Friday, March 17, 2006

The second death

Bing West, writing about the battles of Fallujah in No True Glory noted that the biggest American urban battles since the Tet, actions which resulted in the defeat of an entrenched enemy force, had been portrayed by the press in the same tone as a traffic accident.

In World War II the Western press -- believing in its cause -- had extolled the Greatest Generation of Americans. The warriors who fought in Iraq would not be called the Greatest Generation, because America was divided about the cause for which they were dying. The focus of the press was upon their individual deaths as tragedies. This was an incomplete portrayal. The fierce fighting at Fallujah attested to the stalwart nature of the American soldier ... There will be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq until they are recognized not as victims, but aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die.

The power of the press to inflict a Second Death was evident again in the coverage of Operation Swarmer. A Time article entitled How Operation Swarmer Fizzled complained that it was anticlimactic: there were no explosions, no frenzied yells, no victims dying.

Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer. Iraqi soldiers in newly painted humvees, green and red Iraqi flags stenciled on the tailgates, had just finished searching the farm populated by a half-dozen skinny cows and a woman kneading freshly risen dough and slapping it to the walls of a mud oven.

The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

Commentary

I'd like to write another version of the Time dispatch, perhaps the version they would have preferred.

Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of a scene of carnage. Iraqi soldiers draped across blazing humvees, their hopeful green and red Iraqi flags riddled by bullets, had just been ambushed from a farm now littered by a half-dozen dead cows and a sobbing woman huddled by the remains of a mud oven.

The press, flown in from Baghdad to witness what the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders explained was the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground, saw instead a demonstration of the inability to come to grips with an elusive and deadly enemy. In exchange for heavy losses the Coalition Forces netted only 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra. It apparently remained a defiant symbol of the Resistance.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation instead of employing "Air Assault"  (a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area), turned instead to become the greatest carpet bombing campaign of the war. White Phosphorus, napalm and high explosive was used time and again in response to frantic calls from panicked American commanders in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a demonstration of impotent fury. The U.S. and Iraqi commanders said that they had met "heavy resistance". They had met more than that.

I rewrote the paragraph to pose a number of serious questions. How would the press have portrayed Swarmer if instead of the "cordon and search" operation it was planned to be, it  turned out to be pitched battle? A severe defeat. And how does the press account for the absence of American casualties and the feeble performance of the fabled and invincible Resistance in Samarra itself, where in years past dozens of Americans had died in combat and into which Iraqi government forces dared not go? A "fizzle".

What Time refused to see is an Iraqi government increasingly able to control its territory. Not completely, for then Iraqis would not have needed an air assault to capture suspects, but fundamentally, in the sense that they could go anywhere they wanted and detain whoever they purposed. Iraq is in the zone between where you needed a 500-lb bomb to break down the door -- as in 2004 --  and where a firm knock and a flashed badge would serve the purpose. The fruits of peace, no less than the sacrifices of war, need to be recognized. But as Bing West so eloquently puts it, "unsung, the noblest deed will die".

30 Comments:

Blogger whit said...

Let them cry, wail and propagandise all they want. Every step of this war, they have been wrong and have paid a price in credibility.

Let them continue their long suicide as the world watches without pity.

3/17/2006 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Great post, Wretchard.

In what sense can we call the activity of "reporters" reporting?

We do get a few details of what they witness "on the ground," as they like to say, but nothing is ever written that is not wrapped in several layers of interpretation, snide posturing, and prejudice.

What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

Now some would interpret the statement immediately above to mean we are winning this conflict.

But to the MSM, it obviously means we are engaged in an utter watse of time.

Jamie Irons

3/17/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger whit said...

The Times article ended with the following:
Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they’d found all day.

That's pathetic journalism. As others have posted regarding Swarm, the mission demonstrated "force projection" and provided the Iraqis an excellent exercise.

3/17/2006 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

The NYT is as much an ideological propaganda machine of the Left as was Pravda. Glad to see that their revenue, stock price, and credibility are falling faster than GWB's poll numbers.

3/17/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Another way to look at it was that they searched an area 100 square miles in size in an area known to be a hotbed of insurgents, met liitle resistance and took very few casualties, found tons of weapons, explosives, fake uniforms and false ID manufacturing equipment - and only detained 31 suspects.

Sounds more like an insurgency on its last legs than a photo op of an operation.

In August 1945, shortly after the atomic attack on Nagasaki, two USAAF P-38 fighters landed in Japan. Surrender negoiations had not yet started, and the Japanese were a bit embarassed to have to tell the fighter pilots that the war was not over yet. But the Japanese refueled the two American fighter planes as the pilots requested, gave the pilots some cigarettes and candy, and bode them a pleasant farewell. Just a "photo op" mission or convincing evidence of defeat?

The fat lady is humming....

3/17/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

rwe

I was not aware of that incident. Great story. Great analogy.

3/17/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Promethea said...

As most of us who post comments on the Belmont Club agree, the MSM are garbage.

I think a lot about the reason why--why are they so eager to see the U.S. lose?

I believe the people who run Time and similar rags have a relatively high standard of living, and they suffer from la nostalgie de la boue--longing for degradation--that some have mentioned on this and other blogs.

The Americans who want to see the U.S. defeated and humiliated really and truly have NO idea about just how bad things could be.

We're looking at decadence, and it's one of the few things that can defeat us.

3/17/2006 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Awww Wretchard, is that (your re-write) nice? That sounds a lot like the nightly news when I was a kid.

Sounds like "We Were Soldiers Once" - another bloody victory that was easy to paint as defeat.

In WWII, Tregaskis'
href=" http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0679640231/002-6725780-3191260?v=glance&n=283155 " rel="nofollow"> Guadalcanal Diary came out very quickly, right after the action. It was a terrible story full of dead heroes, and it rallied Americans behind our brave troops. Quite the opposite of the way "those poor kids" are portrayed today.

Imagine how the 6 month battle for a little speck of nothing out in the middle of the ocean would be portrayed with US casualties 6,000 of 60,000 including 1600 dead; Japan casualties 24,000 of 36,000.

That's just on land. The Navy lost more cruisers in one battle than at any time other than Pearl Harbor. We lost aircraft carriers, our allies perished in great numbers. And THAT was a Victory! And heroically portrayed as Victory in the press.

How different we are today. What has happened to us?

People just don't believe we are at war.

3/17/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger enscout said...

wretchard: a great parable and very accurate. It should be obvious to anyone who gives a damn that the war is won. The only mischief a-Q in Iraq can mount are
savage criminal acts reminiscent of the occupying Japanese in the Pacific Theater of WWII.

The politcal situation in Iraq may be another matter, but it can always be said that the US military provided an environment and an opportunity for the people of Iraq to establish democracy.

The fact that there is a catch-and release policy for these bastards in unsettling. Someone needs to knock some sense into whomever commander is allowing for that.

rwe;

A golden nugget to be sure. I'd like to know more

3/17/2006 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Super 6 said...

Sure makes you wonder if Ernie Pyle would get any "print" in today's media......sigh.....

3/17/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger cjr said...

Reminds me of a South Park episode where the town of Beverton was flooded:

Reporter: "We are reporting hundreds of thousands of deaths and cannablism"

Anchor: "So you've seen hundred of thousands of dead and cannablism??"

Reporter: "No we havent. We're just reporting it..."

3/17/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

enscout and peterboston: I just took a look at the book where that P-38 story was related, a favorite from my childhood, "Great Amercian Fighter Pilots of WWII" one of the Landmark series of Random House books, a series which which I believe included "Guadacanl Diary", a book mentioned a couple of times by Wretchard.

It says that the incident occurred one week after the bombing of Nagaskai, and that the P-38's landed at a airfield near Tokyo. That is a bit of a surprise to me; I would have guessed it had been at some remote field.

They gave the excuse that they had run low on fuel and thus had to disobay orders to stay away from Japan and land to refuel. They were given fuel as well as cigarettes and chewing gum that rather obviously had come from American K-ration packages.

You have to admire those pilots' moxie; but everyone on both sides know that while the war was not over offically (the last Japanese holdout surrendered in the 1970's), it had been won.

They shoulda asked for geishas!

3/17/2006 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Still, I wonder when or if this generally petulant, antagonistic sentiment will abate in the press. There're plenty of busy, ignorant souls easily corrupted by popularity or ubiquity of opinion. It's very interesting to watch CSPAN broadcasts of Rumsfeld press conferences lately: he has a reputation for being prickly, among other things, but it's quite obvious in watching these things that it isn't until he has to field the same question, whose subtext is "but you're wrong and incompetent, right?", for the 6th time that he gets beady eyed and aggressive - which is to say, not until the journalists deserve it.

In any case, I feel like I'm in Groundhog Day on all sides. Things are weird. Weird and asshole-stupid.

3/17/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

God save us from a bored elite -- and their search for an epic tragedy.

3/17/2006 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Aristides said...

But of course, we don't have to wait on God, do we?

Luckily for us, Islamists are just dying to make life more interesting.

3/17/2006 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger enscout said...

rwe:

You'd think geishas would have been easier to scrounge than gasoline.

Wouldn't have gotten them very far though.

3/17/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger enscout said...

Sadaam showed his a** yesterday at his trial before the judge finally had enough and recessed.

What was Hussein's appeal? That his countrymen rise up & oust the occupiers.

He could have eluded to al Queda, since they are an invading army - operating against the will of the government. But, obviously, Sadaam is still living in pre 2003. He doesn't recognize that Iraq has moved on. He was referring to the coalition forces - they are the ones to be expelled in his warped reality.

The point is, when the MSM reported the story, they default to the same mindset as dear uncle Sadaam. We are the occupying force to be expelled. We are trespassing on Sadaam's land.

Fully invested in the defeat of their country. It will be a harsh reality for both Sadaam and his supporters in the MSM - that day when they both realize what has happened. When the world passed them by.

3/17/2006 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger WS said...

Iraq's new killing fields

The execrable Paul McGeough has another front page EXCLUSIVE in this morning's Age, a massacre of 48 Shiites, complete with decaying corpses.

I didn't get past the headline, because I needed some puppy litter. It will take some time for the fact checkers of the blogosphere to do what the news "reporter" failed to do, to sort out what really happened, by which time the meme will have worked its way into the rhetorical toolbox of every idiot in Melbourne, but in the meantime I can make a few wild unsubstantiated stabs of myown:

* That under Saddam such atrocities occured every day, day after day, year after year. And not just figuratively every day, but actually every day.

* That the same people that were previously responsible are again responsible for most of the current atrocities, albeit at a much lower "success" rate. In fact many of the same individuals.

* That The Age never put a single Iraqi massacre on the front page before, over the many years that they occured under Saddam.

* That The Age only thinks that this atrocity is a story because they think they can demonstrate that this one is "our fault".

* That Fairfax is actually, not just as a byproduct of ignorance and smugness but actually by editorial policy a generator and publisher of enemy propoganda.

3/17/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

The Defeatists and their liberal fellow-traveling press are in their death throes. (I think I've heard that expression, before. Oh, well.) The realization is starting to show on their uncomprehending, drained white faces. Dubya has won. Oh God!

3/17/2006 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Karensky said...

Great observation Wretchard. Yeah, I guess that is really how the Media would love to keep repeating. Looks to my eyes that those media(ocrities) were big time pissed that they did not get to see any glood and gore. Therefore they, in their local Bagdad Bar and Grill mode, just had to denigrate their embed with AP scorn.

3/17/2006 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

Good news is, Peter; Dubya's poll numbers WILL COME BACK. Not so, NYT's stock price. The Bastards are "Toast."

3/17/2006 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Karensky said...

sorry, it is 11:00 PM on St. Patty's day I guess that my smelling is got su gut.

3/17/2006 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger LizK said...

ws: Absolutely right. The elite media converted themselves into a fifth column in Vietnam and they have only refined their techniques since then. By the way, Whit and PeterBoston, that was a TIME article, not New York Times. Then again, their "positions on the war" (and Bush, and global warming, and ... and ...) are almost identical, so their reporting tends to go in lockstep too.

3/18/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

But the ending of that article:

Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows.

is just the cherry on the sundae. "Helped themselves"? I'll bet my paycheck it means she invited them to have some, but the way it's written is clearly intended to imply they just stole it from her.

3/18/2006 04:46:00 AM  
Blogger EddieP said...

enscout

The fact that there is a catch-and release policy for these bastards in unsettling. Someone needs to knock some sense into whomever commander is allowing for that.

That statment implies that everyone arrested was an insurgent in the first place. Sweeps collect all and the innocent are released. A good policy if the IDF are to maintain good relations with their citizens. Regards

3/18/2006 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger skipsailing said...

yes Swarmers was a force projection excersize. Catching some bad guys and busting up their stuff was gravy. The operation was designed as a demonstration.
The Iraqis saw it and I hope they saw a force that can react anywhere in the country in very short order.

The Americans saw it and I hope they saw a credible Iraqi army working well with their american allies.

The Iranians saw it and I hope they saw two things: first the US military isn't all that "bogged down" just now. and next, that if we want to control a 100 square mile of ground for a while, well we know how.

3/18/2006 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger fjelehjifel said...

The "press" is in the business of selling newspapers and magazines. Any semblance of reality in their reporting is purely coincidental. At least that's how I feel on occassion. Good post, Wretchard.

3/18/2006 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

The MSM is like a bad toothache.

Until you rip out the tooth.

3/18/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

I hope this isn't OT, or too OT at any rate... I blogged recently about the disconnect between the poll reported recently that 80% of Americans believe that a civil war in Iraq is imminent and the poll back in 2003 that almost 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. The press used the earlier poll as evidence of, if not the actual stupidity, then at least the sheeplike obedience of the American people to the Bush Administration's "false narrative" (which the Bushies of course cleverly never actually stated, but only implied - but we all knew they were really trying to get us to draw that connection, didn't we? Hmm?). Then, they took the latter poll as, apparently, some kind of received wisdom or something - in three years, the American public has become a giant foreign policy think-tank. My point was that the media agenda (in the communication-science sense of "agenda-setting") is to use whatever data it receives in support of its overarching worldview, regardless of the cognitive dissonance the process may generate.

Boy, was my one Left-side commenter amused, since "Fox 'News'," as he puts it, has the big numbers and all the Sunday political talk shows "skew right" according to Media Matters(!). No, the difference between the polls was not how cavalierly the media used them but how aware Americans have become of Bush's duplicities and failures...

3/18/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Karridine said...

Wretchard, the Second Death is one I am actively taking steps to deny to the MSM.

Monday should see me ironing out the details and getting a podcast/blog up and running daily, M-F, to take the place of these sniping bits I've created for the last two weeks!

When its up, I'll tell the friends here, as it'll work synergistically!

Sniping bits await you at
BrainSurgeryWithSpoons.blogspot.com

3/18/2006 07:14:00 PM  

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