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June 2, 2006
Whilst avoiding a larger discussion of what happened in Haditha, let's take a look at some of the media coverage of the story.
Starting with this headline - Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians
You've likely seen it before, perhaps heard other references to this unprovoked attack business. But regardless of what happened, unless there was no bomb, unless Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas wasn't really killed, unless Lance Cpl. James Crossan wasn't really wounded, there was a provocation that the Marines responded to. To the best of my knowledge, no one disputes the IED attack that started this incident, and no one disputes that civilians were killed. It seems indisputable that the attack was indeed provoked - a point that's actually a substantial factor in answering other questions regarding the ensuing events.
But quite clearly, according to this headline, the investigators say unprovoked.
Or do they? Here's the first paragraph of the story:
(AP) WASHINGTON Investigators believe that their criminal investigation into the deaths of about two dozen Iraqi civilians points toward a conclusion that Marines committed unprovoked murders, a senior defense official said Friday.Read that again if you didn't get it the first time. To clarify, we'll name the actual source up front: a senior defense official said investigators believe that's what their investigation points towards. But that's certainly not the stuff of good headlines, so presto change-o, eliminate the middle man and roll out the 24-point Times New Roman. "Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians"
But nowhere in the story are investigators quoted as saying any such thing. A "senior defense official" is.
Or is he? Skip forward one paragraph:
The official ...said the evidence developed by investigators strongly indicates the killings last November in the insurgent-plagued city of Haditha in the western province of Anbar were unjustified.That's closer to an actual quote than the first paragraph, and it says the killings were "unjustified" - something significantly different in meaning than "unprovoked". But quotation marks are noticeably absent from the story - meaning that what we really have is a reporter claiming that an unnamed senior defense official claims that people conducting an ongoing investigation currently believe that the attack was unprovoked.
All beneath a headline that reads Investigators: Unprovoked Marines Killed Civilians. As noted, you must ignore an IED, one death, and one serious injury for that to be true. ("Unjustified" may or may not be more accurate - but it certainly doesn't "sex up" the story to the same degree.)
Let's further illustrate this point. You and I are in a crowded room. Suddenly I throw a punch, and hit you quite squarely in the jaw. You go down but arise quickly, though quite shaken, and immediately throw a punch at me. I'm ready though, so I duck, and you light up the young lady standing behind me, sending her to the carpet.
No doubt at this point you are quite remorseful, but there's no one in the room who could reasonably accuse you of having launched an unprovoked attack on the young lady in question. Yes, you punched her. Yes, you were acting in anger. Yes, you lost control. But as the guy who struck first then avoided your retaliation, sane people might think I deserve most of the blame.
Unless, of course, your response was the entire point of my actions in the first place. And if the room is full of my friends who are quite willing to go along, you had best start backing towards the door. Because you hit a girl, you sumbitch. One who had done absolutely nothing to you, so it was unprovoked.
But let's get back to the real story and watch it grow. Que The New York Times:
President Bush expressed concern today over reports that 24 Iraqi civilians may have been killed by American marines in an unprovoked attack in the city of Haditha last November.So now President Bush has used the phrase "unprovoked attack"? A careful reading of the New York Times quote reveals nothing; the only use of quotation marks in the story is here:
"I am troubled by the initial news stories," Mr. Bush said. "I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on." If laws were broken, the president said, "there will be punishment."and here:
The president said he had discussed the incident with Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "He's a proud marine," Mr. Bush said.But it's possible the reporter's original question used the term "unprovoked". But that question isn't included in the NY Times story. Fortunately the White House has a full transcript of the statement, which came in a question and answer session during a visit with President Kagame of Rwanda:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Welcome. The President and I will take two questions a side, starting with the Americans. Nedra.Well now, it would appear the "unprovoked" bit was an after-market construct of the New York Times. (Side note: the unreported aspect of the meeting was the discussion of US support to Rwanda, whose troops are deployed as peacekeepers in Sudan's Darfur region, but hey, who gives a damn?)
That should end the "unprovoked attack" story - but it won't. Because it's a very necessary element in getting these Marines condemned to death before their trial - and enraging certain elements of the population of Iraq to kill some more. So please do look carefully at future news stories that include that mysterious phrase from nowhere - along with all others from similar sources.
And before departing, here's the full paragraph from that "unprovoked" AP story on that "senior defense official" - I cut a bit in the first use above:
The official, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the yet-to-be-completed investigation, said the evidence developed by investigators strongly indicates the killings last November in the insurgent-plagued city of Haditha in the western province of Anbar were unjustified.For those who weren't looking closely, here's the part I added back: "...who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the yet-to-be-completed investigation...".
Now pardon me as I slip into military jargon, but even though dipstick may have had that "unprovoked" quote falsely attributed to him by a reporter with an agenda, do you suppose if someone rammed a size-14 combat boot straight up his ass it would be called "unprovoked"?
Posted by Greyhawk / June 2, 2006 6:31 PM | Permalink
Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette, who is one of the top two or three milbloggers out there, in my opinion suffers a rare swing and a miss in taking on the AP and New York Times coverage of Haditha here: Read More
....analysis of how the media is building the meme that the Marines in the Haditha incident are guilty of murder. But there is a side story that is building that is reve... Read More
... - This will be a press feeding frenzy. Some journalist will try to make their name off this. Some will try to be fair. Most will do what their bosses want; try to sell advertising by boosting ratings/sales. ... UPDATE: For a very exceptional ... Read More
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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