Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Everybody calm the hell down — and while you are at it, turn off your TV

"By virtually all measures, the world is a far more peaceful place than it has been at any time in recorded history," writes Christopher Fettweis in a provocative essay for the April-May 2010 issue of Survival that I finally got around to reading yesterday. With Colombia now moving toward peace, there are hardly any wars ...

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goldberg/flickr
goldberg/flickr

"By virtually all measures, the world is a far more peaceful place than it has been at any time in recorded history," writes Christopher Fettweis in a provocative essay for the April-May 2010 issue of Survival that I finally got around to reading yesterday.

With Colombia now moving toward peace, there are hardly any wars underway in the western hemisphere, notes Fettweis, a political scientist who used to teach at the Naval War College and now slings international relations at Tulane University. Europe is at peace -- and barely has any militaries anyway. The Pacific Rim has two billion people and no fighting, quite an achievement. Asia's only conflict last year was the nasty little Sri Lankan civil war, which is over. The wars that are occurring are long-term affairs on low boil, such as the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the Yemeni fighting, and, of course, the United States' messes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So why are Americans so fearful, so conscious of threats? He blames, in part, the manipulative nature of current television news. "Fear is an essential component of the business model of both CNN and Fox News, a necessary tool to keep fingers away from remote controls during commercial breaks. Voices of reason tend to spoil the fun, and may inspire people to see excitement elsewhere. News outlets win by presenting stories that are more frightening, angry and simple than those of their competitors. … "

"By virtually all measures, the world is a far more peaceful place than it has been at any time in recorded history," writes Christopher Fettweis in a provocative essay for the April-May 2010 issue of Survival that I finally got around to reading yesterday.

With Colombia now moving toward peace, there are hardly any wars underway in the western hemisphere, notes Fettweis, a political scientist who used to teach at the Naval War College and now slings international relations at Tulane University. Europe is at peace — and barely has any militaries anyway. The Pacific Rim has two billion people and no fighting, quite an achievement. Asia’s only conflict last year was the nasty little Sri Lankan civil war, which is over. The wars that are occurring are long-term affairs on low boil, such as the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, the Yemeni fighting, and, of course, the United States’ messes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So why are Americans so fearful, so conscious of threats? He blames, in part, the manipulative nature of current television news. "Fear is an essential component of the business model of both CNN and Fox News, a necessary tool to keep fingers away from remote controls during commercial breaks. Voices of reason tend to spoil the fun, and may inspire people to see excitement elsewhere. News outlets win by presenting stories that are more frightening, angry and simple than those of their competitors. … "

One of the victims of this system, he goes on to argue, is poor old reasonable President Obama: "Only in a deeply pathological society is reason a synonym for weakness."

The Fettweis article irked me a bit, with his easy assertion that as the U.S. defense budget went down in the 1990s, world peace increased, so there must be an inverse relationship between the two. But I try to make sure I read to the end stuff that does that to me.

I also was struck that his was a liberal critique on the state of American society. For the last 40 years, since the ‘60s, tearing down the way Americans live has been a very successful conservative political line. I wonder if liberals are now picking up that angry approach again. I think Baby Boomers as a class are pissed. They came to maturity during Woodstock, when they were going to show the world how to live and love. In maturity they would smoke a little weed, sit on the beach, and hold forth. Instead, they find themselves old, mocked by technology, threatened financially, having to work longer than expected — and al Qaeda wants to blow them up. So I think we are in for some very cranky years of politics.

Well, at least I feel better now.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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