Thanks to the electronic eye of television, it has been impossible for our political leaders to make demons of the Iraqi people, the way the Japanese and Germans were demonized in World War II.
We may not like Saddam Hussein but when we can see the faces of the Iraqi people, we see that they look just like us; that they love their children just like we love ours; that they weep for their dead just like we do; that they don't want war any more than we do.It was not so in World War II. There were no satellites and no television broadcasting networks. Government propaganda had the movie screens, the magazines, and newspapers all to itself. I grew up in that war and learned to hate Germans and Japanese.
There was no human face on the Japanese or German people. They were fiends and fanatics. They were Japs and Krauts, Nazis and fascists. The Japanese all had buck teeth and steel-rimmed glasses and were cruel beyond imagination. The Germans were swine - goosestepping, fanatic murderers. They were never shown or written about in a human light.
Thus, it was easy to do anything to them. Firebombing and even nuclear bombing were causes of celebration. Kill them all. Burn them all.
There was some talk early in the Persian Gulf war that it was bloodless because in the air war phase initially there was nothing to see except gun camera views of bombs striking targets like video games.
But World War II was more bloodless. More than 300,000 Americans died in it, but you rarely saw them on the newsreels or in the pages of Life magazine. The horror of the bombings in Germany and Japan was never shown. The war then was a sort of grand adventure in which the good guys (we and our allies) after initial setbacks, which gave it the proper drama, stormed back in triumph.
After the war, photos and film of the concentration camps in Europe, the devastation of the cities, and the alien landscapes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally made the ugly reality of war visible to the American public. It began to look a whole lot less Hollywoodish.
But with television, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf have revealed the ugliness of war. The humanity of the "enemy" was never taken away. The pain and torment to our guys was not hidden from the public. None of it looked fun. It looked exactly like what war is - human beings killing and maiming human beings.
And so when we could see the burned bodies of Iraqi children being carried out of a bunker in the arms of weeping men, we didn't feel so good. A burned child is a reality. The politicians tried to shift the blame to Iraq, some even lashed out at television, but they couldn't erase the truth of the burned and dead children.
I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the Iraqi people may owe more to CNN's presence than they do to smart bombs and U.S. policy for the relatively light civilian casualties. There's nothing in our past to suggest that once engaged in war we are inclined to worry a great deal about how many civilians we kill. But when the world can see what you're doing through its electronic eye that's a different matter.
Television may make us more human - and that might be better than making us smarter.