Case Studies in Propaganda: NPR And The Longest War


Above: not a blade of grass.

The Dissident Peasant is concerned with global peasantry, not just the United States. With that in mind, let’s examine a case study in hackery from NPR’s flagship news program, All Things Considered.

This is pretty textbook of the way NPR handles these sorts of stories; the Pentagon is sending more troops to Afghanistan (Trump has delegated this authority to Secretary Mattis), so a reporter who’s been fed some lines begins by laying out some specifics; commanders on the ground need more trainers to train the Afghan security forces! Still! After 15 years! The war has reached a stalemate, we’re told, but if you listen carefully it’s worse than that, as the Taliban has regained a good deal of territory in the last year. The Afghan government also needs more technical support; air strikes and artillery, which they have precious little of. When asked what winning looks like, the words of their Pentagon handlers ring forth- it looks like a government relying on US and international weapons support to hold on to what little they still control, stabilizing, and gradually seizing control of more territory. By “pushing back” the Taliban, a euphemism I don’t find particularly pleasing. Bombs and other explosives don’t push one back so much as they blow one up, and enemies or not these are human beings we’re talking about.

After 15 years, “victory” looks to be yet more years away. But then what  I consider the most egregious part of the interview occurs when the reporter relays what one Pentagon official told him: these artillery and air strikes are likened to “mowing the lawn.” The host is incredulous, but only because mowing the lawn for 15 years seems strange to her (does she not know how grass works?).

Enough of this nonsense. The reality is civilian casualties in Afghanistan are on the rise, precisely because of the indiscriminate use of heavy firepower in populated areas by those same American-trained Afghan forces. Presumably one would think the US would be teaching them not just how to aim and fire artillery, but also when it’s appropriate to use and how to minimize civilian casualties. Furthermore, and I can’t believe I have to type this because it sure as hell didn’t occur to the geniuses over at NPR with editorial control, PEOPLE ARE NOT BLADES OF GRASS. Civilian or not, they don’t grow back. Enemies or not, they feel pain, they love their families, and they bleed. To speak about them in this way is the textbook definition of dehumanization, reducing living and breathing people into items capable of being disposed of.

Anyway, the total number of troops is then put in context: 12k is compared with 100k present under Obama at one point during his term. The interview concludes with an explanation of the best case scenario from this increase: a stalemate, with the government controlling Kabul and the main highway, and the Taliban controlling the rest.

And that’s it. No mention of how the local population feels about any of this, how they live their lives or if they appreciate being compared to blades of grass. No discussion of how the United States is responsible for perpetuating the conflict, or any talk of disengagement. We’re just sending more troops so we can have a chance at winning sometime down the line; no one knows when exactly that is.

Doesn’t all of this sound vaguely familiar? We’re even assured they’re just military trainers!