Normalizing the concept of war

By Mary Chan

How strange is it that death by embolism is the most unusual item to emerge from a news day?

On Sun., April 7, American journalist David Bloom, who was embedded with U.S. infantry, died while covering the war in Iraq. He did not die because his military unit was bombed, or because he unexpectedly encountered Iraqi resistance fighters on the outskirts of Baghdad. Rather, he suffered a blood clot, collapsed and died of a pulmonary embolism. Lucky man, he had the privilege of living long enough to die of natural causes in a war zone.

This death stands out amongst the many deaths of journalists that have occurred in Iraq because it is not related to combat. Other journalists have been killed by suicide bombers, enemy attacks or vehicular accidents. That Bloom’s death was not war-related does not make it less tragic–but it points to a strange phenomenon occurring in North American war coverage. The unusual is becoming the day-to-day, while conversely, the quotidian becomes the unusual.

Slowly, television coverage is treating the war as less of a novelty and more of a regular feature, such as stock market reports and the weather forecast. In Canada, it follows the latest SARS update as regularly as clockwork, with experts always in place and maps always ready. I once watched, shocked and well, shocked, as a CNN meteorologist matter-of-factly presented the five-day forecast in Iraq and the Middle East, complete with animated satellite pictures on a green screen. Before I could indulge in my Canadian superiority, I flipped over to CTV and saw Lloyd Robertson (Lloyd Robertson!!!) give a similar forecast from his anchor desk.

It could be argued that since a fierce sandstorm was affecting the troops in Iraq, presenting the weather was an important aspect of conveying the conditions that coalition forces faced during their death march to Baghdad. What disturbs is not the fact that the weather was deemed newsworthy–it was the manner in which it was presented. The weather woman could very well have been giving the five-day forecast for the continental United States. The straight-forward tone played down the fact that she was describing a war zone, a place where people are dying and where people are killing. There was a unnerving disparity between the content of the report and the assured way it was delivered.

What could happen if the war in/on/over Iraq is treated as quotidian? As the war progresses and as pictures are repeatedly beamed back, the North American viewing public will become increasingly desensitized to its horrific effects. Another day, another body count. I do not doubt that people will try to resist this, but we cannot always control the way we react to what we constantly see and hear around us.

War is not natural. We live in the twenty-first century, supposedly a more enlightened and civilized time. Yet how can this be, when the world has collectively screwed up to the point where in order to save innocent Iraqis, the United States must kill innocent Iraqis?

We cannot forget this. We cannot be lulled into complacency by coverage that treats battles, bombings and deaths as everyday occurrences, instead of the traumatic events that they are. Perhaps it is difficult to distinguish the sound of a single bullet fired in the middle of a raging machine gun battle, but we must try. We must remember that there is nothing regular about any war, and that everyone should at least have the opportunity of living long enough to die of natural causes.

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