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May 4, 2006
Turning PointsBy Greyhawk
On Monday, to mark the third anniversary of President Bush's appearance on the USS Lincoln to announce that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a news release in which Bush's text was set in contrast to barbed reminders of everything that has gone wrong in Iraq since that boast.Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis in The Boston Globe:
Three years ago this week, President Bush declared the end of major hostilities in Iraq in front of a ''mission accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln.Catching a pattern here? These are just two examples from today's news and commentary. There have been countless others this week - pro and con the events of the intervening years. Google "mission accomplished" for a sample.
But in most cases something like this statement follows close on the heels of those opening lines:
Bush's ''stay-the-course" strategy in Iraq is unsustainable. Iraq's costs -- about 2,400 US military personnel killed and nearly 18,000 wounded, more than $300 billion spent, and US ground forces stretched to the breaking point -- are not worth the results.Ignore for a moment any current fiction that the President's message that day was that we were finished with Iraq. (Otherwise you must ignore what was actually said: "The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave — and we will leave behind a free Iraq.") The passage of three years has certainly revealed the painful cost of that vision, and the accuracy of this quote from that speech too: "The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory." You can decide for yourself whether your resolve has weakened - or if you ever had any to start with.
But the passage of three years certainly gives us an opportunity to evaluate what has gone right and wrong with that mission. And along with that we can now identify events that - unlike that particular speech - have actually proven to be turning points in the war.
The anniversary of one such event passed (virtually unnoticed) within the past seven days too.
Since those who choose to remind us of the "mission accomplished" speech also cite death tolls, lets look at those numbers. In the weeks prior to that speech, there were 172 coalition military fatalities in Operation Iraqi Freedom (a number lower by orders of magnitude than the most dire pre-war predictions). In the 12 months that followed (May 2003 through April 2004 - a period that includes the first battle in Fallujah) the fatality rate dropped to an average of 52 a month (a number higher than any advocates of the invasion would consider acceptable).
But in the next 12 months - May 2004 through April 2005 - the death rate jumped by 46% from the previous one-year period, to an average of 76 per month. Actually monthly totals reveal significant spikes associated with specific events - elections, Ramadan, combat ops in Fallujah - but even after eliminating these from the equations a stark contrast between the two periods is evident.
Clearly a turning point had been reached. No one event can be authoritatively cited as the sole cause for the increase, but a confluence of events occurred in the spring of 2004 that can account for most of the surge in violence. Two in particular can be highlighted as most significant. Both involve the release of images of brutality, with subsequent wide exposure through the world media, though only one lingers to this day in countless subsequent coverage.
Oddly enough, it is the lesser evil of the two.
WASHINGTON - Every war or disaster contains moments that become defining images: a napalmed girl or a gun to the head in Vietnam, the body of a U.S. soldier dragged through a Somalian street.The images have been seldom seen since - but at the time the media spent a significant amount of time pondering whether displaying at all them would increase or erode public support for the war in Iraq.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism, said that networks' "sanitization of war may have helped the administration prosecute the war" a year ago.Torn over whether to air the scenes of graphic, inhuman carnage, one factor ultimately made the decision worth the risk:
Whether news executives made the proper decisions may take years of perspective to determine.Actually by November they were long forgotten. But within days of the atrocity coalition forces would launch an all-out assault on Fallujah.
(More to follow)
Posted by Greyhawk / May 4, 2006 6:31 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...)
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