War and basketball

By Jonathan Livingston

Like many Americans, this past weekend and every weekend during this time of year, I watched what many argue is the purest form of entertainment, the NCAA tournament.  Like most folks this season, as the field narrowed, my bracket sheet was thrown out of the window, but while watching these games, like most Americans, in between commercials and when we turned the channel, my attention was focused on the war of Iraq, liberation of Iraq, or the strike against Iraq, depending on what channel you stumbled across.  As I listened to the commentators and newfound war analysts, I realized that likened to that of basketball, the war was presented with play by play commentary. Like basketball, there were diagrams drawn to show players and the audience the best point of attack. Some analysts even provided statistics comparing casualties and the number captured for both sides.  Even the language used to describe the events was also like that used for basketball.  These war analysts, like some basketball analysts who had never played, have never fought in war, but they are clever in creating and reporting the war much like that of a basketball game.  They speak in terms of “protecting the perimeter”, “playing good defense”, “protecting the boards”, “protecting our interests”, “bringing in reserve players and reserve troops”.

 Consistent with that of the NCAA tournament, the war is being fought by young men, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, and coached or led into battle by men in their 40s and 50s. As I listened to these similarities, I pondered for a moment whether I was thinking a bit too deep about this, or was this war, strike, or liberation, etc. of Iraq being covered and marketed like a sporting event?  If such is the case, why, and what’s at stake? For those young men on the basketball court the weekends of March and April, it’s obvious, a national title is at stake.  For those major media companies covering the war, what’s at stake is not that clear, and for many Americans, America’s involvement in the war doesn’t quite seem clear.  In an attempt to make sense of why our country is involved in a war that so many countries are against, many of us toss around abstractions like “liberation”, “protecting our interests”, and “democracy”, and I wonder, at times, if we really know what they mean.  Or to make it plain, what does our so-called liberation and occupation of Iraq mean for those individuals living in that country who oppose our presence?  “Protecting our interests”. I hear that tossed round a lot.  What are our interests, or better yet, what are our intentions?  And “democracy”? That’s one that analysts continue to throw around as they talk about what type of government will be put in place after the war.  After reviewing the events that happened in the last election, how much trust do they think those newly-liberated Iraqis and the rest of the world have in our so-called democratic process? 

After musing over these obvious similarities and ambiguities, one comes to one conclusion. There are two wars going on: one on the ground in Iraq and the other in the hands of the media.  For the troops on the ground, their goal, or what’s at stake, is whatever military objective is decided by gray men who are too old to fight.  The other war is a public relations war. The players  are the American government and the media.  For the American media, their job is to pass on information and create a perception that will sway public opinion, and the audience is the U.S. and the rest of the world.  Shifting the perception of the American government is what’s at stake, and likened to that of those teams we in America love to hate, the rest of the world is hoping that the public relations war will be lost.  For us at home, many of us root for our military like we did the Yankees and the Cowboys in the 90’s and the contemporary Lakers.  They were America’s teams, they were winners, but as we cheered for them, we realized that there were a number of people wanting them to lose. The rest of the world knows that America will win the military game, or war, but the respect of the rest of the world is at stake, and there are a number of countries rooting for our government to lose that respect.  For many people here in America and around the world, the war in Iraq is seen as an act of naked aggression, unsanctioned by the U.N. and unsupported by a number of world powers. 

For other Americans, our involvement in the war is seen as a humanitarian effort and our right to protect ourselves from would be terrorists and those who would harbor terrorists.  Yes, America, once again, is split, but no matter what side we choose, we do have the NCAA tournament to take our attention off of these events, and like many this weekend, I will root for my team, but during commercials, I will change the channel to get the score on the war.

April 6, 2003 – April 19, 2003 Edition