We Can Watch War Live 24 x 7, PrimeTime, Any Time – But is That What We Really Want?

“Why is your nose red?” my husband, Scott asked from across the room.

We had been going through our usual weekend routine, catching a bit of Saturday morning brunch.

But, now on the large 55″ flat screen TV before us, was a breaking news report with huge, black billowing smoke in Lviv, Ukraine, an hour before President Biden was to be speaking just 45 miles away from Poland’s border. At first glance, the MSNBC-TV chryon had described an explosion in Poland. Had Putin really dared to bomb Poland?

I was now looking at MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff giving an impromptu live report, a black army helmet seemingly hastily placed upon his head. Russian rockets had hit a fuel depot in this city on the western side of Ukraine, which had been a relatively safe haven during the past weeks of this Russian invasion or “war.”  “War” is now a word which Russians in their own country can now be arrested for using, and face up to 15 years in prison.

Soboroff reminded the viewers that millions of Ukrainian refugees have passed through Lviv, and the city is a major artery for supplies for the Ukrainian people and their troops eastward.

Is Putin really willing to strike a diplomatic end to this war by claiming only eastern Ukraine as his original demand, if the U.S. supports Russia-Ukraine peace talks, as some analysts have said on Scott’s radio show? I don’t think so, as Putin’s troops are now firing on the last refuge in Western Ukraine, so close to Poland where Biden would be speaking. And now Biden in Poland says Putin needs to be removed.

Something about Soboroff in the military hard helmet brought tears to my eyes. I had wanted to call my sister to tell her what was happening on air, as I’d done already the past few weeks. But she does not watch live TV news coverage, so she has trouble relating. She has hinted, basically, I shouldn’t watch it, because I get too emotional.

But this does not comfort me. How many Americans truly understand how close we are to a nuclear cold war — even World War III?

Soboroff is the same reporter who doggedly covered the Trump administration’s handling of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and the fact that young children were separated from their families as they were placed in detention camps. The administration was callously unable to reunite several hundred of those children with their parents.

Other major cable TV hosts such as CNN’s Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper; MSNBC’s hosts Ali Velshi  and Richard Engle — who have graced evening TV viewing for years, are now reporting every night on the fighting, bringing this new brand of 21st century news coverage to American homes.

We’ve seen coverage like this whenever there’s been an active mass shooting in America — in schools, workplaces, churches, shopping malls. (School children today have active shooter drills as often as my generation had fire drills — but with one difference, there had never been any school fires then or today!)

As I tell Scott, somehow, now we’re seeing live coverage of this “relatable” war — and it strikes uncomfortably straight to the heart. I’m aghast, because I suddenly realize, there have been many more wars in recent years, but I have never related to those in the same gut-wrenching way. Cooper, Velshi and other reporters talk to Ukrainian families under curfew, staying underground in their basements or shelters or subways facing shortages of or lack of water, food, electricity for weeks. Is it so much more horrifyingly relate-able because this is a war where the victims and their homes, their neighborhoods, look very much like our own here in America? Could it happen here in America?

Scott reminds me that the U.S. has been sending the Saudis military aid to bomb the poor nation of Yemen and others for decades. I shamefully know that history, but though I have always felt a sense of anger or outrage, I have never truly been able to relate to it as if it were something that could happen here. There have not been many American TV hosts willing to talk to the people of those nations to let us know the people of those nation’s full emotional depths of what it means to be bombed by our taxpayer funds. At least, not since CNN’s Baghdad correspondents Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett, who chose to stay behind in Iraq, just before it was bombed by the George W. Bush administration in 1991.

But what strikes me most is that Soboroff, even though in his late 30s, has a baby face — a face of innocence accentuated by the fact that he is wearing an army helmet of the kind I just happened to catch coincidentally four days earlier on the AMH Channel’s Apocalypse WWI series. The producers had hundreds of hours of actual footage from the 1914-1918 war.

German and Austrian troops had been outfitted with the hard helmets. Thousands of French and British troops had been disfigured, maimed, or killed by exploding shrapnel before they, too, finally developed hard helmets designed for months of trench warfare and far too many “newly-designed” weapons of war — tanks, chemical gas, airborne bombs, submarines — intended for mass destruction of human beings. Sons. Brothers. Husbands. One soldier had written a letter to his wife that if  women would rise up against this war, then men would likely end it. But women too, had been commissioned for 11-hour, low-wage shifts often dangerous munitions factories or in hospitals as nurses.

I’d been unable to turn off the series, watching several hours back to back, first mesmerized by the hundreds of thousands of military recruits in the prime of their youth cheerfully hanging out of train windows, waving good-bye as they headed to the war’s frontlines, all in a celebratory mood — innocent, oblivious even, due to their nations’ last 50 years of thriving peacetime economies. They were headed for a war their leaders told them would be over quickly, a phrase that leaders have wrongfully repeated up to and including today’s Russia-Ukraine “special operation,” only to experience the horrific trauma of a world gone mad.

Is this really what this generation needs today? Sons. Brothers. Husbands giving their lives needlessly, when we finally have what no previous generation has ever had — the technical ability to communicate instantly across great distances to share information and resources anywhere in the world to help one another meet their human survival needs in a world we were born into far more helpless than any in the animal kingdom?

Back to that one soldier in that war a century ago, who had written a letter to his wife that if women would rise up against war, then men would likely end it. I would like to ask women everywhere, how much do you agree with this?

Do we really want to be watching war live — 24x, primetime, anytime? The threat of the end of the world always looming over our heads?

When will we see on TV, and the media — more voices talking about a world we really should be creating? We so rarely hear from peace activists in the MASS MEDIA.

Don’t we all, deep in our hearts — from the worst war-mongering dictator to the youngest child anywhere in the world crave the same basic things that our ancestors have lived and died for since prehistoric times, even since a time we first became sentient?

Let’s create the real world we really want deep in our hearts: One of true peace and security for ourselves and our loved ones, where we can be free to meet our basic human needs with education and healthcare, so that we can raise our families while we contribute to society with the training and skills to match each individual’s own unique potential, and can retire with dignity; and our children and also grow up to continue the cycle of a more peaceful world without fear of mass carnage and trauma.

Anna Manzo is co-founder of Squeaky Wheel Productions.

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