoke them. Any and all toxic substances can flourish within them, or manipulate them, provided that the proper rhetoric is adopted. For moralizers these principles are a question of manners, not of substance. To wit, Kofi Annan can never be wrong...

As with medieval churchmen, the media class of the well-worried has a tendency to confuse morality with sanctimony: Those with the loudest megaphones and no bureaucratic accountability have a tendency to embrace moral absolutes. After all, transcending politics is easier done than engaging in them, with the unsatisfactory moral compromises that are entailed.

It is also a tribute to the US military and a lament that media coverage does not do them justice:

When not portraying them as criminals in prisoner abuse scandals, the media appear most at ease depicting American troops as victims themselves — victims of a failed Iraq policy, of a bad reserve system, and of a society that has made them into killers.

Yet the soldiers and Marines with whom I spent months as an embed in ground fighting units found such coverage deeply insulting. At a time when there are acts of battlefield courage in places like Fallujah and Najaf that, according to military expert John Hillen, “would make Black Hawk Down look like Gosford Park,” media coverage of individual soldiers and Marines as warrior-heroes is essentially absent...

Celebrating military heroism is not glorifying killing. War is a sad fact of existence, but a fact nevertheless. To be heroic can be an indication of character rather than of bloodthirstiness. Moreover, the American military — active in dozens of countries each week, fighting terrorism away from the headlines — is providing the security armature for an emerging global civilization whose own institutions are still in their infancy...

During World War II... news coverage... made heroes of American troops when the facts so demanded, which was often. American troops have changed less than American journalists have. The crowd-pack to which the latter now belong is that of the global media — an upper-income, transnational human herd...

The American media have lavished praise on those who cover life exclusively from the viewpoint of oppressed minorities, as John Howard Griffin did in Black Like Me (1961), or the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich did in Nickel and Dimed (2001): Yet to do the same with America’s own working-class troops is to risk censure.

Once upon a time, poets were inspired by the heroic deeds of warriors, paid tribute to them in verse and song, and created great literature. The Greeks' pre-eminent classic, the Iliad was a poem about warriors in this tradition. That both our scribal class and our artist class fail to fill this role has created a niche that the blogosphere has helped somewhat to fill. We need more of it. Young men in Iraq are learning deep truths of courage, sacrifice, and heroism with which America's ultra-bourgeois civilization has lost touch.

As for the mainstream media, I've tended to want to keep them around for traditionalist reasons. Reading Kaplan, I feel the beginnings of a different sentiment: Escracez l'infame.


  • This is a response to both this post and the post immediately prior.

    If the media is so determined to bring put down soldiers, why haven’t they pointed out the fact that the entire chain of command is lying when they refer to the Fallujah incursion in the past tense? Where is this story in the So Called Liberal Media? If so many Iraqis love us, what’s the deal with her? Or him?

    The media does want to venerate our heroes. However, the chain of command seems determined to obscure the truth of the heroism of our soldiers, time after time after time.

    By Blogger TheJew, at 7:19 PM  

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