American Proscenium

Furnishing the War

“War is the health of the state,” said Randolph Bourne; it is also a bonanza for political intellectuals and for the marionettes who are put through their paces on FOX and CNN.  At the outbreak of World War I, Bourne saw the same phenomenon, though admittedly on a higher scale (Paul Begala and Chris Matthews had not yet been invented):

it has been a bitter experience to see the unanimity with which the American intellectuals have thrown their support to the use of war-technique in the crisis in which America found herself.  Socialists, college professors, publicists, new-republicans, practitioners of literature, have vied with each other in confirming with their intellectual faith the collapse of neutrality and the riveting of the war-mind on a hundred million more of the world’s people.

News-talk ratings go up during every international crisis, but, despite the thousands of hours devoted to the looming war with Iraq, Americans are no better informed about the goals and prospects of this war than they were in 1898, when William Randolph Hearst told the artist Fredrick Remington, whom he had sent to Cuba, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”  Hearst did not care one way or the other about Cuba, but he did want to beat his rival newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, in the 19th-century precursor of the ratings game. ...

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