May 3, 2007

Burn Down The Mission

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Bush administration's now-infamous photo op when Bush landed in a fighter jet on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq. His speech was one of many publicity stunts and media manipulations used to sell a fantasy war whose real and very tragic consequences are still being felt.

Some of those consequences underwent public scrutiny last week when Henry Waxman, the chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, held hearings titled "Misleading Information on the Battlefield." The hearings featured testimony from Jessica Lynch and the family of Patrick Tillman, two soldiers who themselves were previously used as icons in the fantasy war.

The reality described in congressional testimony starkly contradicted the media narratives through which the public first heard of Jessica Lynch and Patrick Tillman — two real soldiers who were transformed by the Pentagon image machine into advertisements for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their stories are stunning illustrations of how gendered myths about masculine valor and a helpless damsel in distress can be called forth to create fictional narratives in the service of war.

Propaganda has been reinvented for the endless war on terror. The rescue of Jessica, a classic damsel in distress story mixed with Black Hawk Down's, "no soldier left behind," provided the tale of heroism and patriotism needed for boosting morale and public support for the war.

Four years into the misadventure in Iraq — and more than five years into the war in Afghanistan — the public perhaps deserves better than the vacuous "militainment" that brought us "mission accomplished" and a host of other lies wrapped in mythic imagery. But then again, maybe we've been getting what we all along deserved.

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