Thomas Conroy, Jarice Hanson, eds. Constructing America’s War Culture: Iraq, Media, and Images at Home. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008. viii + 171 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-07391-1963-1; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7391-1964-8. Reviewed by Fabian Virchow Published on H-War (December, 2008) Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine
War, Culture, and Media The recent emergence of two new journals–Media, War & Conflict (from SAGE) and Journal of War and Culture Studies (from Intellect)–investigating the complex relationship of war, the media, the military, and cultural protagonists, once again proves the growing interest of scholars in this field, as well as the political and social importance of related issues. Constructing America’s War Culture claims to demonstrate how media have “packaged” the war in Iraq. A short introduction by Kokkeong Wong reminds readers of the lies used to justify the U.S.led intervention in Iraq. Wong also outlines the focus of the book’s eight chapters, that is: “to get at the messages and images of the Iraq war to explain how the George W. Bush administration sold the war to the American public, how the traditional, hyper-commercial U.S. media contributed to supporting images of the war for public consumption, how Americans were drawn to it, and how some alternative views have tried to challenge it” (p. 6). The essays, written from the perspective of communication studies, focus on the United States exclusively. As a result, readers in the United States may be quite familiar with the content of the mainly descriptive, less analytical parts of the book, while the volume may offer readers from other parts of the world–including European, African, or Asian readers–a good deal of new information.
overview of wartime blogging, by both civilians and military personnel. They outline characteristics of blogging, compare these to traditional journalism, and give some socio-demographic data on bloggers. While the treatment of some bloggers, who gained some prominence in the run-up to and during the Iraq War, remains largely descriptive, Conroy and Hanson rightly stress the special character of blogs “that allow us to read and learn from a unique set of individuals … and to read their words as they write them, without editors or other gatekeepers changing the meaning or the passion” (p. 28). However, in some cases, bloggers, who appear to be independent individuals, are actually front men for economic, political, or military interest groups. Conroy and Hanson justly emphasize the need for intensified research on the role blogging may play in the formation of social values and news impact. This holds true also for the relationship between blogging and traditional journalism. In a comparatively short piece, “What Happened to Journalism,” Bill Israel draws our attention to the relevance of guiding principles of political strategist Karl Rove and his cynical reflections on journalism and election campaigns. While this chapter offers some interesting information about the journalistic shortcomings of the two top U.S. newspapers as sources of political intelligence, it lacks theoretical explanations beyond framing the approach.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, “Constructions of War,” consists of three essays. Editors Thomas Conroy and Jarice Hanson start with an
The notorious phrase “War on Terror” and the United
States’ Patriot Act are at the center of the investigation in Hanson’s chapter, “Selling the Bush Doctrine.” Hanson reminds us of the close relationship of several “founding fathers” of communication studies to the field of (war) propaganda. To illustrate her point, Hanson uses the example of how the Bush administration mounted a pseudo-event to convince the general public to trust the spirit of the Patriot Act by sending Attorney General John Ashcroft on a speaking tour. Interestingly, the tour became known as a “Stealth Tour” because the meetings always took place behind closed doors, and were only rarely announced in advance. Ultimately, this pseudocampaign was a major blunder. In light of the book’s introduction stressing the administration’s success in “selling” the idea of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction so successfully to the U.S. public, and Hanson’s focus on “persuasion, propaganda, and public relations,” it would have been interesting to learn more about factors and contexts that determine the validity and effectiveness of propaganda activities in general (p. 47).
class heroes that, if they support the administration, that their worst fear, that they will be ‘left behind,’ abandoned by a feminized America, will never happen and that they can claim a modicum of self respect,” he does not address the effect of Lynch’s confession about the true circumstances of her capture (p. 80).
Klenotic’s essay ranks as one of the best of the volume. To explore the relations between film, history, and U.S. foreign policy, Klenotic investigates the emergence of 9/11 cinema using United 93 (2006) and World Trade Center (2006) as examples. Using The Monroe Doctrine (1939), the author demonstrates the strong nationalistic messages of film. Looking at 9/11, Klenotic describes meetings of Hollywood writers and producers with highranking government officials, like Rove, where they reflected “upon the ways in which their considerable storytelling talents might be applied to help foster support for the war on terrorism” (p. 96). Instead of disseminating conspiracy theories, Klenotic researches the plot offered by United 93 and shows quite clearly how the film The second part, “Iraq, Media, and Images at Home,” interprets the action taken by passengers of United Aircomprises essays written by Conroy (“The Packaging of lines flight 93 as a “transformation from average citizen Jessica Lynch”), Jeffrey Klenotic (“Staying in the Mo- to heroic citizen-soldiers” and, thereby, as the first battle ment: Hollywood, History, and the Politics of 9/11 Cin- in an undeclared war (p. 98). Klenotic’s statement that ema”), Thomas N. Gardner (“War As Mediated Narra- it is “important to take film seriously as a medium for tive: The Sextet of War Rhetoric”), Gordon Chase (“Im- both historical and political communication, even when ages of America at War on the Internet Newsgroup: the content of this communication takes the form of popsoc.culture.europe”), and Rebecca L. Abbott (“The War ular genres of Hollywood entertainment,” has to be taken Doesn’t End until the Last Soldier Dies: Transmedial seriously (p. 86). Narratives of War”). In his essay, Conroy refers to an Gardner delineates what he calls “the sextet of war important section of the U.S. electorate, the workingnarratives” (p. 109). For him, war as a mediated narraand middle-class twenty-five- to fifty-five-year-old white tive resonates around the categories of religion, national males–that group that in 2002 Democratic pollster Celina Lake called “NASCAR dads.” Referring to Stuart Hall’s identity, gender, culture, economy, and ego. After outencoding/decoding model and George Lakoff’s “Strict Fa- lining how the Pentagon approached the need to susther” model (from his Moral Politics: What Conservatives tain its war narrative through control of media access Know that Liberals Don’t ), Conroy convincingly in the past, Gardner turns to the phenomenon of embedded journalism. While he admits that embedding redemonstrates how war propaganda can make use of the porters with troops would create the tendency to identify “nation as family” metaphor. He further illustrates that the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action myth, in general, with the troops they were accompanying, Gardner also and the narrative of Jessica Lynch’s rescue, especially, stresses the risk of this approach, as the real course of a appealed to the NASCAR dads obsessed with their “left war cannot be foreseen in detail. Thus, embedded jourbehind” status. “The Jessica Lynch story was a POW res- nalists may also report on military setbacks. Gardner’s piece is especially interesting when he uses his sextet of cue that let the NASCAR dads get ‘to win this time.’ This war narratives to explain the extraordinary drop in pubmyth, a story of capture and redemption mediated by gender, functioned as one force to articulate moments of lic support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As this idea is the Iraq War propaganda circuit of meaning to produce a closely related to the political culture of a nation, and, text structured to be pleasurably decoded by white work- as a part of that, a nation’s narrative norms established ing class males” (p. 72). Although Conroy declares that for war, it would be worthwhile to compare it with war narratives in countries like France, Russia, or Germany (a “the no hero left behind tag line reassured the working country that started to deploy troops abroad just fifteen 2