In the aftermath of the Civil War, General John Logan, commander in chief of the Army of the Republic, proclaimed a day for memorializing the slain. "Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor," he wrote. "It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith."
So how does the "public press" celebrate Memorial Day this year? By plastering stories across the front pages featuring alleged atrocities by our troops in Haditha, Iraq. "The Shame of Kilo Company," banners Time magazine, which originally reported the story. "Bloody Scenes Haunt a Marine," blares the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times proclaims, "Iraqis' Accounts Link Marines to the Mass Killing of Civilians." On the day before Memorial Day, anti-war Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., appeared on ABC's "This Week," demanding to know "Who covered it up, why did they cover it up, why did they wait so long? … We don't know how far it goes. It goes right up the chain of command … I will not excuse murder, and this is what happened."
Against the war, but for the troops? It's hard to maintain that hairsbreadth distinction when you're publicizing alleged misconduct by American troops before the facts are in, while American soldiers remain on the ground in Iraq. The military is already engaged in an ongoing investigation into the killings and will likely bring up Marines on charges that may carry the death penalty.
War is ugly. Horrible things happen. Those Americans responsible for reprehensible acts will be punished by the military itself. Why is this news?
Why the need for the press to trumpet this news as though civilians had never been slain in the history of modern combat? Why the constant reminders of Abu Ghraib? Why the continuous focus on what Americans have done wrong, rather than what we're doing right?
Simply put, the mainstream press does not give a hang about troops in the field. The mainstream press is worried about what it has always been worried about: maintaining its own status. Mainstream media breathlessly await reports of atrocities by Americans because media outlets gain authority by attacking governmental authority. It wasn't enough for Time magazine to turn over its information on the alleged massacre to the military; it had to "alert the public." This story isn't about alleged misconduct -- it's about the press feting its own bravery for exposing what should have remained private.
This is what the press has done for decades. Since the advent of television, media outlets have been engaged in a systematic attempt to tear down the credibility of the United States government in order to bolster their own authority. "You can't trust the government," the media says, "but you can trust us."
The Vietnam War became more about journalists (Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite) than about a war for the survival of liberal democracy in Southeast Asia. The welfare of the troops took a back seat to the press' sense of its own importance. It is a happy accident of history that this ongoing ego trip began after the rise of Hitler, or Nazism might well remain the dominant ideology on the European continent. Just imagine what the modern press would have done with Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. As it is, Communism lasted far longer and took far more lives than it should have, largely due to the arrogant self-aggrandizement of the American press; Walter Duranty had little on mainstream media's feting of Gorbachev, degradation of Reagan and purposeful opposition to the rollback of global Communism.
Until the press realizes its authority is far less important than the lives of American soldiers -- the same soldiers who fight to protect the rights of the American press -- American soldiers will continue to face heightened hatred brought on by superfluous and counterproductive media attention. The press wishes to both undermine the mission of American soldiers and simultaneously decorate soldiers' graves with flowered copies of the daily newspaper. This is perversion. The press' sick delight in its own glorification continues to increase the number of "passionless mounds" in Arlington National.
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