Posts Tagged ‘War’

Politically Correct Photos

April 21, 2012

Several years ago I found a book in a flea market the likes of which I’d never seen before. It’s a collection of macabre photos of dead soldiers in the field of battle. They are a faithful representation of the reality of war.

The soldiers had died in the most horrible ways and their bodies were perfect reflections of their last suffering. Heads cut in half, bodies ripped apart, extremities abandoned in the battlefield, panic etched on their faces, uniforms drenched in blood.

This book could never be published nowadays. Nobody would dare to use these photographs in any publication. Today’s war photos have to be aseptic, politically correct. That is, they can’t convey the reality of war.

The book made a big impact on me, but far from thinking that it is inappropriate, I would actually suggest that it should be required reading for any person in favor of sending troops to a war zone. It may be a cliché, but I do believe that it’s often true that if those who declared war had to actually fight in one, without a doubt, there would be fewer wars.

This also applies to the general public. Wars must be the very last option for a nation; however, too often this has not happened. That is why it’s necessary that those who are in favor of going to war clearly see the human cost of these wars, because one thing is to know about it intellectually and a very different one is to see the shattered bodies in a photo.

I wish that those in favor of wars would go to those battlefields to see those corpses in person but, since that isn’t possible, at least they could see the consequences of the war in a photograph. That is the reality faced by the young and brave soldiers that are sent to fight in those conflicts. The least we can do for these patriots is to faithfully convey the extremely difficult situation they are faced with. This would also let us understand much better the problems they face when coming back to their lives after the war.

Sadly, sometimes war is unavoidable, although many times it isn’t and there are many people too eager to shout for war to solve a problem without having the least notion of its implications. Or without caring because neither they nor their relatives will have to fight. Their only contact with that war are the sterilized photos in newspapers and the politically correct videos broadcast in the news. No, we need books like the one I found at the flea market, a true visual slap in the face for readers so they truly understand that war isn’t a video game, but a true tragedy, the worst situation imaginable.

Even though the United States has lost many lives in different conflicts, it hasn’t suffered a war on its territory since its Civil War. The only exception is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which led to the United States fighting in World War II. That is, many families have lost loved ones in the two World Wars as well as in conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam, but for the majority of the population, fortunately, these conflicts have not led to losses in their families. Unless it’s a family with members in the Armed Forces, this leads to the general population often seeing these wars as far off events, not directly affecting their daily lives and the lives of their families.

And now there is a controversy because The Los Angeles Times published photos of some US soldiers posing with the bodies of dead Taliban in Afghanistan. This is a different issue, since even the US Armed Forces have stated that this was inappropriate behavior. However, it also addresses the issue at hand about whether or not the images of war should be shown by the media sanitized or as they truly are.

As I said before, sometimes war is necessary. Diplomatic language and nice words would not have stopped Hitler during World War II. There had to be a war and its cost was enormous: over 50 million dead. Nevertheless, the nation was willing to make the sacrifice and there were millions of volunteers ready to fight and stop Hitler.

The people most opposed to going to war are generally those who have had to fight one previously. The reason is because they understand very well what it means. Sometimes war is necessary, but even if that is the case, I think it’s essential that the public understand as clearly as possible the implications of war for those who must die or be injured in the field of battle, and this doesn’t even address the psychological effects of having to live such a hellish experience. Hopefully every once in a while the photos shown by the media will reflect that reality.

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Russia-Georgia: Who won the information war?

September 1, 2008

Russia decisively won the war against Georgia, but on the international stage, it was Georgia that won the information battle against Moscow. The military action was backed by a large segment of Russian public opinion. This means that, on a domestic level, the Kremlin authorities came out strengthened. However, internationally, Russia did not organize a powerful information campaign as one would have thought in order to defend its stance. At least that’s my humble opinion as I watched from Washington, DC the continuous coverage of the crisis. The result has been that Russia’s image has been seriously damaged, especially in countries such as the United States.

Georgia did the opposite. Its young president, Mikheil Saakashvili, immediately understood that the battle would not only be waged with rifles and tanks, but also with microphones, so he quickly went into action. Saakashvili didn’t only study in the former Soviet Union, but also in the United States. He has a law degree from Columbia University in New York. He lived in the United States for several years, understands very well the power of the media in this country and in addition to other languages, he speaks English fluently.

Georgia’s president didn’t waste any time and became immediately available to all US media outlets that wanted to listen to him. He also gave interviews to journalists from other countries, especially from Europe. He gave his point of view in a simple and plain language that anybody could understand. He spoke of agression, concentration camps, a holocaust and ethnic cleansing by the Russian Army. He compared the current Russian leaders with Stalin and said that Georgia’s cause was one of democracy against dictatorship, a cause that everyone should support. A message that he repeated constantly. Tirelessly. Every day. On live television.

Russia, on the other hand, didn’t understand how important it was to effectively convey abroad its point of view. Saakashvili practically monopolized the message on the airwaves and also on the Internet. Pro Saakashvili organizations immediately posted their support on the Web. Posters, articles, pictures, blogs. 

You name it.  Only once in a while did the Russian ambassador show up at the United Nations to speak on behalf of Moscow. No doubt he was a very skilled diplomat and a very eloquent spokesperson. But his press appearances were very few. Some US media also interviewed politicians in Moscow, but as in the case of the ambassador their appearances were very sporadic. Russia never understood that it should have had an army of English-speaking functionaries available 24/7 to the US, European and worldwide news organizations. The objective would be clear: to counterpoint what the Georgian president was saying.

Moscow should have been proactive. They should have called continously all the international media to give their point of view about what was happening, which was completely different from Mikheil Saakashvili’s. And not doing this was a grave mistake. Why? Because Georgia’s president was extremely effective and with his continous interventions in the media, was able to make his message the dominant one, for example in the United States. The result: his version of events was, on a popular level, the most accepted one. In the meantime, the Russians were nowhere to be found in the media.

I emphasize that this reflection is not about who was at fault in the war or who started it, but only about how the message was managed by both sides. From my point of view, Mikheil Saakashvili took advantage of every second given to him by the press and promoted his cause extremely well. Russia, on the other hand, didn’t know how to effectively react before the international public opinion. It didn’t offer spokespersons, it wasn’t proactive in distributing its message and it was never able to defend in an efficient and continous way its decisions before the world. If the Kremlin had a communication strategy, I never saw it.

It is true that Vladimir Putin and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev spoke a few times very effectively in front of the cameras when they said that they were only responding to an act of agression by Georgia. However, the Kremlin cannot expect that the international audience is going to be watching television 24/7 waiting for these few ocassions when the Russian leaders gave their point of view.  That message cannot be expressed only two or three times. It has to be repeated over and over to the point of exhaustion to ensure it is heard. Georgia did it, Russia did not.

In a globalized world such as ours and with a subject as important as this one, it is not enough to believe that you are right. You have to know how to communicate your point of view. Russian authorities vindicated themselves before the Russian people, but they lost the battle to successfully share their message with millions of common people in countries such as the United States.

And that brings negative consequences for Russia. Europe is talking about sanctions against Moscow. Poland signed a missile treaty which it had previously been hesitant to join. Former Soviet republics put pressure on NATO to join the organization. Many US politicians are saying that Russia is becoming a new threat for the United States’ national security and that measures have to be taken against Moscow. How much of this could Moscow have avoided with a massive and efficient public relations campaign? Did the Kremlin handle this crisis well?

By: Pablo Gato, Gato Communications