The Nature of Things: Wartime journalists

The Nature of Things: There's more than one kind of SPAM

In all of America's wars there have been what we used to call war correspondents. Those were usually newspaper reporters who followed close to the front lines and sent their dispatches back to the newsrooms to inform the public about the progress of the war. Since the still-shot camera was invented prior to the Civil War, photographers took pictures of thousands of dead soldiers scattered over the battlefields soon after a major clash between the Union and Southern armies.

These gruesome photographs brought the shocking realities of war to the multitudes of civilians living in the big cities of the Northeastern U. S. This created an antiwar backlash from the people who had sent their sons to fight for the "noble" cause. There were bloody anti-draft riots on the streets of New York City. It took strong leadership from President Lincoln to hold the Northern states together for the four long years to defeat the Confederacy.

By the time WWI came about, the movie camera had been invented, so the newsreels in America's theaters were able to show the killing fields of trench warfare over in France. WWI only lasted two years after America sent our fresh expeditionary force to defeat the Germans. This "war to end all wars" failed badly to do that, partly because the U. S. refused to join the League of Nations.

When WWII, the biggest and bloodiest of all 20th century wars, was thrust on the U. S. by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire war was heavily documented and photographed almost in its entirety by both military and civilian photographers and reporters. The most famous war correspondent of WWII was Ernie Pile who was killed during the battle for Peleliu with the First Marine Division.

By far the most famous photograph from WWII was the flag raising atop Mt. Surabachi on Iwo Jima. Of the seven flag raisers, only three survived the Iwo Jima battle where 7,000 Marines were killed and twice that many wounded in the 30 day battle. A statue based on this photograph was erected at Arlington Cemetery as a symbol of patriotism and bravery.

The next two wars were fought against the spread of communism, the Korean conflict and Vietnam. Both of these wars ended without a clear cut victory, due to the lack of total support on the home front. Sadly, the most frequently shown picture of the Vietnam War was of a young Vietnamese girl running while her body was ablaze with napalm. The journalists who covered the Vietnam War seemed to concentrate their coverage on atrocities and body bags instead of the dedication of our troops. What a shame that the young men who fought so bravely in these two wars never received their full measure of appreciation.

In the first Gulf War in which the Iraqis were routed from Kuwait, the U. S. military, who were still remembering the biased reporting during the Vietnam War, put some severe restrictions on the civilian reporters and did not allow them much access to the battle zones. Of course the press howled in protest, claiming censorship.

Now we have the sequel to the Gulf War, and in my opinion, the Bush administration and the Pentagon brass have come up with by far the best plan to allow almost unrestricted access for the reporters. So now with satellite technology, we get live bombing and front line fire fights delivered right into our living rooms as they occur.

The method they came up with was to allow one qualified reporter to be "embedded" into each battle group so he can see first hand what is happening and why. The best thing about this arrangement is that these people will not only be able to cover each engagement up close, but they will be able to share the dangers and living conditions of the troops.

It is a well known fact that there has been a large degree of antimilitary bias amongst far too many in the news media. Now that these reporters will be exposed to the quality of our service personnel, and witness their professionalism, patriotism and bravery, they cannot help but gain some long lasting respect for these warriors who have volunteered to put their lives on the line. Most journalists circulate in a closed society of colleagues and celebrity cocktail parties where they have never been in contact with the enlisted personnel of our military. It will do them good to rub elbows with these young men who put duty and service above their personal ambitions.

Any combat veteran will tell you there is a bonding that occurs among young military men in battle that is a source of unity and morale. It seems reasonable to assume that some of this might rub off on the reporters who are riding along in a Humvee or troop carrier. Even if this does not happen, the proximity should give us more factual reporting instead of rumors, speculation and editorial opinions.

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