Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What is a picture really worth?

I don't have any more details than you do on the video of a Marine shooting a wounded terrorist in Fallujah. The story doesn't seem to be blowing up like Abu Ghrab did though. The reactions of the locals interviewed in this AP story highlight some cultural differences and show how important Information Operations are.

"Look at this old man who was slain by them," said Ahmed Khalil, 40, as he watched the video in his Baghdad shop. "Was he a fighter? Was anybody who was killed inside this mosque a fighter? Where are their weapons? I don't know what to say."

"The troops not only violated our mosques with their sins and their boots but they stepped on our brothers' blood," said Khalil, the shop owner. "They are criminals and mercenaries. I feel guilty standing here and not doing anything."

Never mind that terrorists used every mosque in Fallujah as a weapons cache and a fighting position, that these thugs are known for booby trapping bodies (knowing that American forces help the wounded whenever possible), and that the Marine had just seen one of his friends die from one of these booby traps, while being injured in the face himself.
Tactics and even the rules of war must change when you fight an enemy who places no value on his own life.
A video clip gives no context, but context is only important if you are a logical thinker. Arab culture is steeped in propaganda and emotion (just look at the mourning throngs around Arafat's coffin) and American culture is moving that way with the help of TV News.
The first case that really showed the destructiveness of video out of context that I can remember was Rodney King. The American public, egged on by the media (that was raking in the cash), was outraged and didn't really care to see the first half of the video (the part that wasn't played ad nauseum on the 6 o'clock news).
American reliance on 'experts' to tell us what to think and an unquestioning reverence for the talking heads bears strong resemblance to the rabble-rousing clerics and information ministers of these Middle Eastern states.
The blogosphere has given me some hope though. It's ok to question bloggers, and most of them actually admit and correct their mistakes--what a concept!