The Faces Behind The War

Four a.m.

It’s cold and dark outside my small home in western Maryland. The slap of the newspaper hitting the driveway briefly jolts me awake as I blearily stare at the monitor. Behind my office chair a small but determined Weiner Beast wreaks havoc on carefully arranged stacks of Christmas wrap and bows with a destructive force that rivals the most fiendish IED as, via OpFor, I read that last week David Ignatius tried to convey a sense of Christmas during wartime:

He begins with a nod to our good friend and oberbloggenfuhrer BlackFive, and mentions several other sites as well as milblogging.com. But he never seems to get what they’re talking about. “Misery may love company,” he writes, “but in the military, it keeps its mouth shut.” Actually, no it doesn’t. Throughout history the soldier’s only right has been to complain, and he does it in a variety of ways. But he doesn’t always complain; sometimes he pokes fun at his predicament. I suppose you have to be there– or have been there–to understand. He continues:

“This holiday season, America is struggling through a searing national debate about Iraq. The horror of the war feels immediate, even to people who’ve never been near Baghdad, but less so the humanity of the thousands of American soldiers who are serving there. That’s part of the Iraq disconnect: The war dominates our political life, but the men and women in the midst of it often are nearly invisible. We see them in thumbnail photos in group obituaries but not as real, living people.”

That last seems something of an understatement. The press rarely show us anything so accurate – or as human – as a thumbnail photo. Our battle dead and wounded are not accorded the human dignity and respect their voluntary sacrifices deserve. Rather, their service is all too often hijacked by those who oppose everything they gave their lives for; just another obscene weapon in the media’s constant efforts to prove this is a war we should not have fought.

The first rule of writing is to know your subject. The press fail to tell our story because, by and large, as an institution they have withdrawn from the arena. Where there were over 800 embeds at the beginning of the war, now roughly 1% of that number remain to cover a war the New York Times has called worse by every available measure. For reasons best known to them, the press have elected to cover the largest story of our time at secondhand using, not professional journalists but unnamed, uncredentialed, and untrained sources whose identity and loyalties, according to AP at least, are not open to question.

But behind the often slanted montage of murder, mayhem, miserable failure and simmering discontent served up daily by the media lies a far different picture hinted at by Ignatius’ ignorance of what every military person knows: complaining is less a sign of discontent than a normal pastime during both peacetime and war. We do it in the chow line, during PT, while standing in line at the PX, and we laugh insanely when the New York Times serves up the grumblings of yet another Lance Corporal (often as not laughably mislabeled as an “officer”) as evidence that the military is dangerously close to mutiny.

But what do we know? Anyone who questions the media’s conventional wisdom about the war is accused of having an agenda, as though somehow the hundreds of thousands of military men and women (not to mention their families) who have volunteered to serve on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan know less about what is going on over there than the members of the press who tell us they can’t cover the war because conditions make it “too dangerous” to venture out of their hotel rooms.

It’s true: there is danger over there. Whenever anyone in or out of the military dares to question press coverage of the war, we are huffily reminded how many journalists have been wounded or lost their lives in this conflict. We understand, because for every member of the media who has died, literally thousands more of us have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s just that we don’t consider that risk a good enough reason to prevent us from doing our jobs and to be fair, very likely many reporters wouldn’t either. Many would embed in a heartbeat if their management would support them. What does it say about the values of the media establishment that they fought for the right to embed with the military yet refuse to cover the war at firsthand because they refuse to share the risks with their own countrymen? What does it say when citizen journalists and bloggers like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio have paid their own way to cover the biggest event of our time, yet America’s biggest newspapers not only decline the honor but sneer at those who take up the gauntlet in their absence?

And what of the faces behind the war? Why are we always shown victims and whiners rather than those who are doing good?

Carrie Constantini, a Marine wife and mother to a young Marine who worked with Operation Santa this year visited Ward 57 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where some of our most severely wounded troops are recovering from their injuries, but oddly she didn’t find a morass of miserable failure and despair. No doubt this is why the Washington Post (my hometown paper) had no interest in this local story – just as they refused to cover Project Valour IT when I called and tried to interest them in it – but the British BBC was all over it:

“It’s very surprising …The spirit is upbeat, the spirit is positive. I spoke with a young soldier:

“I’m so sorry that you have to be in the hospital on Christmas. But he smiled and said, “But I get to have another Christmas!”

“If they can be positive, well we can be positive too.”

(continued…)

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