"WAR ON TERRORISM" WINKING AT NUCLEAR TERROR

By Norman Solomon

"Two countries -- each with dozens of atomic bombs -- are
threatening to make war on each other."

"Maybe you think this situation calls for U.S. officials and
American media outlets to focus on ways of preventing the outbreak of
a war that could quickly turn into a nuclear conflagration. If so,
your mode of thinking is distinctly out of step with the 'war on
terrorism.'"

"By now, America's 'war on terrorism' often seems to be a war of
narcissism.
The world view is so extremely self-engrossed -- and so
widely accepted by news media -- that the movers and shakers of the
Fourth Estate usually don't bat an eye even when rationales get
positively loopy.
"

"In the current war of narcissism -- despite
all the self-congratulatory froth after Sept. 11 about the global
vistas flung open by the newly enlightened U.S. media -- the news
world still revolves largely around the USA and Washington's line of
the day."

 

 

     Two countries -- each with dozens of atomic bombs -- are
threatening to make war on each other. Large numbers of troops have
mobilized. Deadly cross-border clashes are intense. And people in
charge of both governments have become more bellicose by the day.

     Maybe you think this situation calls for U.S. officials and
American media outlets to focus on ways of preventing the outbreak of
a war that could quickly turn into a nuclear conflagration. If so,
your mode of thinking is distinctly out of step with the "war on
terrorism."

     You see, as the summer of 2002 begins, what matters most is the
Pentagon's determination to kill as many Al Qaeda fighters as
possible. Some of them are located in parts of Afghanistan and
Pakistan, and perhaps also Kashmir, the region that's under bitter
dispute by India and Pakistan.

     Since the leaders in New Delhi and Islamabad have their fingers
on nuclear buttons, their escalating threats ought to concentrate our
minds on the very real perils of the situation. An attack with a
single 10-kiloton atomic warhead could cause immediate deaths
numbering in the hundreds of thousands. For starters. "American
intelligence estimates put the toll in the event of a full exchange of
the two nuclear arsenals at 12 million dead with maybe 7 million
wounded -- an instant slaughter unprecedented in the history of
mankind," Henry Porter wrote in the London-based Guardian.

     Such figures, applied to human carnage, may be impossible to
grasp. You might think of the World Trade Center catastrophe occurring
simultaneously about 4,000 times (leaving aside widespread radiation
sickness and longer-term agonies). Such comparisons may be needed to
galvanize much attention from the U.S. media, still transfixed as it
is with stories related to 9/11.

     By now, America's "war on terrorism" often seems to be a war of
narcissism. The world view is so extremely self-engrossed -- and so
widely accepted by news media -- that the movers and shakers of the
Fourth Estate usually don't bat an eye even when rationales get
positively loopy.

     There was a remarkably myopic -- no, let's not beat around the
bush -- there was a remarkably deranged moment on May 28 when Pentagon
spokeswoman Victoria Clarke voiced concern about the increasing
chances of war between the two nuclear-armed states. Why? Because, in
order to confront India with additional ground forces, Pakistan was
about to pull troops away from its border with Afghanistan and thus
weaken efforts against Al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers.

     Noting that Pakistani troops at the Afghan border have been
"enormously, enormously helpful" to the U.S. government, Clarke
worried aloud. "Attention and troops that cannot be focused there
because they're focused elsewhere, that's a concern for us because we
need as much assistance as possible in guarding that very porous
border," she said. Those comments didn't raise many eyebrows in
America's newsrooms.

     Hello? While events are rapidly careening in the direction of a
war that could bring nuclear disaster to the Indian subcontinent, the
Bush administration contends that a brake must be applied -- because
of the importance of killing Al Qaeda members this summer?

     Like quite a few other regimes, the fanatical Hindu
fundamentalists running India's government have echoed the U.S. "war
on terrorism" mantra to harmonize with their own militaristic
intentions. While the Pentagon was complaining that a slippery slope
to nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be inconvenient for
Washington's policymakers, the Indian foreign minister employed a
familiar lexicon. "The world recognizes that today the epicenter of
international terrorism is in Pakistan," said Jaswant Singh.
"Terrorists targeting not only India but other countries, too, receive
support from state structures in Pakistan."

     Although the consequences of any nuclear detonation in the
conflict between India and Pakistan would be a horrific cataclysm, the
predictable results are apt to get little advance media attention from
major American outlets. In the current war of narcissism -- despite
all the self-congratulatory froth after Sept. 11 about the global
vistas flung open by the newly enlightened U.S. media -- the news
world still revolves largely around the USA and Washington's line of
the day.

     But perhaps, under the news-you-can-use category, some angles can
grab appreciable coverage: If a faraway nuclear exchange takes place,
Americans who feel that Strontium-90 would not be appropriate for
their current lifestyles should forget about consuming dairy products
(that includes lattes and cappuccinos) for at least a few years. They
would be wise to cultivate indoor gardens in a hurry. And they'd be
well-advised to stay indoors with all windows tightly sealed.
_________________________________________________

Recommended reading:  Norman Solomon's "Killing Our Own: The Disaster of
America's Experience with Atomic Radiation" (Delacorte Press), which
he co-authored with Harvey Wasserman in 1982.


 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (I'd recommend a visit to the site), a nationwide consortium of public-policy researchers. He has written op-ed pieces for Boston Globe, Washington Post, Newsday, New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Baltimore Sun, and is a far more successful writer than Alex Sandell will ever be.  His column, normally titled, "Media Beat," is nationally syndicated in a wide variety of newspapers.  If you'd like to see his weekly "Media Beat" column published on the opinion page of your local daily newspaper(s), please contact the opinion-page editor at the paper(s) and suggest that the paper give his column a try. Please mention to editors that his weekly column is available to newspapers from Creators Syndicate. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." 

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