Thursday, July 26, 2007

Put the war and the media in perspective

War by its very nature enables soldiers to commit atrocities. Bombs and bullets in the air, friends and comrades dying, harsh weather and terrain and separation from loved ones together create, over time, an amount of stress that is beyond my ability to comprehend. The notion that some individuals in such circumstances occasionally commit crimes against innocents is not only understandable, but documented fact.

Unfortunately, columnist Kathleen Parker dismisses this reality out of hand as a “preconceived belief” about war. Ms. Parker in her July 25 column calls attention to questionable Iraq field reporting contained in The New Republic, discussing its charges of troops playing with body parts of dead babies and driving armored vehicles through walls to kill dogs sunning themselves. These charges are probably false, she reasons, because we have not heard about them.

Given the pick-and-choose, corporate-sponsored state of mainstream media today, this line of thinking is flawed enough in itself. There's a lot we're not hearing about, and quite a bit of what we do hear is less than the whole truth. We all remember Geraldo Rivera’s mistakes in the field: In 2001, being 300 miles away from where he said he was in Afghanistan, and in 2003, much to the military’s chagrin, revealing an upcoming U.S. operation by drawing a map in the sand on Fox News. Reaching 85 million households, one would think Fox would have drawn the ire of Kathleen Parker, who this week derided The New Republic (which, for comparative purposes, has a circulation of less than 65,000) for its “low journalistic standards.” Parker goes further, however, to liken The New Republic to Duke rape prosecutor Richard Nifong in believing what it wants to believe about our military and the goings-on in Iraq, and acting rashly in accordance.

Parker’s cautioning against rushed judgment, assumption and self-fulfilling prophecy is welcome and certainly justified. (If only Muslim Americans got the same benefit of the doubt: 5/30/07.) Her argument falters, though, when confronted with many Iraq stories we have heard about, such as U.S. soldiers’ murder of 24 civilians at Haditha and the despicable grunt work at Abu Gharib prison involving attack dogs, nude mounds of men and Lord knows what else. Suggesting that we focus on U.S. honor and victory in Iraq, Kathleen Parker joins George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove in their systematic denial of reality. In the real world, few could explain what victory in Iraq would even look like anymore. Furthermore, as the U.S. body count approaches 3,700, Ms. Parker’s emphasis on honor would be more appropriate in conversations with maimed veterans and mourning families.

When General Calley and his troops massacred civilians at My Lai in Vietnam, it was a fact, however disturbing, that Americans were forced to accept. Though I thankfully do not know from experience, war is hell. The Bush Administration created hell in Iraq by rashly invading without even a plan for our actions in the aftermath. Demonizing our troops, as The New Republic may have done, errors by ignoring the horrendous conditions in which they are and have been operating for over four years—and the larger decisions of those who sent them in the first place. Insensitive as it is to sell short the troops’ dismal environment, the latter is certainly the graver sin.

We honor our troops’ efforts and sacrifices with good intelligence, sufficient combat equipment and proper care upon returning home. Having denied these from the very beginning, our leaders bear full responsibility for the current state of affairs. Kathleen Parker—and indeed all of us—would be better off leaving extraneous Geraldos and New Republics alone and putting this administration and its war under an intense and honest microscope.


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