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MONDO CANE

John Chuckman

I have to confess I don’t watch television. And if I did, CNN would not be a stop on the dial.

The subject of this story was raised by a friend. Details were obtained on the Internet where more information is to be had with a half hour’s effort than from a week in front of a television.

CNN has broadcast some videotape, supposedly from a secret al-Qaeda library in Afghanistan. Of course, like so many things touching Afghanistan, the use of the word library ever-so-slightly stretches the truth.

Journalists who have actually visited some of the caves in Afghanistan, said by the Pentagon to be the mountain redoubts of al Qaeda and the Taleban, have stressed how primitive and small they actually are. But from the American mainstream press and Pentagon press releases, you’d think Flash Gordon had discovered a stunning underground city on the planet Mongol. We’ve had secret laboratories, vast weapons caches, and now we have al Qaeda tape libraries.

Rarely emphasized in these reports are the details – the weapons caches, for example, having consisted of small piles of outdated arms, poorly stored, likely left over from the 1980s conflict with the Russians, and whose owners are unknown. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Now we have videotapes of experiments with “possible weapons of mass destruction” consisting of three dogs dying after being administered an unknown substance at an unknown location by some unknown people. This is film we might obtain on any given day at hundreds of humane societies and city dog-pounds across North America. Truly terrifying stuff.

The tape undoubtedly provides proof positive, if any were needed, of the wisdom of America’s spending tens of billions of dollars to blow up anyone in sandals and the wrong-colored headdress standing on a mountain in Afghanistan. First three dead dogs, tomorrow thermonuclear weapons. Now, on to Iraq.

One is tempted to ask why the American government didn’t have CNN’s remarkable staff handle all searches for al Qaeda information? Why bother with costly, inept lugs from the special forces and CIA when a couple of reporters from CNN can tuck into Afghanistan and come away with an intelligence coup?

But who ever expected truth in war? Much less in something so dimly defined as the War on Terror, whose sole accomplishment so far is the overthrow of a fairly stable, unpleasant government and its replacement with an unstable, unpleasant government that busies itself assassinating its own members and murdering prisoners of war.

I suppose, from the perspective of the kind of people who brought napalmed villages, tens of thousands of midnight throat-cuttings, and barbed-wired pacification centers to Vietnam, this may be viewed as a kind of progress.

All I can remember from having seen CNN years ago was “journalism” that consisted of reporters making life miserable for an innocent man, Richard Jewell, after the Atlanta Olympics bomb by shoving microphones at his face everywhere he went and broadcasting remarkably-informative footage of his car driving away. This network, of course, has distinguished itself since on a number of occasions, including the fiasco of the Operation Tailwind investigation.

They also specialize in that most American of television institutions, the meaningless argument show that provides loud, cheap talk from two sides in pancake make-up and blow-dried hair-dos. No scholarship, no experts worthy of the name, just glib, Washington-hugging journalists eager for an extra pay check and professional think-tankers peddling views from their latest pamphlets. Very informative.

The video tape shows us three appealing dogs, animals that might almost have been groomed by a CNN makeup expert for one of the network’s pathetic argument shows. The improbability of this originating from a cave or shack in a part of the world where poverty allows few people to keep pets and where the ones they do keep often resemble hungry coyotes is not discussed. As I wrote above, these dogs are killed by an unknown substance by some unknown people in some unknown location. Sandals are seen scurrying.

It is truly unpleasant to see dogs die. There are, fortunately, a limited number of people in the world who take satisfaction in such things. But there are such people, and the viewers of CNN likely never gave a thought to the ones who have killed countless thousands of animals in U.S. Army weapons laboratories over the last five or six decades using everything from nerve gases and blister agents to botulism and radioactive isotopes.

And let’s not forget the human experiments. There were the CIA’s experiments with LSD and other drugs on unwitting subjects that resulted in suicides. There were the Pentagon’s many experiments with the effects of atomic radiation in the 1950s, including deliberately exposing tens of thousands of “the boyz” to atomic-test blasts. There were also secret, controlled releases of radiation into the atmosphere over the United States to see how it would travel and where it might be deposited.

One might include the Americans exposed to massive amounts of Agent Orange and the hideous inoculations of unproven substances given troops in Desert Storm. How about all the thousands of depleted-uranium shells tested at proving ranges? Or are those only tested in places like Afghan villages? Did those thousands of sheep who suddenly died in Colorado near an Army chemical-weapons facility some years ago represent a unique event?

Just how does anyone think those clean-cut, pressed-shirt boys at the Pentagon managed to build a hellish arsenal of poison gases, putrid chemicals, engineered disease germs and viruses, plus nuclear and thermonuclear weapons? Why, the number of Americans killed by air and groundwater contamination alone from nuclear-weapons processing facilities likely equals the toll for a small war.

Ah, but that’s our side, the good guys. What counts is that the bad guys, whoever they are on that video, killed three dogs.

The most interesting aspect of CNN’s propaganda video, uncritically passed off as a startling revelation, is that it doesn’t make any difference whether it is authentic or not.

As I’ve written before, the most effective propaganda is always based on truth. So, maybe someone somewhere in Afghanistan once did poison three dogs. This tells us precisely nothing that can be dignified as information.

But broadcasting the video will have sickened a lot of people watching the news over dinner. And that gut-form of argument without content is almost impossible to counteract. With one blow, men in sandals are reduced to dog-hating fiends, the suggestion is planted that they were doing horrifying experiments, and the implicit argument is made that only the kind of violent, stupid action taken in Afghanistan will preserve us from future horrors.

(For unfamiliar readers, Mondo Cane – “world of dogs” – was a documentary film in the early 1960s that shocked audiences with exotic scenes of human cruelty and primitive behavior.)

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