War and peace, journalists and the intricacies of war

(This text is not meant to claim 100% applicability, but I suppose readers will know areas where the observations apply.)

One stereotype of journalists is that they're hating war and seek out the horrors of war for reporting in order to discourage warfare or pushing for an end thereof. Another stereotype say they do it  because of petty sensationalism. It's probably both quite often.

The role of journalism as a whole in the 'war of peace' question appears to be mixed, though: Prior to a war they are very keen to relay rumours, assertions and doom scenarios - and I claim this is both because of sensationalism and because some of them really feel too much kinship with the power elite (or just kiss their feet in order to gain and retain "access".

There is thus at times a divide between effectively warmongering 'journalists' in safe, climatised TV studios and newspaper HQs at home and the at tims rather contra-war war reporters who then report on what war is really like (possibly after a jingoistic invasion phase with lots of mil porn).

The latter may under certain circumstances actually prolong and worsen the war by reporting about its horrors and failures, though. Sure, this is counter-intuitive and seemingly paradox.
(I love this. Trivial things are boring, but exceptions, counter-intuitive stuff and paradoxes - that's exciting!)

Well, how could they have such an effect?

Imagine this:
Some Western asshole sends troops to invade another country*, but the war doesn't go so well (it almost never does). The asshole's subordinates begin to understand that it's going to be a not worthwhile mess and begin to advise to pull out.
The enemy understands the same and happens to be smart (not a common occasion under such stress): They correctly determine that Westerners are about as fanatic about saving face as are Japanese, for example. Westerners are just not as frank and honest about it. So one of the quickest ways to peace is not a thorough defeat of the asshole, but to offer him (or her) a face-saving way out, a compromise which offers plenty spin material for the asshole, but doesn't hurt the defender more than a continued warfare (which is a quite easily-met criterion).
Now imagine the war reporter's role: What's more beneficial to this peace-seeking diplomacy? Exposing how aggressor forces get defeated and behave barbaric or avoiding to embarrass the asshole?

I built another counter-intuitive facet of warfare into my example, of course: Sometimes "winning" tactically may actually be strategically detrimental even if you don't alienate anyone in-country.

I really do love these exceptions, counter-intuitive and seemingly paradox stuff. (Recommendation: Read Luttwak's book "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace"). The obvious, superficial stuff is usually boring, even if attractive to the eyes. Rarely does understanding of superficialities (such as "longer spears are longer") win the day.


*: It's difficult nowadays to imagine a non-Western country being the aggressor.


  1. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=acid+throwing+afghanistan&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=acid+throwing+afghanistan&sc=0-14&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=14321000545FAC1951590720DDFD7D35102AA7BF&selectedIndex=15

    Publishing this material helps against an early withdrawal of Western troops and money?

    1. Horror photos may have such an effect, yes. The worse the aggressor government is made to look, the less easily it can make a step backwards. They often double their bet, trying to at least 'win' the war even if it is a shitty one.

      Besides; those specific acid photos are not really relevant to the topic, as they're not a consequence of warfare.

    2. Such an acid attack photo was used to highlight what Western military withdrawal from Afghanistan would mean. Unfortunately I couldn't find the magazine cover using this image.

    3. http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=magazine+cover+afghanistan&id=97F7BBEEA8E7F208E5DA36A167CE63F3B99235BD&FORM=IQFRBA#view=detail&id=4C47710347AB2528CDB34FCE84FD8F81F6A14D01&selectedIndex=5

      Here it is.

    4. Well, (a) these photos are not from the future, but from the past, so they describe what happens anyway. How could someone fall to the ludicrous idea that this is being prevented by continued occupation - because photo evidence is given that it happens regardless?

      (b) The topic involved the horrors of war as a relevant factor, not the horrors of peace.

    5. Well, with regards to (a), the argument is/was that "if ISAF withdraws then this will become commonplace until the Taliban reassert total control over Afghanistan and simply disband all of the schools and continue repressing women, etc" so that has to do with the horrors of war, since Afghanistan is an ongoing deployment.

      That said, shitheaps gonna be shitheaps - it happened before NATO was in Afghanistan too, and it happens in places other than Afghanistan too of course.

      Here the media is simply acting as a propaganda shill for the gov't by showing the consequences* of withdrawing from Afghanistan: notably they have not shown photos of Afghan families blown across roadways by A-10C gun-runs as a consequence of staying in Afghanistan.

      * Consequences generally deal with issues of secular humanism like "equality" and "women's rights" and so on rather than "nominally sovereign nation dealing with internal affairs on its own" and "NATO not spending millions on something outside its purview."

    6. I was really aiming at whether journalists make their own government look bad (or losing) by reporting what they see or whether they withhold this.
      Family-level drama are really a completely different affair.

      Sure, reporters can help their government by telling mean things about the enemy, but this was not part of the topic here.

  2. I think reporters are happy to help get the fight underway as then after awhile they can go to the other side and tell how horrible war is. It's happening right now in Syria with the reports of chemical warfare. 100,000 dead and 300 die by chemicals and somehow that is a greater horror? I think you also have political leanings in there as well.