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The day television changed the war
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-01-17 09:27:30
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When the invasion to Kuwait started I was in Dubai and for hours I was watching Peter Arnett from CNN in the lobby of a hotel when the telephones stopped ringing. It is amazing when major events like a huge invasion happen, it seems that everything around you stops and there is a grave silence. And that silence had been triggered just seconds before when a young officer from the American army had entered the lobby saying just two words “it started”.

The allies invasion to Kuwait and the storming continue in Iraq or better the Desert Storm that hit Iraq, was not my first time near a war zone but it was the first time war zone had come so near to me and it didn’t matter where I was. I could have easily been home, sitting on the sofa eating pizza; the war had found us through the trebling green screens and the voice of Peter. Apparently in days Peter Arnett had become part of the family didn’t matter where you lived. CNN had the privilege to be the only news agency inside Bagdad, constantly showing the other side of the hill.

And it was the dramatic and atmospheric green light that made everything more effective to all sensation; it was like the smell of the war was coming out of the screen and of course the reporter’s dramatic voice was making everything more real, well it was real. And we all stayed there watching quietly for hours Saddam’s reaction. Tariq Aziz had said just days before while everybody was still trying to find a diplomatic way out that if the Americans hit Iraq then the sky will darken from the Iraqi missiles. Of course it was all a poker game but we didn’t know then. But I’m not going to go to personal experiences from those days now, the most important is how much the war changed that night and that thanks to …CNN!

I still believe that the Desert Strom was the first reality show as reality shows have become today. I had all the time the feeling that the targets were carefully chosen not because of their military importance but because they were in good view from al-Rashid hotel where Peter Arnett and his cameramen were based. It was the same feeling that a war was unveiled and CNN was directing.

I’m not blaming for anything CNN. They did their job and they did it well and after all CNN are business first of all and profit their target and the franchise from this war gave them money for lifetime. Books, documentaries, videos, memoirs; everything they touched for years became cold. It is us I blame who let a horrible thing like war, where people die and humanity loses its dignity we let it turn into a spectacular.

Suddenly there was magic and we end up talking about it, talking about the pictures we could see on our television screens and not about the dead. I remember a few days later when I saw the first Iraqi prisoners. Men that had lost any kind of dignity and self respect, men who were glad they had survived from a sure death. Talking with some of them I realized that the allies had taken dimensions of monsters in their minds. Superhuman who carried hand nuclear weapons and I don’t know what ray guns that could see in the night and would definitely kill them. Men who had been starving for days since beyond all his arrogance and confidence Saddam could not even do the simplest thing with his army, feed them!

And then later there were dead bodies in the desert, there were orphans in the villages and the cities and there was a ruthless dictator who was going to continue for a few years more threatening enemies and compatriots. There was a whole nation in ruins and they were not all Saddam's, on the contrary the majority hated the man. But what we remember from those days are the trebling green screens of CNN and that was war! And that was the day CNN changed war!

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Emanuel Paparella2010-01-17 11:15:45
Plenty of food for thought here. The questions naturally arises: having changed the reportage on war into a reality show, could CNN be changing humanitarian aid and relief, that is to say, compassion itself, into another reality show in its reportage on the Haiti disaster? People are starving and dying and out of their mind for grief and we are treated to a continual inane reportage on all kinds of inane and bizarre questions; a continual chatter within the media bordering on gossip which all but ignores the crucial questions and assumptions and the gravity of the situation. The whole effort at relief is thus trivialized and cheapened. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-17 11:16:51
The other night we were treated to the incredible spectacle of a CNN journalist who reports on medical issues and who happens to be a doctor himself, Sanchez Gupta, being left all alone in a make-shift hospital tent with suffering patients by the UN doctors’ contingent who had been ordered to evacuate the tent due to fear of violence. Very brave of the UN doctors! But the UN has done those sort of things at other times…So the viewer was treated to this bizarre and paradoxical reality show: the journalist who was supposed to be reporting on the UN doctors’ performance being left all alone by the same doctors to attend to those patients. At one point it became even more bizarre: the anchor man from Atlanta asks Gupta a question and he simply ignores the question because he is too busy attending to the patients need. It would appear that the journalist had found enough compassion in himself to go back to being a doctor and ignore the constant chatter of his colleagues. Clearly he could not do both. Gupta is a Hindu; one wonders if as such he has thought on the Hindus’ interesting spiritual theory of reality: that is to say, that when we die we shall find out that the world we had been living all along was a virtual reality and that we have just woken up from a nightmare to the real world . CNN gives intimations to the more sensible among us that such an intuition may be quite valid, or that at the very least we ought to reflect on it. Indeed reality can be more bizarre than fiction at times, but if reality itself is virtual, then Plato too had a valid intuition: we are all in a cave lit by fire and misguidedly think we are within reality.

Jack2010-01-17 22:25:57

You'r spot on with this Thanos. I can think of how TV changed the Vietnam war and helped to bring it to a hasty conclusion. Pictures of the body bags and reports of all the casualties helped end the war than all the politicians in Washington. I shall never foreget & the CNN news footage neither. Well done Thanos...as usual!

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