The Best of Who We Are

Second-guessing of the war doctrine by the retired military and staffers referred to by Jerry Pournelle (www.jerrypournelle.com) as the “104th Chairborne” was criticized by the Pentagon. [snip] I think that the biggest problem there is that 24/7 satellite coverage of the war did not allow the commentators time to develop a proper perspective on up-to-the-second news. Shooting from the hip always brings risks. (from a comment by Jim Woolsey responding to In Search of A Liberal Standard of Fairness.)

The immediacy of this new medium does present risks, and some room for big screw-ups. But while I haven’t been impressed by the 104th Chairborne, I have been impressed with results yielded by the embedded reporters, and the shooting-from-the-hip views of the war we’re getting from them. Not, probably, for the reasons y’all might suppose.

What people saw when they started watching our troops through the eyes of the embedded reporters was not this ‘military movie’ image that people get from watching too much John Wayne or … hell, who’s starring in the military movies today? Guys with big guns and Rambo attitudes. Or, God forbid, guys who look or act anything like you get from reading Stephen King, who is wonderful but who may be the most clueless man on the planet when trying to show what the US military is about.

People who are getting these news feeds are seeing our guys tromping down an alley to ‘draw fire’ which is the polite way of saying they’re there so the bad guys can shoot at them. People around the world are watching them walk into towns and cities carefully, withholding fire unless they are fired upon.

They’re watching our people helping the people they’ve rescued pull down statues of a dictator, and watching them hugging the little kids that run up to them carrying flowers. They’re watching our guys shooting when shot at, but not out of vengeance. When our soldiers over there talk to the cameras, they’re determined to make it clear that they want to help the people who are there. Some of these US soldiers aren’t even American citizens — these guys tell stories of having been citizens of countries at war, and of having had US Marines come in and rescue them and their families when they were kids, and feed them, and get them to safety, and then they say “I promised myself when I grew up, I was going to be a US Marine, so I could help people the way the Marines helped me.” And they did it. Do you have any idea how incredible that simple statement is?

This is the face of the US Military that Americans never got to see before. We never got see our guys helping. We never got to see so clearly that our military forces are us, that they are doing what we would want to do in the same place. Kill the enemy because there is no better way to solve that problem anymore, but not with any joy; just because it is the only way to protect the innocent. And then get in there and protect the innocent.

Throughout history, war has been about winning, and that hasn’t changed. But throughout most of time, the spoils of war have gone to the victors — battles have ended with soldiers charging into the conquered territory to rob and rape and kill. This continues to be the face of war much of the world still knows. No matter how bad things already are, they become much worse once the conquering army raises its flag.

This is not, however, war the way we wage it. Foreign kids are growing up wanting to be in the US Military not because they’re the baddest asses out there, but because they’re the good guys. Because they are a symbol of something honorable and just and right. Because they are heroes in the real honest-to-God sense of the word. And they put a face on heroism that makes others see it as a possibility for themselves.

I find myself incredibly proud of our people overseas, who comport themselves with such honor and such integrity and such valor. And I am grateful to have been able to see the way our best people represent us in the worst of situations.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

5 comments… add one
  • cherylp Apr 16, 2003 @ 19:52

    To those who _still_ think this war is about oil, consider this. We did without Iraqi oil for over thirteen years and gas was pretty cheap for nearly all those years.

    So that argument doesn’t hold water (or perhaps that’s gas).

  • teddyrux Apr 14, 2003 @ 12:02

    Thanks.

    From a Vet.

  • Kellie Hazell Apr 12, 2003 @ 21:38

    I hadn’t thought about the embedded reporters in that way, and I’m happy to add your reasons to my own list of why I like this new spin on war coverage. Having grown up in the military, I also laughed at war movies (often with my father sitting right next to me telling me exactly why I should be laughing :)). It’s nice to know that those who have never seen the military from the inside now have a chance to.

    I like the embedded reporters for an entirely different reason – I might get to see my brother sporting his cheesy grin for the cameras. The reporter embedded with my brother’s battalion has reported primarily on the "normal" days of action ("We were told to sleep now because we might not get a chance to later. But it’s hard when the sun is shining, the sand blowing…" and etc stunning journalism :)).

  • Jim Woosley Apr 12, 2003 @ 18:22

    I can only be thankful and humbled to have triggered such a marvelous essay, Holly.

  • Jean Apr 12, 2003 @ 16:44

    As much as I can speak for the people you are speaking of, the US military, I pass along our heartfelt "Thank you for your support and understanding for what we do."

    So often, we wind up feeling different from the society in the country we love and are committed to protecting. It’s good to hear that we are still representing the society from which we come. And that that representation is of the good in that society.

    Although, I will acknowledge that our society has been much more accepting of our role since the Desert Storm time (I’ve been less uncomfortable appearing in public in uniform since then). The embedded reporters appear to have done more good than harm. While I’ve had my concerns about the visibility of this war, I also need to realize this is reality for how wars will be fought in the future–visible on our TV sets 24/7. It gives me a lot to think about.

    I’ve only watched the CNN versions of the "104th Chairborne." They’ve done reasonably well–but one of them is thinking about running for President, so he had to be smarter about it. (g)

    Thanks again for your continued, balanced support.

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