“Getcha a case of beer for that!”

After hastily writing a column based on a viewing, last Friday evening, of the WikiLeak video, titled “<a href =http://collateralmurder.com/>Collateral Murder</a>,” of a shooting in Iraq, this writer delayed posting it early Saturday monring.  In reconsidering the implications of what we had seen and what the event meant as Saturday progressed, we realized that our quick take on the topic had omitted two important aspects of our reaction to what we had seen.

It seems to this writer that the video portrays a news event that deserved far more extensive coverage and analysis than it got.  Perhaps there was a big fuss and the fact that our only access to coverage was mostly limited to some talk radio programs and some quick scans of online websites, explains our assumption that it has passed practically unnoticed.  Noting that American Journalism had fumbled away a major news story is becoming a major recurring theme in contemporary American culture (and our columns).

Movie reviewers value originality and if one movie echoes a previous effort that will usually be a part of the reviews of the new film.  For instance when this columnist first saw “A Simple Plan” (the 1998 film directed by Sam Raimi), we noted as we watched the film that there were strong parallels with the classic movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”  After seeing the film, we then read reviews and noted that some well known and respected film critics mentioned noticing the similarity to the classic award winning film from the late forties.

Watching the real life events portrayed in “Collateral Murder,” this columnist got the strong impression that what he was seeing was a reality TV attempt to plagiarize a sequence seen in the commercial film “Apocalypse Now.”   We kept expecting to see the shot where Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvale) says:  “Getcha a case of beer for that one!”

Pedestrians in Berkeley on Friday night, scurried past the video display with a remarkable level of lack of interest and of the ones who stopped to chat with the activists involved in the public event, the attitude, as perceived by this columnist, can be described as being equal measures of levity mixed with arrogant distain.

Imagine, if you will, that American newsmen covering the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials conducted “man in the street” interviews with German Citizens and got “So what?” responses.  Would that have become a major news story? 

So American Journalism scores the amazing achievement of committing (in baseball terminology) two errors at once.  They miss the story behind the shootings, and then they also miss America’s remarkable complacency about new war crimes.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the inappropriate lighthearted and whimsical column that was written the morning after seeing the “Collateral Murder” DVD in Berkeley:
On the evening of August 20, 2010, in downtown Berkeley, activists from the World Can’t Wait group showed the DVD titled Collateral Murder showing the WikiLeak footage of events which took place in Baghdad in July of 2007.

This columnist, who had only seen still photos from the footage and some commentary on the video, took the opportunity to see the DVD and talk to the activists and members of the public who stopped to look at the video.

Most pedestrians hustled past and seemed blasé about any need to consider the debate over the footage. 

One young activist, apparently of high school age, lamented the lack of other concerned young people. 

Two passersby were talking to a member of the World Can’t Wait group and they informed the columnist that they were associated with Cal Berkeley in the capacity of currently or recently enrolled students. 

The one who had debating experience projected an aura of amused distain.  His amount of sympathy for the journalists who got shot in the footage being shown was about equal to the extent of compassion shown by the cartoon character Super Chicken, who often had to remind his companion, a lion named Fred:  “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred.”

The debater grumpily admitted that collateral damage during war was regrettable, but it was entirely within the range of tolerable numbers which could reasonably be expected under the circumstances.

His rather broad grin projected an image of frat-boy levity that reminded the columnist that Rush Limbaugh had described the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as being on the same level as required at college fraternity initiation ceremonies. 

That, in turn, reminded the columnist of the fact that the first time former President George W. Bush had his name mentioned in the New York Times was when they quoted him, in the late Sixties, as saying that the use of branding at the university he was attending was just a bit of college frat frivolity and of no concern to outsiders. 

This columnist has yet to determine how tolerant dedicated compassionate Christian conservatives are when it comes time to assess the morality of the old American tradition of playing the game of “human ashtray.” 

The video itself included the radio chatter that accompanied the events depicted and listening to the lighthearted enthusiasm of the participants, reminded the columnist of the sequence in Apocalypse Now when Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) commends one of his men and adds “Getcha a case of beer for that one!”

The aforementioned debater intimated that journalists covering a war could reasonably expect that a grave in a national cemetery might have a high likelihood level of probability and when challenged with the assertion that the events in Iraq were more likely to have a deadly result for journalists than similar service during World War II did, he (as all good debaters must) challenged the assertion. 

By a remarkable co-inky-dink, the columnist just happened to have scanned page 742 of Frank Luther Mott’s book American Journalism (Macmillan Company hardback) earlier that day and had the fact that a “grand total of 1,646 newsmen” had participated in WWII.  The number of newsmen included the fact that (page 743) “Many women acted as war correspondents.”  We did not have the total number of journalists killed in both Iraq and WWII available, however.

[Did you know that Leaah Burdette of <I>PM</I> was slain by bandits in Iran, in 1942?  (Ibid.)]

The math major stoutly maintained that more newsies were killed in WWII than have been killed in Iraq.  Without knowing the specific numbers he authoritatively proclaimed that if the percentages were (hypothetical numbers) 2% in WWII vs. 15% in Iraq, the older number would be higher and thus 2% was larger than 15%.

It was obvious to the columnist and the students, that the topic was of no great consequences, which it would have been if the subject for discussion had, instead, been the prospects for a UCB win over USC this fall, and so the two young men (the math major was complaining of the ambient air temperature) went off to pursue the ghost of Jay Gatsby.

Anyone who compares the newsreel footage from the Nuemburg War Crimes Trials with the video displayed in the “Collateral Murder” DVD would have to enter a plea of <I>nolo contendere</I> if the basis for comparison were to be the level of levity displayed by the participants.

War correspondents may come and then drift away in a red mist, but it is blatantly obvious that if American voters were forced to make a choice, they would much prefer to have a beer at a tailgate party with the guys who “engaged” the terrorists purporting to be medical aid personnel coming to treat the fatally wounded journalists in the DVD than they would be to drink with the Nuremberg rascals.

The public reaction to the World Can’t Wait event was probably epitomized by the woman who stated that she wanted the war to end, but she didn’t want to get arrested.

Luckily for all concerned, America’s last combat troops had left Iraq the same week, thus rendering moot, all the concomitant lively discussions.

A letter of apology, signed by two members of Bravo Company 2-16 and reprinted on a World Can’t Wait flyer, says:  “With such pain, friendship might be too much to ask. . . . Our hearts are open to hearing how we can take any steps to support you through the pain that we have caused.”

Now the disk jockey will play “That’s Alright Mama,” “The Night They Burned Old Dixie Down,” and the theme from “Gone with the Wind.”  We have to go find a new topic to amuse the bread and circuses crowd.  Have a “Charlie, don’t surf” type week.


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