Whose war is it, anyway?

In modern conflicts, the media spin is part of the battle.

Studying history is an art, not a science. There are no exact right or wrong answers. Hindsight does not necessarily offer 20-20 vision. Nor does it necessarily afford a clear vision for the future. Different times result in different wars. Only human nature remains unchanging. All students of the causes of the First World War learn that the spark was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. My high-school history teacher, Miss Morant, the sort of educator whose lessons last a lifetime, used to blame at least part of the outbreak of The Great War on the railways. When Russia used to mobilize its considerable forces on foot, it was easy to call them back. In 1914, when mobilization included rail transport, it was far more difficult to halt them on their way to the front. And the rest, as they say, is history. Judge Eliahu Winograd neither wrote history nor made history in his report on the Second Lebanon War, despite the drama surrounding the delivery of its findings on January 30. Ironically, the press conference in snowbound Jerusalem symbolized one of the main characteristics of the war rather than offering the solutions to preventing the next one. This was a war of spin. And it can leave you reeling. While drivers skidded on nearby sidestreets and kids threw snowballs at each other for fun, the roads leading to the International Conference Center were specially cleared, we were reminded with every newsflash, so that the publication of the report could go ahead as planned. Maybe Winograd and his team should be put in charge of handling any future war: They seem to have the skills for handling a military campaign - or at least as much as the next man. COMMISSIONS of inquiry into the causes and conduct of wars periodically punctuate Israeli life. But this was the first such commission I can recall which had its own PR consultant handling its publicity (and I mean publicity rather than publication). Most of the country understandably skipped reading the report's hundreds of pages, making do with the leaks leading up to its release and the analyses that followed - if that. People are tired of war. They are also tired of spin. War is hell. Politics is dirty. The combination is not a pretty picture - although it makes for great newscasts. Helping the double dose go down are hordes of PR consultants. But it makes me want to scream "No more," as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did in the early days of the war when we all thought we had a fighting chance of beating Hizbullah at its own game. Winograd had not even finished writing the report before the politicians began to write their version of the story, enabling Labor leader Ehud Barak, for example, to join the coalition. Leading up to its publication, the public - which had made up its mind about the guilty parties long before Winograd was even appointed - was subject to campaigns for and against the government. Some of the arguments were so virulent it was easy to forget who is the real villain: Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Ultimately, Nasrallah is the one responsible for the deaths of the 119 soldiers and 44 civilians killed in the six-week conflict. It is not Olmert, however hastily he might have reacted; or former defense minister Amir Peretz, who couldn't bear to admit he was the wrong person for the job; or former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, who somehow found time to sell his stocks as the hostilities broke out even though - given the inexperience of the premier and defense minister - he should have been giving advice to the country's leaders, not his brokers. Not that Halutz's advice, based on the overriding concept of air superiority, was worth that much, as we now know. UNFORTUNATELY, it seems Nasrallah was more focused in his goal than those responsible for protecting "the Zionist entity." And unlike Israel, his aim was to hit and kill as many civilians as possible while the Israeli establishment was hampered by its attempts to avoid killing innocent civilians in Lebanon (and Israel's reluctance to risk the lives of its soldiers on the ground). This was a war fought live on TV networks. The PR campaign, on both sides, was fought along with the military. Hence Nasrallah's televised appearances and Israel's attempts to later knock out the site he had used as his temporary studio. The war surrounding the publication of the Winograd report, while not lethal, was no less dirty. Bereaved families and reserve soldiers mobilized to oust Olmert or protect him. It was, again, part of the problem rather than the solution: Does someone whose son/husband/friend fell have more insight and more of a right to dictate future policy than someone who fought and came out in one piece? Maj. (res.) Tomer Buhadana, who became an icon when he flashed the victory sign while a medic stanched the blood pouring from his neck, in peacetime mobilized against Olmert. It lent the campaign more credibility but detracted from his own stature as a consensus hero all Israel could be proud of. And as Winograd noted, even in this war there was much of which we can be proud. THE YEAR and a half that have passed since "The War" has been time to fix most of the physical scars. The spinners are constantly reminding us that vacationers are happily filling the hotels and B&Bs in the North. (Perhaps if Sderot had developed a tourism industry it would not have had to suffer seven years of missile attacks with nary a commission of inquiry into its situation.) As cameras flashed, Winograd declared the committee's main findings. It is now up to the public to interpret them as it sees fit. Psychological studies - known to even the freshest public relations students - show that usually people see events through their own preexisting prisms. Those who believe Olmert should step down will continue to believe it. Opponents of the Annapolis process will find enough material in the lengthy report to suggest that Olmert, who was quick to go to a war which Israel could not decisively win, should not be given the chance to lead the country into a diplomatic process which will inevitably result in concessions and losses. Olmert's supporters will, with relief, point out that Winograd did not call for Olmert to step down. Blame was distributed between the top political and military echelons. Winograd, too, almost seemed to call for a continuation of the peace process, saying: "Israel must - politically and morally - seek peace with its neighbors and make necessary compromises. At the same time, seeking peace or managing the conflict must come from a position of social, political and military strength..." Olmert, who detractors say enjoys "etrog status," the protected condition of the most valued of the Four Species, will still need a thick skin. The war ended but the battle for political survival goes on. The buck nowadays doesn't stop with anyone, it continues spinning as it is thrown from one person to the next. Heads might not roll, but the cameras will.