The Human Cost By Greyhawk

When imaginary reporters ask me for advice, I respond.

Cub Reporter: I’ve got to do a piece on a recent US victory in Iraq, but my editor told me know that even though we’re covering this story to claim “balance” in our reporting I still have to find a way to leave readers demoralized and if possible unaware that the US actually is winning. What advice can you give me?

Greyhawk: Well, the common approach is what’s called the S*** sandwich, where you write two stories, one the American victory and the other listing every “successful” insurgent attack over the past couple weeks, then combine them by alternating paragraphs into a fused product. To break it up a little, toss in the phrase “beleaguered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has been rebuked in recent weeks by Republican Senators and Army Privates alike, was not available for comment.” Whatever the story is be sure to mention the upcoming elections and how this makes it less likely for them to be seen as legitimate, then top it with a headline that makes it clear that the country is descending into chaos.

Cub Reporter: The headline isn’t a problem, my editor already wrote it, along with all the Rumsfeld parts. But we ran several of those “sandwich” stories already this week…

Greyhawk: So you need something else?

Cub Reporter: Right.

Greyhawk: Well, here’s an idea. It’s not new, but it hasn’t been completely burned out yet either. Play the “human cost” card.

Cub Reporter: You mean mention the total number of dead since Bush declared an end to major combat operations? That’s so last year. And those numbers are too big for our average reader to grasp now, they’re becoming numb.

Greyhawk: Yes, but small numbers are what work now. Look, here’s what you do. The Americans are currently experiencing a string of successes in Iraq. Despite the challenges the Iraqi people are increasingly optimistic about their futures, and tired of the insurgents. But every American and Iraqi victory comes at a price, and that price is often the lives of soldiers. So you focus your story on the guys who died in the battle, not the outcome of the battle itself.

Cub Reporter: That’s sick! My publisher will love it!

Greyhawk: No doubt.

Cub Reporter: “Putting a face on the war” – yes! I mean, we could make everyone reading question any victory the Coalition forces could ever achieve, just by pointing out the “shattered dreams” of the casualties of the fight. And no one could question our motives – because we support the troops!

Greyhawk: Just make sure you don’t mention the word “hero”.

Cub Reporter: Certainly not, that’s a word we reserve for John Kerry and Mike Moore. Better stay away from “sacrifice” too. Way too Christian… hey, this will be great! I’ve got the whole thing written already. We’re gonna break new ground here. I’m thinking Pulitzer!

Greyhawk: Well, I wouldn’t say that…

Cub Reporter: What? This is what the committee looks for!

Greyhawk: Oh, I’m sure. But I mean this has all been done before. Look, here’s a recent example from Long Island Newsday. You’d be hard pressed to know this was the story of a coalition victory.

Cub Reporter: Reading:

MOSUL, Iraq – Spc. Michael Kreuser was curled at the bottom of his sleeping bag Wednesday afternoon inside a tan apartment building the U.S. Army had converted into a combat outpost when an enormous blast shook him awake.
Sandbags fell on top of the young medic, and he struggled to get up. Unable to see through the fog of plaster dust filling the room, he patted the floor, found his medical kit and one boot that he pulled on and raced to a third-floor balcony, where he heard screaming.

Pfc. Oscar Sanchez was on the ground, hit by shrapnel and bleeding. Kreuser, his stocking foot now soaked with Sanchez’s blood, and another soldier dragged the private into the hall, cut open his shirt and tried to revive him.

“We weren’t going to let him go easy,” said Kreuser, a lanky 22-year-old from West Bend, Wis.

But moments later, Sanchez died, the sole victim of a sophisticated attack by a suicide bomber. The 19-year-old soldier from Modesto, Calif., had been on guard duty, standing on a chair to get a better view as he aimed his automatic rifle at anything suspicious, when a black-clad insurgent drove a truck loaded with 1,500 pounds of explosives into concrete barricades roughly underneath the balcony.

As Kreuser thinks about that day, he brims with irrational blame. He blames himself for not being able to save the buddy he trounced at video games and teased for singing sappy love songs. He blames other soldiers for not telling Sanchez to get down off that stupid chair. He blames his commanders for stationing soldiers smack in the middle of the most dangerous neighborhood in Mosul.

Wow – this was a Coalition victory?

Greyhawk: Yes, it was, with at least 25 insurgents dead. But read the last paragraphs…

Cub Reporter:

Finally, Kurilla’s convoy arrived at Tampa, which was under barrage from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, and saw a 5-foot-deep crater in the road – and the remaining bits of charred, crumpled metal from the truck that had carried the explosives.
Four loud fighter jets appeared overhead, strafing the cars and low-slung buildings where insurgents were holed up and swooping to fire Maverick missiles on targets. Their precision was startling, and a relief to those who sat in nearby military vehicles.

The fighting stopped. Some units headed back to Camp Marez, leaving behind cars with dead Iraqis inside and rubble-strewn streets. Soldiers silhouetted by a pink sunset watched their battle-worn vehicles limp back into camp. Two of the Strykers had to be towed. Smoke was pouring from the hatch of another. One dragged concertina wire underneath its bumper and one rolled back with a blown front tire.

Staff Sgt. Victor Brazfield, one of the soldiers in Kurilla’s convoy, worried about his best friend, Sgt. Richard Vasquez, 22, who was in the Stryker targeted by the suicide car bomber. During the battle, Brazfield’s headphones had crackled with a report of a KIA, or soldier killed in action.

As night fell, Brazfield rushed to an Army hospital to drop off more wounded, where he found Vasquez, lying on a bed, awake, with a bandage over his eye.

“When I saw him,” Brazfield said, “I just cried.”

But by the following morning, he had learned that it was a different friend who had died: Sanchez.

“He was my Joe,” Brazfield said. “He was my soldier.”

He looked at the ground and walked away.

Wow! This is great stuff! “The fighting stopped.” That quote rocks!

Greyhawk: Yup, dead insurgents generally stop fighting.

Cub Reporter: But damn! There’s no way I’ll get a Pulitzer for my story.

Greyhawk: Maybe, maybe not. But you will get noticed, of that I can assure you.

This content was used with the permission of Greyhawk, a military blogger who runs The Mudville Gazette. You can read more of his work by clicking here.

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