Sunday, September 11, 2005

Is the Media Undermining the Military in Iraq?

There's a very odd column out today, by John Hinderaker, that argues that American support for the war in Iraq is falling because of media bias. He argues that the media is reporting out casualties as headlines and not providing context about battles that we win, insurgents killed or captured, or objectives met. I disagree, in a lot of ways, since my mind is flooded with images of Iraqi women voting, wearing the iconic purple fingers, or Saddam Hussein in jail in his underwear, or the drafting of the problematic Iraqi Constitution -- I think we get a lot about what's going right.

Hinderaker argues that if we had the kind of media coverage now as we had in World War II, America would have lost support for that war, too. A lot has changed since World War II and the press probably was less confrontational to government authority back then, but judging by conversations I've had with members of my family who were there for the war or who fought in it, they weren't exactly left clueless about casualties, horrors and sacrifice.

The big difference between World War II and Iraq is that they are so freaking different that I can't believe I'm addressing the issue here. The U.S. was attacked by one of the Axis powers, for one thing. Before that, our cargo ships had been attacked repeatedly by German U-Boats. Hitler wanted to take over all of Europe and probably the world and he had the means to do it. The U.S. also sought to avoid that war, which raged for years before Pearl Harbor. The war sought the U.S.

It was also, in many cases, fought better and more honestly. Franklin Roosevelt didn't lie and tell the American people that the war would be cheap and easy. He said the opposite, that it would take an enormous toll on our society and that individual lives would be changed, combatant or no. But, he believed that it had to be done.

Here's one of Hinderaker's examples of how the current media would have undermined World War II: "How about the Battle of Midway, one of the most one-sided and strategically significant battles of world history? What if there had been no "triumphalism," as liberals sometimes call patriotism, in the American media's reporting on the battle, and Americans had learned only that 307 Americans died -- never mind that the Japanese lost more than 10 times that many -- without being told the decisive significance of the engagement?"

It's almost as if he doesn't know anything about the Battle of Midway. Here's the quick version, gleaned from watching "Victory At Sea," as a kid... The U.S. Navy had been reduced to a barely effective force by the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese has naval and air superiority. We were in big trouble. Admiral Nimitz knew that the Japanese had broken one of our secret codes, but they didn't know that we knew the code was broken. We had a base at an Midway Island on the International Dateline. Nimitz sent a message on the broken code, saying that the water desalinazation equipment had broken down and that the base was in chaos. He positioned what was left of his fleet in ambush. The Japanese navy, sensing opportunity, attacked the base and were soundly routed by the U.S. Navy in wait. It was pretty damned genius. It turned the tide in the Pacific.

Do you really think that a story like that would have gone unreported by today's media? I don't.

Also, Hineraker seems to think that the media, reporting on a war as it's happening, is something knew. I guess he's never heard of Ernie Pyle or even Ernest Hemingway, who wrote first hand accounts of the liberation of Paris for Collier's magazine.

The media isn't eroding support for the war in Iraq. Bad planning, lies about how the war would go and why we started in the first place, are eroding support. Never forget, we were told that it would be easy. We'd be greeted as liberators and we'd suffer few casualties and Iraq's own oil revenues would pay to rebuild the country. That's what we were told.

Franklin Roosevelt never said that World War II would be easy. He told the truth and said that American lives would be upended and ended, but that the cause justified the sacrifice. The difference between the national reaction to World War II and the national reaction to Iraq isn't about the media, it's about why we're fighting, how we're fighting and what we were told before the fighting began.


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