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Embedded in the Class Fight

Norwegian media need fewer war viewers like Bjørgulv Braanen and more journalists enrolled in the military.


By Aslak Nore

Embedding – journalism in which the reporter enlists militarily with one of the parties to an armed conflict – is a constant source of controversy. In 2003, for example, Klassekampen's editor Bjørgulv Braanen wrote an article about VG's coverage of Iraq: not only is 'embedded', but who is being foiled daily by the US military. "

Metaphors from sex life. After considerable pressure, Braanen had to apologize for his statements, but little did the editor know that he was up to something right – the expression "cock in the ass" is a general (albeit somewhat flat) description of walking or lying close to the defense. Embedding, on the whole, tends to incur metaphors from the sex life among critics. The reporter is in bed with power. This type of journalism, it is claimed, undermines the reporter's credibility and makes power-critical coverage of victims' suffering impossible. More sophisticated pens than Braanen have long renamed the phenomenon of embedding.

The criticism is worth taking seriously. I recently followed the Norwegian soldiers in northern Afghanistan, whose result "God is Norwegian" can be found in the latest issue of the magazine Samtiden (no. 4 2006). Embedding means quite rightly seeing the world from armored vehicles and through narrow shooting ranges. As a journalist under military forces, I mainly followed the current "Rules of Engagement". I wore military uniforms, desert boots and often – hush hush – with weapons.

The military discipline and corps spirit, the institution's values ​​and worldview, will irrevocably shine through such reports. At the same time, I had to sign an agreement that often gives the military the right to read through and censor – allegedly so as not to endanger the mission's security and the soldiers' lives.

The good Norway. Embedding also enters into a long tradition where the West can portray the Rest with our own concepts, create the strangers in our own image, give our own suffering a monopoly. How unfair must the series of American Vietnam films – about father and son Sheen complaining about the suffering of the American soldiers in a small voiceover – have had an effect on a traumatized Vietnamese village? An embedded journalist faces exactly the same ethical dilemma.

And this I want more of? Yes actually. We are all ethnocentric, whether we admit it or not. A lost Norwegian life affects us in a different way than a dead Afghan. Moreover: The "critical" public is flooded with strong opinions about war and the use of force – at the same time as the knowledge of military issues is sadly absent. For example: in recent years, Norwegian soldiers in foreign service have been the subject of various negative media reports, about dog killings, chauvinism and racist attitudes, a picture that for many has become entrenched as the very truth about who the soldiers are and what they stand for. The soldiers are incapacitated into ignorant and helpless pieces in a large and cynical game of power. This is how Det gode Norge, and their foremost spokesman, Fritt Ord winner and embedding critic Bjørgulv Braanen, speak.

To my knowledge, Braanen has never written anything specific about Norwegian soldiers. It is not necessary either. Braanen does not need detailed insight into military issues, local knowledge and reports from the ground floor to write his furious and pathos-filled editorials against the United States, imperialism and Western warfare in general. For him, it is enough to look out of his office in Greenland to know how the world is connected. But if Braanen's worldview is coherent (as it is with all Marxists), this cannot be said of the content of his articles.

Nuclear weapons for everyone. A look at Braanen's leaders over the past year reveals both ignorance and inconsistency. By and large, Braanen must be referred to as an idealist in foreign policy matters. He wants a "different world" without expansive American imperialism. Very problematic, but let go in the first place. Therefore, it is with a certain astonishment that I suddenly see Braanen defending Iran's nuclear weapons program based on the idea that nuclear weapons work balancing. This may well be true. The problem is just that the argument is hardcore realism! So when does Braanen write a leader – in line with the neo-realist Kenneth Waltz – in which he argues that all states should have nuclear weapons to create a global balance of terror? Another world is possible, Braanen.

The editor has, in furious words, attacked Ny Tid's own Halvor F. Tretvoll to "play with fire". Sinful sin? He had described the Euston Manifesto, a moderate political appeal Thorbjørn Jagland could easily sign, in positive terms. And this from a man who, if we are to take the consequences of his entrenched ideology at his word, would have ensured that Bosnian Muslims lived in a Palestinian enclave in central Bosnia, a Kosovo ethnic cleansed for Albanians and the Taliban still in power in Afghanistan . There are arguments for opposing the above interventions. But people who, in their one-eyed hatred of "US imperialism" for many years have served as apologists for the world's worst regimes and dictators, should be careful not to accuse others of playing with fire.

The same goes for Braanen's relationship with Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Bernard Kouchner, three leading representatives of the pro-intervention phalanx of the global left. It is reasonable to say that the three underestimated the explosive power of the US-led invasion of Iraq. If Braanen has read any of them at all (the editorials do not indicate that), he consistently avoids taking a stand on the moral core of their arguments, which are the following: When can the consideration of universal human rights trump the principle of state sovereignty? To what extent should the West (and thus the United States) use military force to stop massacres and genocide?

Such debates of principle are unimportant for Braanen, who rather sees it as expedient to hand out "ideological paper hats" (his own condescending term) such as "Schachtmanitt" and "neoconservative". Meanwhile, we others are eagerly awaiting Braan's retrospective defense of not intervening in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, which in addition to saving an estimated 800.000 lives, would also promote American imperialism and neoliberalism in Central Africa.

Travel out of the country. What lies beneath Braanen's war vision? Ignorance, we could conclude. He has not read enough about the topics (readers of Klassekampen's leaders will find surprisingly many references to Danish Information and little else), as little as he is able to take a

searching and open, but at the same time principled attitude to difficult moral dilemmas. And as we know: the ignorant become bombastic, judgmental and – to use an increasingly used word about the old AKP body – stigmatizing. However, Braanen is good and nuanced on matters of principle concerning freedom of expression and media criticism. Why? Maybe because he is in the middle of such issues as usual, and therefore has to actively address the questions from several quarters. He is simply embedded.

I owe it to the readers to mention that I have extensive experience as an embedded journalist beyond my stay in Afghanistan, namely in Braanens Klassekampen. Embedding is a weird thing. After only a short time, you acquire the attitude, way of thinking and tribal language of the institution you follow. And, after trying both, I have no doubt for a second that the reality found among Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan seems to me infinitely more interesting than the entrenched worldview that is played out daily in Klassekampen's editorials. Rather than seeing the world from his window towards the backyard in the editorial office, Braanen should do something he has hardly done before – travel out of the country, down the hill, and see the world from the ground floor. Light military armor is preferable to the heavy ideological armor that protects Klassekampen HQ from reality.

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