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June 03, 1982 - Image 6

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1982-06-03

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Opinion

Page 6
The Michigan Daily
Vol. XCII, No. 21-S
Ninety-two Years of Editorial Freedom
E-dited and managed by studenti'
at the University of M'Iichigan
European stage
RESIDENT REAGAN arrived in Europe
yesterday amid threats from terrorist
groups that his trip will be "eventful and un-
forgettable." But beyond the forewarnings and
the Tuesday bombings of American military
bases in West Germany, the president faces a
formidable task.
First he must allay the fears of the European
public and its leaders that his economic policies
will eventually return the U.S. economy to
prosperity, thus aiding Western Europe. Even
more difficult is his task of convincing
Europeans that he is not the hawk that he made
himself out to be during his first yeai- in the
White House.
Europeans know that there can be no limited
nuclear war in heavily-urbanized Europe. And
although Reagan has toned down his vehement
rhetoric toward the Soviet Union, left-leaning
groups are still wary of his stance on nuclear
weapons in Europe, and are affecting defense
plans on the continent.
Political writers have bemoaned the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization's "crisis
situation" every year since its inception in 1949.
But the current divisions within the defense
pact are real and likely to grow unless the
president convinces the European public thata
he is sincere about arms reductions, even
though his military budget suggests otherwise.
Indeed, in the next week, the man many
Europeans think of as merely a cowboy-actor
may be strutting upon the most difficult and
hostile stage of his presidency.

Thursday, June 3, 1982

The Michigan Daily

E-I
Argentines catch op en censored accounts of the Falklands war. A P Ph
Obsc~re image

By Frank Viviano
As the war over the Falklands
moves into a second month, it
raises two deeply disturbing
questions: What is really going
on there? And what long-term
significance does it have?
In a sense, the lack of a reliable
answer to the first question offers
an answer to the second. There is
something quite striking about
the fact that, in an age of instant
electronic communications, we
cannot see or hear the Falklands
War.
SINCE THE very dawn of elec-
tronic age 35 years ago, its
ultimate impact on society has
been a matter of intense debate,
focused on two contradictory
scenarios.
One, pictured by George Orwell
in 1984, foresaw a world in which
electronic media served only to
isolate individuals from the truth
and render them powerless.
The second emerged from
Marshall McLuhan's Understan-
ding Media: The Extensions of
Man, which predicted that the
electronic age instead would give
birth to a "global village," a
world united by the rapid and
continuous exchange of infor-
mation.
IF THE PAST few weeks are
any guide, it is Orwell's_ dark
scenario that may be taking
shape. t
Outside of the islands them-
selves and the ministries in Lon-
don and Buenos Aires, no one
really does know what's going on
in the Falklands. The gover-
nments of Argentine and Britain
alike have seen to that,
establishing a virtual blackout on
the flow of images and infor-
mation from the battle scene.
While reporters and cameramen
direct their attention to
ministerial press conferences
and man-on-the-street interviews

(what Daniel Boorstein once
called "non-events", the actual
struggle in the South Atlantic
proceeds in a strangely silent and
invisible realm, a kind of gover-
nment-engineered warp in the
electronic universe.
Unlike U.S. involvement in
Vietnam, which flooded
American living rooms almost
nightly with a compelling
military horror show, all action
in the Falklands is off-screen.
THE LONG-TERM significan-
ce of the Falklands War, in other
words, may be its suggestion that
governments have learned a
potent lesson from Vietnam:
Modern war must be fought in the
communications dark, even by
democracies.
No less an authority that Maj.
Gen. William Westmoreland, the
commander of U.S. forces in In-
dochina 15 years ago, confirms
the importance of that lesson. If
he had to fight another war,
Westmoreland recently said, the
first thing he would do is censor
the press.
Indeed, he is but the latest in a
long line of American officials,
stretching back to Richard Nixon
and including President Reagan,
who have implied that the press
- and television coverage in par-
ticular - helped "lose" the war
in Vietnam.
THE ISSUE of. censorship, of
course, has been raised in the
context of the Falklands, most
notable when the British Broad-
casting Corporation was attacked
by Prime Minister Thatcher for
its efforts to treat the Argentine
position with fairness and objec-
tivity.
But censorship, in the sense
that it is usually understood, may
not be the true crux of the matter.
Despite the assault on the BBC,
its analytical work goes on unim-
peded. The superficial appearan-
ces of a functional democracy,
served by a freely critical press,

hrave been maintained.
The deeper problem is plain
access. By tacit mutual consent,
the British and their Argentine
foes have simple short-circuited
the global village - yanked the
plug outon the form of jour-
nalism to which millions look
today for some semblance of tex-
ture of events: their look, sound
and feel.
AS VIETNAM clearly demon-
strated, the images that convey
this texture have a power all their
own, and one which operates on a
level totally different from that of
cool, dispassionate news
analysis.
Erik Barnouw, the dean of
Americanbroadcast historians,
has argued that the collapse of
popular support for the Indochina
was owed muct more to such
images than it did to explicit
criticisms of U.S. policy from
news analysts. In fact, even when
voice-over narration offered a
rationale in favor of American
military actions, the sheer sight
of American boys burning
villages - or American boys in
plastic body bags - worked to
counter-purpose.
Hence the ominous character
of the naval battles off Argen-
tina's coast, with their unseen
aerial dogfights and their doubly
anonymous dead. It is difficult to
avoid concluding that televised
images of the HMS Sheffield ex-
ploding into flames or of the
General Belgrano sinking into a
watery grave would not have in-
fluenced the public opinion which
makes military conflict possible.
Instead, Argentines, Britons -
and the larger world that their
war concerns - must settle for
analytical speculations and a
landscape emptyof all but non-
events.
Viviano is an editor for the
Pacific News Service.

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