Every night during crisis time, I tune in ABC's "Nightline." I did this all during the Iranian hostage Crisis and now I find myself doing it during the Falklands crisis, which is not a crisis at all (not for us, anyway) but a war, instead. And oh what a lovely war it is. There are no dead.
Of course, there really are some dead, many dead in fact. But the reason I started with "Nightline" is because in an age of television, this war is not a television war. Instead, it is something of an old-fashioned newspaper war in which there are no pictures of the front, no films of napalmed natives and no scenes of bloodied soldiers being carted from the front to hospitals in the rear. In a way, this war is being fought in black and white.
So "Nightline," indeed all of television, has been reduced to something like talking newspapers. We get news from the battlefield and then reaction to that news in London and Buenos Aires or, from time to time, the United Nations in New York. There are interviews galore with military men, active and retired, all of them doing the TV version of playing in the bath with their boats.
As a newspaper person, I do not gloat about this. This inability of television to get to the front is not a good thing, but a very bad thing. It enables the old silliness about war to come creeping out from under the rock where the hot lights of television pushed it. Once again, war is being discussed in euphemisms. There is talk about "the fallen" and "bloodshed," of "losses" and "casualties" but not of killed and wounded and maimed and crippled--and no films of faces twisted in agony.
Before television, war was reported by poets. It was glorified, written about largely as if it was the highest calling of mankind, not its lowest. For instance, Alfred Lord Tennyson celebrated the British fiasco at Balaclava in the Crimea with his "The Charge of the Light Brigade." It is a marvelous poem. As a kid I recited it before the class and I can still quote whole passages: "Honor the Light Brigade/Noble six hundred!" It was only later that I realized that the poem was about a massacre. Men did not fall. They died. And in the end, of course, hardly anyone can tell you why.
In some sense, the Brits and the Argies have lent themselves to this revived romanticism about war. They fight by the old rules, like they were reenacting some sort of old movie. They have dogfights and amphibious landings. They secure beacheads, attempt pincer movements and use commandos. There is an actual front, no natives or convoluted local political situation with which to contend, and an abundance of stiff-upper-lip quotes from the British who, true to their movie image, were actually horrified when they uncovered a cache of Argentine napalm. My word!
So all of it has given the war a kind of sepia tint. It seems old, faded, something out of a scrapbook. And the inability of television to get to the war has contributed to this effect. It's not, mind you, that once there television always does a good job (It failed miserably for the first two-thirds of the Vietnam War), or even that it has the capacity to report both the bang-bang aspect of a war and the larger picture--what is happening beyond the range of the camera. In Vietnam, for instance, the politics of the situation all but escaped it. But when it comes to showing war qua war, there is nothing like television. It--and only it--has the ability to show what war is all about: killing.
The British, of course, know that and it is for that reason that they have been very stingy about allowing any television at all near the fighting. What reporting we have gotten on either television or radio has been censored and what has been coming through is glorious stuff--war as epic poetry. Even the dead have been left behind. To the chagrin of the families back in England, they are being buried on the Falklands.
The Argentine generals have simply lied to their own people. The British have done things their own way. They have put a hand over the camera's lens, shutting out reality. That is as much a lie as fabricating casualty figures or sinking the same ship three or more times--as the Argies have done. In the end, of course, the lie will be exposed--not when Johnny comes marching home, but when he does not.