- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

Prophetic spectacle

“Neil Postman was a master at spotting ironies in life. But even he might have been startled to note that his death, at 72, came within hours of the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California.

“Postman, of course, was the author in 1985 of the prescient book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death.’ In it, he alluded in detail to the American public’s growing appetite for entertainment in place of serious discourse. To point right now to the media circus that helped propel Mr. Schwarzenegger to his rousing California victory a couple of weeks ago is to belabor the obvious. …

“[I]t’s hard to imagine a grander headlining of Postman’s insights than what we’ve just watched in the California spectacle. …

“Neil Postman has passed from the scene — but the truth of his analysis has never been more painfully clear.”

Joel Belz, writing on “Not at all amusing,” in the Oct. 25 issue of World

Orwell’s truth

“George Orwell, whose books have sold a phenomenal 40 million copies in more than 60 languages, was the most influential prose stylist of the 20th century. … Orwell saw writing not only as a powerful tool for conveying ideas, but also as a demanding and enthralling art with a moral imperative to search for truth. …

“His experience in [the Spanish Civil War] taught him about the great dangers to clear style and free thought: ‘how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries.’ His duty, he felt, was to expose the illusions created by such propaganda, make people ‘see the Soviet regime for what it really was.’ … Inspired by seeing a little boy whip a huge farm horse, Orwell imagined a revolution of oppressed beasts and analyzed ‘Marx’s theory from the animals’ point of view.’

“Orwell’s witty and ironic style is perfectly suited to his political allegory of the Russian Revolution. In ‘Animal Farm’ the actual writing of political slogans takes place after the revolution. … The defeat of the Loyalists in the Spanish War taught him that ‘history is written by the winners.’ His own minimal achievement, while working … at the wartime BBC, was to keep ‘our propaganda slightly less disgusting than it might otherwise have been.’ ”

Jeffrey Meyers, writing on “Orwell on writing,” in the New Criterion this month

Fog of war

“Confusion reigns in the initial battles of all wars. In World War II, the campaign in North Africa took months to smooth out. In Vietnam, the early battle in the Ia Drang valley was unscrambled and laid out only much later, in Harold G. Moore’s ‘We Were Soldiers Once … And Young.’

“The 1993 ambush in Somalia, made famous in the book and movie ‘Black Hawk Down,’ was confusing and surprising to the two-star general who was on the scene and watching much of it on video. The battle in Nasiriyah [Iraq] had exhibited the same lack of coherent information. … In Operation Iraqi Freedom, all ranks, from general to private, would make mistakes and become veterans at the same time.

“If the stumbling at the start of the battle was not unusual, the speed with which the bad news ricocheted around the world was. … Discouraged, the military experts in the television studios speculated that more U.S. forces were needed and that the campaign would last for months.”

Bing West and retired Maj. Gen. Ray L. Smith, from their new book, “The March Up: Taking Baghdad With the 1st Marine Division

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