When he voiced his concern about the war, the president turned to him and said, "Son, I’ve given all the orders I know how to give. Now it’s up to the generals. They’re the ones who know how to fight wars, not me."
That might be an interesting insight into why Franklin Roosevelt was a great wartime president in World War II. But it also offers wisdom that some of us need to take to heart in America today as Army and Marine divisions press toward Baghdad. Our men fight amidst a rising tide of chattering from talking heads telling us doom is at hand because we haven’t been able to dispense with Saddam Hussein in two weeks.
Operation Iraqi Freedom is a very strange way to fight a war. Reporters are "embedded" in the military, as they like to say. That makes, I confess, riveting television. I watched my friend David Bloom riding in a tank, showing tanks, dust, and distant smoke through his videophone. This is the ultimate reality TV. We are now able to actually watch a war in real time through cameras planted all over the battlefield.
The trouble, however, is that television is above all else an entertainment medium. As Neil Postman wrote in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death [buy book], "Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television."
After two weeks, the war is not over, and a great restlessness seizes the American people. The initial entertainment value of the war has worn thin. So reporters and columnists have to start speculating on our military’s shortcomings to boost the entertainment value and keep viewers watching.
And the country does seem to be gripped. When it appeared the war would have a quick end, the stock market rose one thousand points. Then when it appeared the war would be tough going, the market plunged—and so forth, as the national mood bounces around, depending on the latest battlefield reports and commentator speculation. This, more than Saddam Hussein’s unexpectedly stubborn defenders, may cause us to fail.