THERE'S no doubt that when it comes to war, Americans have a right to know what is going on. The only questions are, how much should they know, and what should they do with the information?
I directed my query at Professor Arnold Haspel, Redundant Professor of Information. "How much knowledge can we absorb without suffering from cable fatigue?" I asked him.
"More than one thinks. The public has to know everything that's going on," said Haspel. "Otherwise people will be left in the dark about Riyadh."
I agreed. "But how much information can we absorb before we keel over from overload?"
Haspel said, "We certainly haven't peaked yet. We may know all the details about the Patriot and Scud missiles, but we are still ignorant about the oil spills in Kuwait. We must be informed on that kind of stuff if we are to give input to the Pentagon."
"The allies have had so many sorties," I told Haspel, "I can't keep track of them. Do I have to put all of them in the memory bank?"
"You should if you're going to keep your eye on the sparrow. This is the best informed American public ever to be involved in a war. Thanks to television, it's possible to stay abreast of every phase of the action.
"Since the media is letting you in on everything, you have an obligation to make the most of the material. You can serve your country more effectively when you're tuned into Brokaw, Jennings and Rather."
"True, but it does bring us to the main problem. Since I know all I want to know, why can't the military handle the troop movements?"
Haspel explained, "Because that isn't the way wars are fought anymore. Only a well-briefed nation can direct its armed forces in battle. What do you think we would have done if we hadn't been told that 90 Iraqi planes flew into Iran?"
"What should we have done?"
"That's a good question and the kind we expect our informed citizens to ask."
"Is there any way of giving the Marines our proxy to make decisions for us?"
"There is, but without our know-how they would be fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. All Americans are expected to focus their attention on the generals' map pointers and send in the plays from the bench."
"What if the information Americans demand gives aid and comfort to the enemy? How can we stop it getting to the other side?"
"We hope that the other side is not watching. It isn't easy to have a knowledgeable American public without spilling a little in the other guys' soup bowl."
"Professor, have you observed any combat fatigue from people who have watched too many war programs on television?"
"So far, we have six known cases of CNN shock and three cases of Ted Koppel depression. It's about what we expected, considering how much right-to-know information Americans now take to sleep with them."