Mothers of Soldiers and the Iraq War: Justification through Breakfast Shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC

By Cappuccio, Sondra Nicole | Women and Language, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview
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Mothers of Soldiers and the Iraq War: Justification through Breakfast Shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC


Cappuccio, Sondra Nicole, Women and Language


Abstract: A comprehensive search of morning television shows was completed in order to accurately gauge the media's use of mothers as instruments of support and dissent for the current Iraq War. The mother as justifier is presented in dialogues about (their) soldier children, the war, and, in some instances, democracy. This justification is presented through two categories of motherhood the mother as supporter/caregiver and the mother as representative/proud mother--which were dominant representations on the breakfast shows. While a .few stories held an air of dissent, this dissent actually was nothing more than a straw man technique, which ultimately reinforced the overall framework and further justified the war.

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Historically, there has been a pattern of the media supporting the United States government's war efforts (Lens, 2003). Whether one considers the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which threatened fines and imprisonment against anyone who criticized the government, Lincoln's attempt to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus and thus deny prisoners the right to question the legality of their incarceration, or the more recent Patriot Act of 2001 which gives authorities almost unlimited access to private information, the United States Government continues a long tradition of limiting free speech and dissent. As part of the "military-industrial complex" (Eisenhower, 1961), the media have been an instrumental tool used to facilitate such limitations of dissent and to deliver an image of America that is sanctioned by the United States government.

Media representations of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt as healthy even though he was a paraplegic, or President Reagan as the 'All American Cowboy' during 'negotiations' with the former Soviet Union, illustrate the extent to which the media is willing to deliver stories that serve the purpose of the government. Yet, these constructions are not limited to Presidents or politicians in promoting political agendas. Rather, it is the media's use of civilian members of society that is a significant adjunct to the government's political agendas and, subsequent, war efforts.

Since the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), President George W. Bush and his administration have worked hard at connecting 9/11 with all of the administration's current policies, particularly Middle Eastern foreign policy. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have been used by the current administration, along with others, as evidence of the alleged link between Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorism (including Al Qaeda, for example). By juxtaposing Hussein's regime with terrorism in general, and 9/11 specifically, Iraq becomes a real threat to Americans reeling from the devastation of the September 11th attacks. This personalization of the "threat" of Iraq helps create a context of support for the Iraq War.

On March 19, 2003, the Iraq War began (www.whitehouse.gov/news). Since then, academics and political pundits alike have addressed various aspects of the war ranging from media coverage to political rhetoric to constructions of gender. This inquiry, however, tends to be blind to the ideological underpinnings of gender and militarism. It is within this framework that constructions of motherhood will be examined through an analysis of morning television news shows.

As will be discussed further in this study, the original analysis was to be a search of the three major broadcast network news stories covering mothers of soldiers serving in the Iraq War. Nevertheless, during that search, there was an obvious connection between these stories and coverage on morning news shows. This study will commence with a brief overview of the Iraq War and an examination of the relationship between motherhood and militarism.

Iraq War

On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations to "make the case for war" on Iraq.

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