In late winter, 2003, as Coalition forces fought their way toward Baghdad, I heard my local NPR station–WNYC–broadcast a BBC radio report about a new phenomenon: war blogs. The report interested me, for during the early days of the invasion, I spent hours online, checking and re-checking Sgt. Stryker, Command Post, Debka and other sites for news–any news–about our troops’ progress. I was startled, however, to hear the UK reporter highlight only three blogs, each opposed to the conflict. Where were the numerous pro-war sites I visited? Call me naive, but the Beeb’s deliberate omission was my first experience with its anti-war bias–an augury of the oleaginous anti-Americanism I found oozing from the organization when I actually traveled to Iraq.
Today, of course, from Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit and Belmont Club to countless smaller sites (such as this one) bloggers worldwide are supporting Coalition efforts to bring democracy to Iraq. This is a phenomenon, but not what the BBC imagined, and it leads me to wonder: what if blogs had existed during the Vietnam War? What if hundreds, thousands of Internet voices had argued in favor of “staying the course” against the Viet Cong and NVA? What if America’s Silent Majority had not been so–silent? Perhaps the course of the war would have been different.
I’m not suggesting it should have been different (although visiting Cambodia’s Killing Fields makes one wonder)–rather, I posit the question as a way to grasp the power of the Internet inthis conflict. Back in the `60s and `70s, we lacked any means to check the biases of the mainstream press, challenge the narrative spun by the media overclass or compete with the anti-war counter-culture. (Nowadays, of course, bloggers are the counter-culture.) There was no “Spirit of America” around which we could rally logistical–if not political support–for our troops. While we knew of American atrocities in Southeast Asia, we were less knowledgeable about those committed by the communists–unlike the tales of horror emanating from re-liberated Falluja. More importantly, we had no view of the South Vietnamese people similar to that offered by such Iraqi blogs as “Healing Iraq” or “Baghdad Burning.” Kurds and Arabs may be little more than ciphers to most Americans, but compared to our conception of the Vietnamese, they are practically Shakespearean.
Yes, without the Internet, it was easier for distracted Americans to withdraw from Southeast Asia, leaving those nameless, faceless people to the mercies of their enemies. It was easier for the anti-war crowd to register its opposition by spitting on returning veterans for the babies they bayoneted “in country.” It was easier for us just to forget the whole damn thing.
But Iraq is not Vietnam. For many reasons: the people, the terrain, the rightness of our endeavor. And not the least because of bloggers–whose Argus-eyed attention rivets the public to the war and gives them an unprecedented role in shaping public opinion. Because of the `net’s enormous power, America is not likely to abandon the Iraq. Not any time soon, at least–and not without a fight.
Posted by Steven Vincent