I'm not a media hound by any stretch of the imagination. The extent of my media savvy consists of four years of journalism in high school and a semester of Journalism 101 in college. But it is a subject I've touched on in the past. And it seems that people far smarter than me, who are better writers, and justly have a far greater readership have seen it too.
I have made it my policy to avoid politics as best I can. I don't think it's a proper topic for a writer currently in the service to announce their voting preferences. Besides, if my seven readers can't get a good idea of how I vote based on my writing, or the fact I have lived (Hi mom!), or are currently living with them (Hi Mrs. SFC B), well, then, you're just not paying attention. However I do believe that the War on Terror currently being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world is a topic that, while political, is not a political topic (it's a difference that makes sense in my mind). In my opinion the motives for the war, the prosecution of the war, and the direction of the war are all topics that need discussion in the public. However it is also my opinion that someone who thinks the war needed have been fought in the first place is, as I'd mentioned before, someone who is just not paying attention.
I admit to having been caught off-guard by the extent of hatred in the muslim world for the west in general and America in particular (I dislike painting with the broad brush of "muslim world" but, well, it's accurate). I knew that there were a lot of people there who didn't like America but I foolishly thought it was a localized thing. You know Saddam, Iran, and the Palestinians. I was aware of Osama because of the attacks on the embassies and on the Cole, but aside from that he was a face on the FBI list. I was more interested in Whitey Bulger because living in South Boston I was actually treading in the ground of a mobster.
9-11 changed that and it also opened my eyes to a very ugly side of reality. It's that reality which we've been at war with since that dark day.
I doubt there's a military force which can reasonably be expected to stay on the battlefield against the full might of the United States military. While there are larger forces or forces that are just as well equipped or trained, there is no force that is as large AND as well equipped AND as well trained. And for good measure also has the capability to project that force around the world. I've read many pundits who believe that China is the next big military threat, and that may be true, but the Chinese are not stationed off the US coast while the US has had bases in Japan and Korea for decades, and supports a Chinese providence/ quasi-country in Taiwan.
However while we'd be able to run the field on just about any scenario in a "war game simulator" we're a little less skilled in peace-keeping missions. Or, well, we were. There are valuable lessons being learned in Iraq, and changes are coming in the form of updated manuals which will hopefully lead to better actions. The one phase of the war where we get kicked up and down the battlefield though is in the media. Wow, do we not do a good job in the media.
As Greyhawk talked about not only are we losing the propaganda war, the news agencies are AWARE that they're being used, and they make no mention of it at all. This is not being some naive "useful idiot" like during the Cold War. CNN's airing of an insurgent produced sniper video is possibly the first step to a Tokyo Rose. Now, if they're going to play right into the hands of the insurgency could they at least possibly show what also happens to snipers attacking US trooops?
I'd mentioned earlier in this post that I took some journalism classes. I did that for about a year before switching to history as my major. History was something I'd always enjoyed, and I actually know a bit about. Granted, it's been nearly a decade since I actually studied history, but I do remember a couple lessons. Recently President Bush was interviewed and he remarked about similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. Not the quagmire analogy which sets so many "anti" types hearts aflitter, but the fact that a stunning military success, and a stabilizing situation is twisted in the media to show only a crushing defeat. One of the lessons I took from my History of Vietnam class was that the Tet Offensive was a terrible military defeat for the NVA and the Viet Cong. They failed to achieve any of their tactical objectives, and the Viet Cong were almost crippled by losses suffered at the hands of the US and the South Vietnamese forces.
That fact had stayed with me all this time because it was something that went against everything I'd learned about Vietnam up to that point. When the Tet Offensive was discussed for a day in my high school history class is was simply the "turning point" in Vietnam. No discussion of why it was a turning point. It was a turning point because some talking head at a news desk made it so.
Yes, I know it's unfair of me to lay such blame of such a complex event on a singluar source. But really, I don't think it can be much starker. If the media exercies a bit of caution or restraint Tet is not treated as proof of an enemy too strong to be defeated and a wall of stark black stone is not a memorial to honorable men whose memory was spat upon by their contemporairies.
Michael Yon's struggles with the military approving his embedding are a sympton of the events all those years ago. Since Vietnam the military has been involved in an adversarial relationship with media outlets. Neither side is without sin. While the media is likely to play fast and loose with security us in the military are sometimes guilty of being overprotective of information even to our own detriment. Yes, the enemy is out there and the enemy is listening, but so are the families of hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, and the millions who support them, and they will not get the truth about what happens in the War on Terror from the mass media. They simply won't. The mass media is too beholden to a need to reach a large audience to care about the well-being of a single unit. But that single unit can maintain a web site which will allow them to keep in touch with the family back home. And those family share with others and from the grassroots level CNN's actions as a tool for insurgent propaganda can be countered.
A military agency that protects embed slots like they were having to pay for them out of pocket does not help that cause.
Anyway it's late, I'm tired, and later today my fantasy football team will match up with SSG Tomas' in a battle for a strangle hold on second place in the league.