The war about more than hurt feelings

Posted: Mar 23, 2006 12:06 AM

A strange thing has been happening on the Left over the past few months.  For the first time in my memory, there seems to be a desire of those on the Left, and those in the media, to let the public know how the troops feel about an ongoing military operation. Now that many of our soldiers and Marines in Iraq are serving their second and third tours there, have been away from their families for many months, and some have even watched their buddies die, the Left and the media want to know what they think and how they feel.  Well, isn’t that thoughtful of them?

Earlier this month a poll released by John Zogby was widely (I might even say breathlessly) reported in all the major media outlets.  The part of the poll that got the most attention was that 72 percent of those polled believed we should leave Iraq in a year.  When I heard it reported that Zogby's results showed that a majority of those in the Army thought we should leave in a year, my first reaction was surprise that more didn’t respond that way.  War sucks.  Who in a war zone would respond that they think we should still be there in a year? 

Some of those responding in favor of leaving may have answered that way because they think the effort is a failure and that we should cut our losses and run.  Others might feel that enough progress has been made that in a year the Iraqis will be ready to take back responsibility for the security there.  Others may have been thinking that they didn't want to be in Iraq missing another Christmas or another child's birthday.  Some may have answered that way, with the unspoken “but only if” certain conditions are present at the time. The issues are complex and not well suited to “yes” or “no” answers. 

Putting aside the results of that poll, which have been widely criticized by those on both right and left for faulty science, what I think merits attention is the sudden concern of those on the left and in the media about what the troops think.

I don't recall a poll taken of the troops during the Clinton administration to find out how they felt about the operation in Mogadishu.  Maybe somebody did take one, but the 99.999 percent disapproval number they got was just more than the media could stand to report.  I don't recall a bunch of polls being touted loudly by the media in the Clinton years letting us know how many of the troops respected their commander-in-chief.  Certainly polls of the military were done during the Clinton years, but if they were, they were not featured prominently on my nightly newscast.  I wonder why that is.

I asked Matt of the excellent military blog Blackfive for his take on the recent efforts of those in the media to determine how the troops feel (Military blogs, referred to as milblogs, are the weblogs maintained by individual members of the military and often include their personal accounts of their experiences in the field, sometimes even including pictures from war zones). 

Matt had this to say about the sudden interest in polling the troops, “No one polled my troops about doing a tour in Bosnia or whether we supported the mission.   No one asked me if I thought my unit should be involved in El Salvador in the 80s or Iraq in 1991.  Would I rather have been drinking a beer, sitting in the bleachers of Wrigley Field?  Of course.  But there was a job to do and it was mine to complete.”  He went on to say that instead of polling the troops on their feelings about Iraq, the media would do better to focus on providing more complete and truthful reporting of what the military is doing there.

He makes an excellent point.  Many in the mainstream media do not have a good truth-telling track record when it comes to Iraq. In 2003, Eason Jordan revealed that CNN did not report atrocities being committed by Saddam Hussein prior to the Iraq War so that CNN could maintain their bureau there.  He later lost his job over a different controversy over unfounded claims he made against those in the U.S. military that they were targeting journalists.  

More recently, The New York Times decided to let their readers know what Cpl. Jeffrey Starr thought of his service in Iraq, as conveyed in his last letter home to his girlfriend before being killed in Ramadi.  They published the following: “Siftng through Corporal Starr’s laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the marine’s girlfriend. ‘I kind of predicted this,’ Corporal Starr wrote of his own death.  ‘A third time just seemed like I’m pushing my chances.’”

Michelle Malkin learned from Cpl. Starr’s family and reported on her blog that the NYT left out the rest of Cpl. Starr’s quote, which continued to say, “I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

That is quite a story the Times could have told if they had really wanted to let their readers know what one Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice thought of his mission.  Instead, they edited his words to fit their storyline. 

So instead of the media worrying about the troops’ feelings, and trying to determine them through polls, many of which are questionable due to the wording of the questions and the logistics of finding representative samples in a war zone, maybe they could just concentrate on honestly reporting the words and actions of the troops in the field.  If they did that, the public would at least have enough accurate information to form a fair assessment.  Until that happens, I will be reading the milblogs.