"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Thursday, August 04, 2005

War Pigs On The Prowl

War is Fun as Hell

With enlistment plummeting, the U.S. military has resorted to flashy marketing and controversial information gathering to pad its numbers.

Years of writing about public relations and propaganda has probably made me a bit jaded, but I was amazed nevertheless when I visited America's Army, an online video game website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In its quest to find recruits, the military has literally turned war into entertainment.

"America's Army" offers a range of games that kids can download or play online. Although the games are violent, with plenty of opportunities to shoot and blow things up, they avoid graphic images of death or other ugliness of war, offering instead a sanitized, Tom Clancy version of fantasy combat. Overmatch, for example, promises "a contest in which one opponent is distinctly superior... with specialized skills and superior technology ... OVERMATCH: few soldiers, certain victory" (more or less the same overconfident message that helped lead us into Iraq).

Ubisoft, the company contracted to develop the DoD's games, also sponsors the "Frag Dolls," a real-world group of attractive, young women gamers who go by names such as "Eekers," "Valkyrie" and "Jinx" and are paid to promote Ubisoft products. At a computer gaming conference earlier this year, the Frag Dolls were deployed as booth babes at the America's Army demo, where they played the game and posed for photos and video (now available on the America's Army website). On the Frag Dolls blog, Eekers described her turn at the "Combat Convoy Experience":

"You have this gigantic Hummer in a tent loaded with guns, a rotatable turret, and a huge screen in front of it. Jinx took the wheel and drove us around this virtual war zone while shooting people with a pistol, and I switched off from the SAW turret on the top of the vehicle to riding passenger with an M4."

Non-virtual realities

Unsurprisingly, the babes-and-bullets fantasy world celebrated in these games contrasts markedly with the experiences that real soldiers are facing in Iraq. A report by the Pentagon's own Mental Health Advisory Team -- completed in January but only released last week -- found that 54 percent of soldiers stationed in Iraq described morale in their individual units as "low or very low." In recent testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, U.S. Undersecretary for Defense David Chu, who is in charge of personnel recruitment for the military, admitted that "there is a reduced propensity to join the military among today's youth. Due to the realities of war, there is less encouragement today from parents, teachers, and other influencers to join the military."

Chu said parents and other "older advisers to young Americans" whose views on military service were shaped by the Vietnam War have become a chief obstacle to military recruiters, adding that he was also "lamenting the failure" of the media to report all of the "positive successes" of the military along with the news of bombings and growing insurgency.

In reality, as Editor and Publisher reported the day before Chu gave his testimony, the news media has actually been failing to report the horrors of war, as "few graphic images from Iraq make it to U.S. papers." And as Newsweek war correspondent Joe Cochrane observed just three days before Chu gave his testimony, one reason for the lack of positive news from Iraq is that reporters no longer dare venture out from Baghdad's barricaded Green Zone "unless they're embedded with U.S. soldiers. That wasn't the case early last year, when foreigners could walk the streets outside the Green Zone, shop in local markets, and, most important to journalists, talk to the Iraqi people. Those days are long gone."

And even inside the Green Zone, the situation is scarcely better: "Heavily armed troops guard government buildings and hospitals, menacingly pointing their weapons at any one who approaches. Soldiers manning checkpoints can use deadly force against motorists who fail to heed their instructions, so the warning signs say, and I have no doubt they'd exercise that right in a heartbeat if they felt threatened. All this fear and tension, and inside a six square mile area that's supposed to be safe."

Cochrane says he has "always been something of an optimist" but reached his "breaking point" during his recent visit to Iraq. "Say what you will about whether the United States was justified to invade this country," he wrote. "We're well into the game, and it's too late to argue over who got the ball first. But prior to April 2003, there were no suicide bombers in Baghdad, there was 24-hour electricity and people went out at night. Now, if you drive into town from the airport, there is a legitimate possibility you will get killed."

School monitors

Military officials have also developed an elaborate PR strategy for outreach to schools. In Fall 2004, the army published a guidebook for high school recruiters. Colin McKay, a public relations pro in Canada, took a look at and thought it could serve as a useful reference for anyone needing a "step by step guide to building influence in a school setting. ... It's full of practical student activities (tactics), promotional opportunities for Army reps (brand building), and a detailed explanation of how to track school performance, recruiter visits and identify potential recruits (research and evaluation)."

Specific advice included the following:

"Be so helpful and so much a part of the school scene that you are in constant demand."

"Cultivate coaches, librarians, administrative staff and teachers."

"Know your student influencers. Students such as class officers, newspaper and yearbook editors, and athletes can help build interest in the Army among the student body."

"Distribute desk calendars to your assigned schools."

"Attend athletic events at the HS. Make sure you wear your uniform."

"Get involved with the parent-teacher association."

"Coordinate with school officials to eat lunch in the school cafeteria several times each month."

"Deliver donuts and coffee for the faculty once a month."

"Coordinate with the homecoming committee to get involved with the parade."

"Get involved with the local Boy Scouts. ... Many scouts are HS students and potential enlistees or student influencers."

"Order personal presentation items (pens, bags, mousepads, mugs) as needed monthly for special events."

"Attend as many school holiday functions or assemblies as possible."

"Offer to be a timekeeper at football games."

"Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday is in January. Wear your dress blues and participate in school events commemorating this holiday. ... February ... Black History Month. Participate in events as available."

"Contact the HS athletic director and arrange for an exhibition basketball game between the faculty and Army recruiters."

Grand theft privacy

The Pentagon's recruitment effort also entails massive information-gathering efforts aimed at both students and their parents. Under a little-publicized aspect of Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education program, the military has gained what the Chicago Tribune described as "unprecedented access to all high school directories of upperclassmen -- a mother lode of information used for mass-mailing recruiting appeals and telephone solicitations." Before No Child Left Behind took effect in 2002, 12 percent of the nation's public high schools -- some 2,500 -- denied the military access to student databases. According to the Washington Post, "Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country."

In addition, the Post reported in June that the Pentagon has contracted with BeNOW, a private database marketing company, to "create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits." The new database is described on a Pentagon website as "arguably the largest repository of 16-to-25-year-old youth data in the country, containing roughly 30 million records." According to the military's Federal Register notice, the information kept on each person includes name, gender, address, birthday, e-mail address, ethnicity, telephone number, high school, college, graduation dates, grade-point average, education level and military test scores.

Questioned about the database, Undersecretary David Chu responded, "If you don't want conscription, you have to give the Department of Defense, the military services, an avenue to contact young people to tell them what is being offered. And you would be naive to believe in any enterprise that you're going to do well just by waiting for people to call you."

"Then why not simply restrict the data fields to name, address, telephone number?" a reporter asked.

"The information that goes beyond that comes off of commercial lists. Anybody could buy that information. We're not, this is not a government file. This is off a commercial file, commercial providers. So we're not intruding -- And typically that information has come off of forms people have voluntarily filled out to a commercial source. So I don't see the --"

"They may not have intended it to be the property of the U.S. military," the reporter observed.

Privacy rights groups have been sharply critical of the database. According to a joint statement by a coalition of 8 privacy groups, the database violates the Privacy Act, a law intended to reduce government collection of Americans’ personal data. The database plan, they wrote, "proposes to ignore the law and its own regulations by collecting personal information from commercial data brokers and state registries rather than directly from individuals."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of the signers of the joint statement, also issued its own separate statement: "The Privacy Act and the DOD's internal regulations require the agency to collect information directly from the citizen where possible," it explained. "However, the database would be largely populated from other sources, including from state motor vehicle department databases, school enrollment data, and commercial information vendors. The main commercial vendors that sell students' data, American Student List and Student Marketing Group, were both pursued recently by consumer protection authorities for setting up front groups that tricked students into revealing their personal information."

Privacy groups also warned that data collected by the Pentagon could be used for other purposes besides military recruiting. According to the Washington Post, "The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress." Defense Department spokesperson Ellen Krenke said the Pentagon does not do this, but the Federal Register notice says the military retains the right to do so.

Sheldon Rampton, AlterNet. Posted August 2, 2005.

A New Credo For The Hyperpower

To improve its influence and image in the world, the US should refrain from building new nuclear weapons, scrap the Bush doctrine of preventive war and regime change, break its climate-changing oil habit, and recommit to international rule-making organisations such as the UN.

The musings of a leftwing think-tank? A liberal pipedream? Not a bit of it. These proposals come from Richard Haass, a leading light in the US foreign policy establishment and former senior official in the Clinton and Bush administrations.

As strategists ponder America's future direction amid continuing international divisions over Iraq, the "war on terror", Kyoto, trade and a host of other issues, Mr Haass' new "integration doctrine" is being taken seriously. Henry Kissinger, hardly a radical, is a fan.
This master plan for deepened international collaboration, a global version of the 19th century Concert of Europe, is set out in Mr Haass's latest book, The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course.

As his title implies, Mr Haass does not believe the US should surrender its post-1945 leading role. But he suggests its national interests will be best served if hubristic ideas about American exceptionalism, indispensability and unilateralism are tempered by more pragmatic, mutually beneficial cooperation with emerging powers such as Europe and China.

Pointing to perhaps the biggest lesson of the neo-conservative era, Mr Haass says hyperpower has limits - and they have been reached.

"The US does not need the world's permission to act, but it does need the world's support to succeed," he writes. "No single country, no matter how powerful, can contend successfully on its own with trans-national challenges."

Iraq, for example, had become a "magnet and a school for terrorists". The US should push for a new set of international "rules of the road" before the opportunity afforded by post-Cold War American primacy is squandered, he argues. But "significant changes" to current US policies are a prerequisite.

Controversially, he urges President Bush to cool his evangelical enthusiasm for spreading democracy. Affording primacy to that aim is "neither desirable nor practical", Mr Haass says, given the many more pressing threats, such as proliferation, terrorism and protectionism, which require an improved collective response.

Mr Haass's attempt to substitute 21st century integration for 20th century containment is only one contribution to an intensifying debate reassessing America's policies.

In a devastating essay in the New York Review of Books on post-invasion failures in Iraq, Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador, condemns the American "arrogance and ignorance" that he says could produce the ultimate own goal: Kurdish secession and a theocratic Shia state in thrall to Iran.

He says the US must accept that "while the Sunni Arab insurgents cannot win, neither can they be defeated" and that the attempt to agree a lasting uni-state constitution is doomed. Only a "drastic change of strategy" involving a loose confederal structure of three self-governing communities can save Iraq from disintegration, he claims.

The wider policy debate has been lent urgency by next month's UN summit at which long-term decisions on rules governing military intervention, poverty reduction and UN reform are contemplated. But it is largely occurring without the administration's participation.

A legacy-minded Mr Bush appears more concerned at present with getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and achieving some legislative and judicial successes at home, than with crafting new global approaches.

Brian Urquhart, a former UN undersecretary-general, has some sobering words for would-be architects of a more enlightened world order. Reviewing Mr Haass's book, he highlights the formidable domestic political obstacles to change, particularly US corporate lobbying power. And he questions the quality of contemporary American leadership.

Disturbingly for America's policy potentates, Mr Urquhart also wonders whether a "rapidly changing world (will) be willing to embrace US leadership as readily as it has done in the past". Even after all Mr Bush has done, the possibility of rejection hardly seems to have occurred to them.

Simon Tisdall
Thursday August 4, 2005
The Guardian


How Britain Helped Israel Get The Bomb

Newsnight reporter Michael Crick tells the story of how Britain helped Israel build the bomb - without telling the Americans.

Documents uncovered by Newsnight in the British National Archives show how, in 1958, Britain agreed to sell Israel 20 tonnes of heavy water, a vital ingredient for the production of plutonium at Israel's top secret Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert.

Robert McNamara, President John F Kennedy's defence secretary, has told Newsnight he is "astonished" at the revelation that Britain kept this secret from America.

In Wednesday's programme, Newsnight reveals how British officials decided it would be "over-zealous" to impose safeguards on the Israelis, and chose not to insist that Israel use the heavy water only for peaceful purposes.
Earlier the Americans had refused to supply heavy water to Israel without such safeguards.

Making money

The documents unearthed by Newsnight also show British officials decided not to tell Washington about it.

They seemed to have no idea of the implications of what they were doing
Lord Gilmour
Former Defence and Foreign Office minister

"On the whole I would prefer NOT to mention this to the Americans," concluded Donald Cape of the Foreign Office. When contacted by Newsnight this week, Mr Cape said he could remember nothing about the episode.

"I think it is quite extraordinary," says the former Conservative Defence and Foreign Office minister Lord Gilmour. "Whether the civil servants who were involved knew what they were doing, or whether they didn't, I don't know." He thinks they put Britain's economic interests first.

"One must assume they must have known... And what's more they seemed to have no idea of the political or indeed even the technical and foreign-policy implications of what they were doing. They just seemed to be concerned with making a bit of money."

Escaping criticism

Until now both France and Norway have been criticised for helping the Israelis develop the bomb, but Britain has escaped criticism.

It's very surprising to me that we weren't told
Robert McNamara
JFK's defence secretary, pictured in 1961

Frank Barnaby, who worked on the British bomb project in the 1950s, and later debriefed the Israeli whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, says he had "no idea" that Britain was "involved" in supplying Israel with heavy water.
"Heavy water was crucial for Israel," he says. "Therefore it was a significant part of their nuclear programme."

More extraordinary, the archives suggest that the decision to sell heavy water was taken simply by civil servants, mainly in the Foreign Office and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Newsnight has found no evidence that ministers in the Macmillan Government were ever consulted about the sale, or even told about it.


The 20 tonnes of heavy water were part of a consignment which Britain bought from Norway in 1956, but the UK later decided this was surplus to requirements.

The papers in the National Archives in London show how officials presented the sale internally as a straight sale from Norway to Israel. But the minutes reveal that the heavy water was shipped from a British port in Israeli ships - half in June 1959 and half a year later.

In 1960 the Daily Express first exposed the Israelis' work at Dimona and the fact that Israel was probably making a bomb.

When Israel asked Britain for a further five tonnes of heavy water in 1961 the Foreign Office decided against a second transaction.

"I am quite sure we should not agree to this sale," advised Sir Hugh Stephenson of the Foreign Office. "The Israeli project is much too live an issue for us to get mixed up in it again," he wrote.

Mr McNamara, who became President Kennedy's defence secretary in 1961, has expressed his surprise to Newsnight that Britain didn't inform the Americans it had sold heavy water to Israel: "The fact that Israel was trying to develop a nuclear bomb should not have come as any surprise... But that Britain should have supplied it with heavy water was indeed a surprise to me.

"It's very surprising to me that we weren't told because we shared information about the nuclear bomb very closely with the British."

Michael Crick's report can be seen on Newsnight on Wednesday, 3 August at 10.30pm on BBC2.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/08/03 17:54:29 GMT