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The Macabre Shock and Awe Show: 20th Anniversary of US/NATO Iraq War

Twenty years ago on this date, the American people were subjected to a macabre form of “reality TV” show, set in Baghdad, in the form of the “premier episode” of Shock and Awe, a joint production of the Military Industrial Complex and CNN. The devastation of Iraq by an illegal US/NATO war had started, and the “entertainment value” was not going to be wasted by the mainstream media. We were invited to take a seat, pop the corn and watch the explosions on TV, to let us see the “beauty” of weaponry and make sure we tune in to CNN for all the news we need to know regarding this war.

The CNN cameras were strategically in position in Baghdad, ready to capture the sights of incoming Tomahawks ($2 million each) and other high-tech missiles. The producers had to be informed in advance of locations for the crews to secure to set up their equipment, with views wide enough to capture the streaks of light piercing the skies and to view the targets. The camera teams needed to be close enough to capture the lights and sounds of the weaponry, but not so close to see the carnage.

At the scheduled time, the sky lit up with explosions, as the skies light up for a fourth of July fireworks celebration. With a little imagination, one could see the reds, whites, and blues. The show was underway! In our living rooms, offices, bars, and everywhere those large CNN monitors are ubiquitous, we were being “awed” by the choreographed explosions, invited to cheer. On schedule, advertisement breaks paused the show, giving us time to go to the bathroom, refill the popcorn, all the while celebrating that we were bringing “freedom to the Iraqi people.” We had already been assured that evilness halfway around the world had to be cleansed by virtuous US fire, and the US could use the oil, of course.

One could almost imagine the CNN producers and their military PR handlers debating whether the Stars Spangled Banner should be playing, but that would detract from the sound of the explosions, and standing up would be uncomfortable back home. All we had to do was kick back and admire how beautiful war can be! Take that memory and file it under “Iraq war, awe-some.”

Soon after it would be “mission accomplished,” and “don’t ask how it’s going, we already showed you all you needed to see.” That was the narrative we were fed and the show we were meant to watch — cameras and questions no longer invited. Journalists are satisfied. The curtain is down. “Go shopping.”

But, this was not a reality TV pilot, nor a video game for our amusement. It was a deception on the American people, built on a lie about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. It was meant to desensitize us to the horrendous reality of the crime. It only takes a smidgeon of compassion to imagine the situation on the ground that night in Iraq. The Iraqi body count had started (it would get up to 2 million over the course of the war). Soon, emergency vehicles would be wailing, picking up broken bodies and the hospitals would not have enough blood to replace that spilled on the streets. The first responders who weren’t blown up, intentionally, would find there was nothing they could do to relieve the screams of those whose limbs were shredded or caught under the rubble. US missiles designed to break into chunks of hot iron on explosion, intended to blow off heads and limbs, raining on a city full of innocent people.

Children would cry and hide in the arms of parents not able to explain what or why. The people of Iraq were the “shock,” part of the “shock and awe.” Behind the professional production, the onslaught was a horror show for millions in Iraq. To us, it was billed as patriotic-entertainment meets adventurous-reporting, lucky US!? (So “entertaining” that now video games of the invasion are available now).

Do corrupt elected officials and the merchants of death believe the US society is so sick that people would not reject the farce and realize the horror being committed? And did they not consider how their appalling manipulation would be unmasked as a new height in war propaganda? Probably not. They thought there is money to be made with sponsors and in controlling public opinion, lulling us into conformity. We are horrified when we see old black and white photos of crowds going to see a lynching as a public event. The macabre show on CNN was our digital version of the lynching of a nation.

In the US we are good at inventing “special days.” We have “ice cream month” and “national day of banana cream pie.” Let’s make March a special month to reflect and remember the victims of wars like the Iraqi people. To be silent about the tragedy the US brought to Iraq, and to ourselves, to remember only the guilty excitement of the “awe” we were fed, would be tragic acquiescence, a stain on our national soul, and an invitation to many encores. And let’s commit to being vigilant, to reject the manipulation of the mainstream media that services the war machine.

We have not forgotten the tragedy in Iraq, and we declare we want no part in these wars for resources.


The “macabre show” of deception

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