And so it will be war.
By the time you read this, the first bombs may have started falling. The Bush administration will have launched its long threatened preemptive strike against Iraq, ignoring massive protests both here and abroad against its putative actions, and without a U.N. vote -- despite President Bush's March 7th declaration that no war would begin without a show of hands within the Security Council. Our government and its miniscule "coalition of the willing" is taking us all into a brave new world, whether we want to go there or not.
Time will tell if the current world outrage against America proves a permanent or merely temporary phenomenon. But as we marchoff to battle, we at least know that the way we watch Gulf War Two unfold will be completely different from anything we have ever experienced before.
For one thing, GW2 will be covered by the media in more depth and breadth than any war in history. And it's not just because there are so many 24/7 cable-news networks working the field these days, which, this time around, will include the actual battlefields, thanks to the Defense Department's decision to "embed" hundreds of journalists in American military units throughout the Middle East. No, what will be different about the journalistic coverage of this war will be the presence for the first time of a medium that barely existed in 1991: the Internet. Just as the TV cable-news industry blossomed during GW1, GW2 will be all about -- and all over -- the Web.
Over the past decade, the Internet has utterly transformed certain aspects of American business (the impact of Napster and its clones upon the recording industry comes immediately to mind), and it has had a huge influence upon journalism as well. But while the changes to date have been significant, Gulf War Two will truly put Internet journalism on the map.
There is an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war. In the past, this was almost always the case, since traditional news media were relatively easily controlled and managed by governments at war. To some extent, this will hold true for the mainstream media for this new war as well. But the existence today of so many independent news-gathering and news-disseminating Web sites will make the "truth" about Gulf War Two -- whether it goes well or badly for America -- extremely difficult to keep under wraps.
In Desert Storm, due to the united military command of the U.S.-led United Nations coalition, everyone in the electronic media relied upon the same Defense Department-controlled "pool" images and a handful of well-placed (and government-approved) journalists. This time around, the networks will be pooling their resources as before, but the freelance opportunities for stories and images outside the mainstream media will be enormous. The Internet has brought a kind of democratic anarchy to journalism, and Gulf War Two will be the proof of just how far we have come from the "old days" of Bernie Shaw and CNN.
Long story short: This war will not be pretty to watch. Dozens, if not hundreds, of foreign journalists are planning to stay for the duration in Iraq. With no U.N. coalition supporting it, the American government will have little or no control over news flow from these journalists. These reporters will pull no punches, and those hooked into the Internet will have little trouble finding their stories. And while you may at first have to read them on the Web, hard news about war-time issues will percolate almost inevitably into the mainstream media.
With its radical concept of preventive war, the Bush administration is about to let a potentially dangerous genie out of the bottle. However well or ill this all turns out, one thing is certain: We will all have front-row seats better than those any civilian population has ever had before.