War: Then and now

Posted: Jun 03, 2004 12:00 AM

 It was refreshing recently to see a front page of the New York Times that was not full of editorials disguised as "news" stories, undermining the war and the president. However, it was a souvenir front page, reprinted from the New York Times of June 6, 1944 -- reporting on the invasion of Normandy that day.
Things went wrong with that invasion, as things have gone wrong with wars as far back as there are any records of wars. Yet no one called it a quagmire when American forces were pinned down by German fire on Omaha beach and taking heavy casualties. No one called the generals or the president incompetent or stupid.

 One of the many reasons war is hell is that there is seldom adequate time or adequate information to forestall disasters.

 In a desperate attempt to help U.S. troops unable to break out of the Normandy beachhead, Allied bombers launched massive air raids on the area -- accidentally killing more than a hundred American soldiers. But no one called it a quagmire.

 No one demanded a timetable showing how much longer the war was going to last or an accounting table showing how much it would cost in dollars and cents. People of that era have been called the greatest generation. They were, at the very least, an adult generation -- which certainly cannot always be said for our present generation or its media representatives.

 The Iraq war was not a month old before the word "quagmire" began appearing in the media, when a sandstorm stalled the drive toward Baghdad. Before the year was out, there were stories of our "war-weary" troops.

 When Allied troops landed at Normandy, Americans had already been fighting for two and a half years of bitter defeats and costly victories -- and the British even longer. Yet no one called them "war-weary" and the news stories were about what was being accomplished, even as they told of the cost of those accomplishments in blood and lives.

 To follow the news out of Iraq from the headlines and photographs on the front page of today's New York Times, you would have a hard time finding out what has been accomplished. There was a time when the electricity was out in Iraq, when schools and hospitals were closed, when there was no oil flowing.

 Did all those things fix themselves, like self-sealing tires, or did the Americans have to do some things, at considerable cost and risks, and despite organized sabotage and terror?

 It has been hard to know from the Times' front-page coverage of unhappy reservists being called up for duty and all the photographs they could find of coffins or of terrorists gleefully holding up the boots of ambushed Americans they had killed.

 These two wars were of course different, as all wars are different. But the biggest difference was not between the wars themselves, but between the media of that day and today.

 The negativism and carping of today's New York Times has even been applied in retrospect to the general in charge of the invasion of Normandy, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The television drama "Ike," has been denounced in the New York Times as "macho swagger."

 Anyone who has actually seen the depiction of General Eisenhower by Tom Selleck as a thoughtful, troubled man, having to make painful decisions under impossible conditions, will know that this was no Patton swagger. The television drama ends, in fact, just before the invasion of Normandy itself.

 It ends with Eisenhower, coming back in a car from having spoken to the troops before their embarkation and writing the famous note in which he takes all the blame for the failure of the invasion -- a note to be made public if in fact the landing at Normandy had ended in disaster, as many feared it would.

 This is "macho swagger"? Or is anything that says we sometimes have to fight going to be given whatever label the New York Times thinks will discredit it?

 The ideological agenda becomes painfully clear when the New York Times' reviewer criticized Eisenhower for his later policies as president, which is not what the TV drama was about.

 Even after the Normandy invasion was successful, the Germans later caught the Allies by surprise with a massive counter-attack that led to the bloody "battle of the bulge." But no one called it a quagmire. They called it war. They were adults.