War and Mass Media

// Posted by on 01/16/2012 (11:20 PM)

Since its creation, mass media has changed the way we connect and interact with the world. And in many cases mass media exposes us to information that we would have never obtained before.

For example, last week the following video was released on youtube showing four U.S. Marines urinating on the dead body of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.

This video, and the massive quantity of comments and commentary which have sprouted up in response to it, demonstrates how the nature of war and war reporting has changed due to mass media. Through the medium of the Web, content is incredibly far reaching and is accessible to the massive network of people who are connected. This means that not only do Americans view this video, but Afghans, as well as members of every other nation in the world will see it. In previous wars, knowledge of the brutality of war and individual “immoral acts” (as this event is being referred to as) were confined to the front lines and only exposed several months later when reports returned from abroad and had time to process the story or years later as documentaries and memoirs began to be released. But now we are living in an age where technology has greatly changed the nature of war and the speed at which information can be transmitted. Today reporters can take a photo and publish it almost instantaneously. Soldiers can skype with their families at home or take videos while they are stationed abroad and post them on youtube. Knowledge about the war is immediate, and the important question is what affect does this have? How does it affect our soldiers and our civilians that this video can be published in less time that it took to create?

For starters, this incident has launched a huge discuss at home about the appropriate behavior and conduct of soldiers. Numerous comments and opinion pieces have been written ranging from those who completely condem their behavior as immoral, to those understand the immorality but attempt to explain the behavior of the soldiers as a legitimate way of dehumanizing the enemy, to those who fully support their actions.

For example in the opt-ed published in the Huffington Post, author Ethan Casey express his extreme disgust for the soldiers actions and his opinions about this incident may affect Muslims living in America.

Then their is the response of Sebastian Junger, author of the book War, a documentary about the war in Afghanistan. Junger who spent a year living with American troops in Afghanistan as an embedded reporter and trying to understand their behavior, argues that actions such as this are part of a soldiers tactic to survive by dehumanizing the enemy. He argues that society contradicts itself by condoning the torture, specifically water boarding, of living Iraqis, but being disgusted by the mistreatment of dead Iraqis.

And finally, Presidential Candidate Rick Perry defended the actions of the Marines in a public statement saying that sometimes kids make mistakes. Several others have jumped on the bandwagon with Perry including comedian Bill Maher and conservative radio show host Dana Loesch who stated on air that she want “a million cool points for these guys”

But beyond the reaction on the home front, the potentially more important concern regarding this specific video is what kind of message does it send to the international community about the American military and how will this affect our stance in the war in Afghanistan? The ideology behind the war in Afghanistan is that American troops are there acting as liberators. For that theory to work out the American military needs to have a strong relationship with the Afghan government and the trust and good favor of the Afghan people. The fact that this video is now immediately available to the people that we are trying to “liberate” has caused the military to lose significant ground and represents a major loss of human terrain. According to Mohammad Nader, a cleric at the Shade Shamshera Mosque in Kabul, “This shows they violate the human rights themselves they teach us not to violate.”

Take this poll to share how you feel about the video!

Another way that mass media has been playing a role in the war is through the creation of WikiLeaks War Logs which documents the war from the perspective of the soldiers and makes available to the public information that wiki leaks claims the government has kept secret. In this video, published on, the founder of WikiLeaks dicusses the nature of Wikileaks and why the War Logs are important.

However mass connectivity can also lead to massive groups of misinformed, such as this author claims in a piece published by Wired. Author Noah Shachtman, claims that a WikiLeaks report regarding a firefight in August 2009 was inaccurate, aclaim he can justify because he was there during the fight reporting for Wired.

Because of new and mass media, the way that the public gathers information about the war has changed from reading about it in a newspaper in World War II, to getting the daily body count by watching the nightly news during Vietnam, to being able to read about logistics, casualties, and soldiers’ lives almost instantaneously on the Web during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the speed at which information is available to us effects how we conceptualize the war, how we support the war, and how others abroad perceive and react to the war.

Categories: Uncategorized


Allison said...

This post reminds me of a discussion my family had over Christmas break. My cousin, a member of the US army, shared that his friend went to Afganistan and wore an army distributed camera on his head to document the war. While I understand that this is probably a beneficial way for military personnel to study war tactics, I was shocked to find out that this soldier has his own personal copy sitting in his family’s home. He could show that footage to anyone–or upload it to the internet. I imagine their are rules against that, but what if it got into the wrong hands? I imagine it could put our military at risk.

// 01/17/2012 at 3:53 pm

Ali S said...

I agree with Allison. I went to high school on a military base. Where confidential information was always around. But we knew it wasn’t our place to say anything but when things like this get leaked or tactics fall into the wrong hands what does it say about the men and women of the armed forces?

// 01/18/2012 at 10:48 am

Ruth said...

I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

// 01/23/2012 at 8:52 am

Shannon said...

This is exactly an issue I need to find more information about, thank you for the blog post.

// 01/29/2012 at 11:49 pm

Neil said...

Great information, refreshing site style, continue the great work

// 01/31/2012 at 2:01 am