#4 The Mother of All Battles, part 2
‘Utopia’ at War
America is Utopia achieved.
We should not judge their crisis as we would judge our own, the crisis of the old European countries. Ours is a crisis of historical ideals facing up to the impossibility of their realization. Theirs is the crisis of an achieved Utopia, confronted with the problem of its duration and permanence.
Jean Baudrillard, America (1986)1
For the men of the 4th and 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigades and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, still idling aboard their ships in the Persian Gulf several weeks into Operation Desert Storm, the Gulf War experience was less Sands of Iwo Jima, more Waiting for Godot. The requirements of General Norman Schwarzkopf’s strategy of massive deception meant that, for these 24,000 elite soldiers, Godot would never arrive. That the American military could afford to deploy such a large force and have it do nothing was a measure of the almost unimaginable resources available to it in those halycon very late Cold War days2.
Unsurprisingly, the Marines’ non-adventures largely escaped the notice of CNN, which was broadcasting around-the-clock coverage of the considerably more exciting air campaign. Bombing had got underway the night of January 17th 1991.
The Atlanta-based Cable News Network, launched by Ted Turner in 1980, had steadily built up its subscriber base in its first decade, but the Gulf War would prove to be a watershed event for the enterprise. CNN was the only news outlet able to broadcast from inside Iraq during the first few hours of the Coalition bombing campaign. And what’s more, the network’s broadcasts from inside the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad were typically made live, a relatively new development in TV war reporting. Analysis was provided by Stateside pundits like the improbably-named Wolf Blitzer, the network’s Pentagon correspondent. The Gulf conflict would serve as a dramatic showcase for CNN’s real-time, 24/7 rolling news, underscoring just how radical an innovation it was. Here was modernity’s most quintessential experience, the shock of the new. Perhaps this explains why CNN would find its viewership soaring, sending Ted Turner’s outfit surging past ‘the Big Three’ American TV networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) for the first time3.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Some Private Diagonal to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.