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December 31, 2005
2005, In FactBy Greyhawk
Blogs tend to be focused on the latest news - the here and now. Responding to (or creating) the latest outrage, fanning (or dousing) the flames a bit, then moving on to the next big thing. Nothing wrong with that - in fact, that approach had a noticeable impact on the "news cycle" this past year. Stories that once could have been played for weeks or months in the nation's papers or evening news shows were debunked within days - or hours - if they lacked merit. And one thing that becomes obvious in reviewing the news of the past year is that the outrage of the moment has, in hindsight, repeatedly proven to be not so significant after all.
But, being focused on the latest, we often neglect to look back in review. This, of course, is the time of year for just that. And there's good reason to do so, because the totality of the effort reveals something that the individual parts can not. A single exposure of media bias, or poor reporting, or outright misinformation from any source can be dismissed - everyone is entitled to a occasional mistake, after all. But a year's worth, well, that's a bit harder to ignore.
Recruiting numbers, wounded troops, fictional "fallen heroes", reports from Iraq that were months out of date, newspapers mis-quoting soldiers, newspapers fabricating biographies of "anti-war" types, Senators manufacturing "scandals" involving the military - all of these are demonstrably false. These aren't examples of my opinion being different from the reporters - these are outright factual inaccuracies (to put it politely) we've exposed over the past year. So get set - we're going to review 2005 in Mudville. And this is just the first installment. A year's worth of simple facts from Mudville for starters, we'll review more complex things later. If you're looking for something new, stick around - many of the myths debunked below are still alive and well, they'll probably be back in the year to come (history tends to repeat itself whether you ignore it or not) and we'll be here when they do.
Does the US military intentionally target and kill journalists in Iraq? When CNN's Eason Jordan made the claim it quickly became one of the earliest outrages of the year. Jules Crittenden of the Boston Herald joined us for a discussion on that topic. He had reported from the scene during the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and witnessed one of the most notorious examples first hand. The blowback from this event ultimately cost Jordan his job, but much about that has been subsequently mischaracterized: "blogs went after Eason Jordan, and succeeded in claiming his scalp." The reality is that blogs went after the truth - and though no smoking guns were found perhaps that result does indicate what that elusive truth might be.
Other truths aren't quite so elusive - just more obscure. Later in the year CBS reported that Route Irish - the road connecting the Baghdad Airport to the city proper, was one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the world. This once was true - but the CBS report surprised me because just days prior I had noted a Washington Post report detailing how safe the road had become. But CBS had filmed their bit several months earlier, and elected to broadcast it as "news" without any regard for the progress of those months. Read The Road to Victory, where we sort it all out. (Later a CBS producer would acknowledge the failure.)
But perhaps Route Irish is still unsafe for CBS employees - at least, those who "embed" with the terrorists in Iraq. Early in the year a cameraman was wounded by US forces (there's that targeting story again) in a firefight immediately following a car bomb explosion in Iraq. But some of the civilian survivors of the attack exposed him as one of the terrorists to the US Soldiers, and they promptly arrested him. (Side note: those soldiers were part of the Deuce-Four, the unit Mike Yon was with in Mosul.) The cameraman was in possession of video of several such attacks - a few too many to be considered just a lucky coincidence. The military would also reveal that he tested positive for explosive residue. As with the Route Irish story, a few comments would be made, but ultimately the story simply "went away".
CBS could still claim credit for that Abu Ghraib story, of course. At least, as long as all the facts are ignored.
Speaking of Abu Ghraib, here's a telling quote from an Iraqi citizen:
"This might be a part of a political game, like when pictures of prisoners' abuses in Abu Ghraib prison were published, just to harm President Bush's reputation," said Hameed Shabak, 35, a Mosul resident.The "this" he was referring to was Cindy Sheehan's camping trip in a ditch in Crawford, Texas.
The "Muslim Street" isn't all that gullible, you see. That's one of the reasons why Newsweek's Koran flushing story didn't really last all that long. If that story was designed to incite violence, it wasn't the first.
Of course, some people have been "inspired" by such reports - inspired to violence. The result - more American GIs wounded and killed. But how many? If you listen to some media reports or claims from certain US Senators you may be led to believe that "over 15,000 have returned home mutilated". You would be wrong.
But in addition to physical wounds, there are serious mental scars borne by the troops. You might be surprised by the percentages of returning GIs suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, depression, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders. They are lower than the percentages for society as a whole.
Others, of course, have given the last full measure of devotion. The fallen return home too, and according to a recent report from another US Senator they are shoved unceremoniously into the cargo holds of civilian aircraft, sent home with the luggage and tossed out on the tarmac for their loved ones to claim. Is this true? No - it's another attempt to score political points using dead GIs.
There are two types of Iraq war veterans that have a tremendous appeal to the anti-war crowd - the fictional and the dead. Both types have a common, irresistible trait - others can claim to speak on their behalf.
That's actually from our look at one of the fictional and dead soldiers from the Iraq war. A newspaper in Illinois had been reporting about him for years. A newspaper in Colorado could probably sympathize - they were hoodwinked in a similar scam.
Fortunately, MilBlog Commandos were ready!
To their credit, the smaller newspapers involved in those phony fallen hero stories readily admitted they were wrong. Too bad the larger media outlets don't follow that example - instead refusing to budge when exposed for spinning absolute falsehoods about actual soldiers - even when exposed by those very soldiers:
My name is Kathleen Whitney and I am an emergency room nurse and a 1st Lieutenant in the Army reserve. A few weeks ago I was featured in a story on CNN.com.But for modifying or fabricating quotes, CNN couldn't come close to the New York Times.
Of course, it wasn't just soldiers who were portrayed as something they are not in the major media - the anti-war crowd was too:
The seasoned protesters who organized tomorrow's antiwar demonstration are well-versed in many other causes. They have marched and rallied against police brutality, racism, colonialism and the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.Patrice, of course, had been actively involved in anti-war groups for years. And as for that "singular focus..."
Which brings us to another memorable quote from Iraq:
To achieve their second goal, turning Americans against the war, the mujahideen need to shape their operations "to support anti- war sentiment in the west".That's advice for terrorists and "anti-war" westerners from Saddam-era Iraqi army "strongman" Colonel Watban Jassam.
We'll do another year end round up just for the anti-war crowd later.
Speaking of quotes from Iraq, here's a third:
"I can tell you in one sentence how my country feels about your country: thank you for coming, now please leave and take us with you."Which brings us to the Americans and Iraqis in Iraq.
The troops: Who are all these troops in Iraq? And when are they coming home?
The answer to that first question is here. The second is tricky. But if you're interested in what was really said about the troop rotations (Higher? Lower? Who will decide?) before the calls for "bring them home now" rang out loudly once again - see here. Seeing that the troops were about to start coming home, "some" demanded that they be brought home defeated.
And what of the people of Iraq? Here's a look at trends in terrorist attacks there - and one of the results. On that topic, does anyone know what President Bush really said about civilians killed in Iraq?
Given the reality of war one might expect a rough year for military recruiters. Was there? Yes and no.
Looking at the geography reveals that the Northeast is the only region under-represented in recruiting numbers. Media reports focused on over-representation of the south.
We looked at the drop in the number of black Americans joining (a 40% decline) here. The media tried to spin this one as a result of the Iraq war, but the sharpest drop was immediately after 9/11.
A GAO report in October revealed that 58% of age-eligible youths can't meet entry-level standards for health, education, aptitude, and other requirements - and are thus ineligible to serve.
Evaluating the economic status of recruits reveals one of the most amazing attempts at media spin of the year:
Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income.Interesting phrasing from the Washington Post - but if "nearly half" come from "lower-middle-class to poor households" that means over half of all new recruits come form upper middle class to wealthy households. Wonder why they didn't say it that way?
But the Army did end up short of new recruits for the year - mostly due to end-strength increases called for by congress. In spite of Iraq and other demands of the war on terror, the actual numbers of recruits was similar to previous years:
To put this year's shortfall in perspective, the total of 73,400 people recruited is within 2 percent of the average recruitment each year for the past 10 years. And the Army finished the last four months of the year strongly, recruiting more than 8,000 people each month. The Army also exceeded its reenlistment goals, enabling it to just about make up for the recruiting shortfall.That re-enlistment number is revealing too - the people who actually know what's going on are re-upping in record numbers, in the active and reserve components. Furthermore...
Nationally, of the nearly 500,000 Guard and reservists deployed since September 2001, only about 76,600 have been called up twice - and all but 2,200 of them volunteered for a second tour, according to the Pentagon.Here's a look at reasons why
Of course, some folks want to make sure there's a bigger shortfall - or a draft - next year:
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and other Democrats proposed Wednesday to increase the size of the Army by 80,000 troops as a way to alleviate what she called a "crisis" in the military caused by lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.Speaking of the Senate...
I'd rather not, but it was rather hard to ignore the outcry there this year as "some" took the claims that they'd been misled into supporting the war in Iraq to new levels.
Here's history the way some seem to remember March, 2003 now:
That attempt a humor is from April 2005. But as usual, what at first seems worthy of ridicule soon becomes the important public debate of the day - as defined by "some."
But history has been re-written - though it didn't begin in 2005. But this year I found two very interesting programs from PBS - both from the news series "Frontline".
Here's the description of the first, from immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq:
With the U.S. apparently within days of attacking Iraq, FRONTLINE draws on its 12 years of reporting on Iraq to chronicle the key moments in the history of America's ongoing confrontation with Saddam Hussein.But months later, they would remember the build-up as somewhat less than 12 years long:
FRONTLINE traces the roots of the Iraqi war back to the days immediately following September 11, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the creation of a special intelligence operation to quietly begin looking for evidence that would justify the war.For many folks of many differing current opinions, the world changed on September 11th, 2001. But history did not begin that day, neither did the war in Iraq. Our Brief History of a Long War - an effort still in progress - sets that record straight.
As for those politicians, by late November President Bush's approval rating had reached a new low - 34%. A series of speeches would turn that number around before the year's end. But a less reported fact is the identity of the least-respected political group in America as indicated by those same polls - Congressional Democrats. Only 25% of Americans polled gave Democrats a favorable rating in November, compared with 31% in August, one of the biggest dips in approval. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging - might be some useful advice for them.
It is not known whether any American political party has ever ended a year any deeper in the toilet.
Posted by Greyhawk / December 31, 2005 9:42 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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