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October 15, 2007
Against the WindBy Greyhawk
(This story began here.)
We threw our gear in. We climbed aboard. As the roar of engines increased and the rotors spun faster and blurred we sat down, strapped in, and arranged our gear at our feet. The gunners took their positions, checked their weapons. The pitch of the engines changed again and we lurched upwards and forward in a swirl of dust that was quickly blown away by the ever-gusting wind.
The ground dropped away and with a final rooftop view of nowhere we were over the wire and on our way home.
Ulysses S Grant on seeing the white flags of surrender over Vicksburg:
It was a glorious sight to officers and soldiers on the line where these white flags were visible, and the news soon spread to all parts of the command. The troops felt that their long and weary marches, hard fighting, ceaseless watching by night and day, in a hot climate, exposure to all sorts of weather, to diseases and, worst of all, to the gibes of many Northern papers that came to them saying all their suffering was in vain, that Vicksburg would never be taken, were at last at an end and the Union sure to be saved.
The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we were thunder moving through clear skies.
Howard Kurtz plugs his new book, and praises the American media for their role in swaying public opinion of the war in Iraq:
I had the front row center seat. This allows a great view forward and out the windows to each side where the door gunners scan the ground as we fly.
But remember that wind I mentioned previously? Consider this: If it's blowing about 30 -40 miles an hour at the surface, this usually means it's blowing 40-50 mph (or more) at 200-2000 feet up. And if you are flying at a very fast speed into the wind it means you are experiencing your speed plus the wind speed on the nose of the aircraft. It slows your progress, and does other interesting things - such as making the helicopter fishtail like a weather vane (in fact, ever noticed the similarity in general shape between a helo and a wind bird? I have...) or abruptly drop a few feet without warning. We professionals call this 'turbulence', and you've probably experienced it in airplanes, but it's a different experience in a helo...
Last week was the one-year anniversary of our discovery and release of al Qaeda's "Working Paper for a Media Invasion of America"
Targets listed included US discussion forums and chat rooms, well known newspapers and magazines, American TV channels with web sites, and US authors.
One particular author al Qaeda thought would be sympathetic to their efforts was New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who obtained a copy shortly after our report:
But if a group of bloodthirsty religious zealots slaughtering women and children in a campaign to undo five hundred years of world progress thought they would be aided by a New York Times columnist eager to be their bestest little bitch, well...
They were right:
As I said even before his enthusiastic response,
And in that we see both the political savvy and naiveté of the Global Islamic Media Front. They recognize the advantage - and relative ease - of turning as many Americans against their President as they can (dividing the enemy into opposing camps to be eliminated in turn being a primary goal of effective propaganda) but fail to grasp the idea that this requires no effort on their part whatsoever. Still - you can't blame them for being willing to accelerate the process, or contribute to the cause.
But on we went. A fair wind to our backs would have been preferable, but a headwind was our lot. And as far as turbulence goes, it really wasn't that bad - but it was on the edge of where I would be concerned (for instance, if the pilots had donned parachutes...). But as we pushed ever onwards the pilots kept checking maps - which is a good thing, I suppose, but I couldn't help but wonder how much our course had altered due to the shifting winds.
The trip was mostly over open desert, with a few houses here and there. But once we got a bit closer to Baghdad and away from that open desert the winds began to die down, and the ride became a bit smoother. Later, however, I would learn that someone shot at another helo (no one hurt) near a spot we overflew shortly after we passed. Generally this means door gunners get to do their thing, but such instances are rare, and no opportunity presented itself to us this day.
And onward we flew...
Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez (US Army, Ret):
That story sure got some headlines. And here they are -
The New York Times:
The Washington Post:
The Associated Press:
The trip seemed endless, but the closer we came to Baghdad the smoother and faster the ride. Then we began to drop altitude as we approached our destination. And as our distance from the ground decreased the temperature increased. It's actually nice and comfortable (temperature wise) at altitude, even when decked out in helmets and armor. But drop towards the surface and sweat starts to flow.
And damned if hours of wearing armor - the last bit of which was spent strapped and immobilized and bouncing in a helo - wasn't starting to make my back ache just a bit...
Lt Gen Sanchez describes journalists:
My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers and what they see on the web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas.Journalists agree:
"I believe that these newscasts in 2005 and 2006 played the biggest single role in helping to turn public opinion against the war."And still more journalists agree:
We first touched down at a stop before mine, but it was a short hop to the end of the line. Everyone else got out there though - and no one else boarded, so I had a helo to myself.
So I assume we're about to head for the next stop, where I'll hop out too, but the gunner turns to me and I notice his lips are moving - he's trying to communicate with me.
IT IS VERY FREAKING NOISY IN A HELICOPTER AND I HAVE EAR PLUGS STUCK IN ALMOST TO MY TONSILS, but I figure if he wants to chat I can pop one out. He's been in radio contact with the pilots, of course, and they are prepared to make me an offer...
Let's return to a simpler time, when America wasn't the divided nation we know today.
Once again, from the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant:
Even during this march of Sherman's the newspapers in his front were proclaiming daily that his army was nothing better than a mob of men who were frightened out of their wits and hastening, panic-stricken, to try to get under the cover of our navy for protection against the Southern people.
Of course, he was referencing papers published by his enemy...
As was General Sherman, in his own memoirs:
At Milledgeville [Georgia] we found newspapers from all the South, and learned the consternation which had filled the Southern mind at our temerity; many charging that we were actually fleeing for our lives and seeking safety at the hands of our fleet on the sea-coast.Later, however,
Thousands who had been deceived by their lying newspapers to believe that we were being whipped all the time now realize the truth...
Perhaps it will always be so.
General Sherman summarized his thoughts on reporters thusly:
Newspaper correspondents with an army, as a rule, are mischievous. They are the world's gossips, pick up and retail the camp scandal, and gradually drift to the headquarters of some general, who finds it easier to make reputation at home than with his own corps or division. They are also tempted to prophesy events and state facts which, to an enemy, reveal a purpose in time to guard against it. Moreover, they are always bound to see facts colored by the partisan or political character of their own patrons, and thus bring army officers into the political controversies of the day, which are always mischievous and wrong. Yet, so greedy are the people at large for war news, that it is doubtful whether any army commander can exclude all reporters, without bringing down on himself a clamor that may imperil his own safety. Time and moderation must bring a just solution to this modern difficulty.
How much time? The only certain answer is that 140 years has not been enough.
For Lt Gen Sanchez struggles with it, too:
There is no question in my mind that the strength our democracy and our freedoms remain linked to your ability to exercise freedom of the press - I adamantly support this basic foundation of our democracy and completely supported the embedding of media into our formations up until my last day in uniform. The issue is one of maintaining professional ethics and standards from within your institution.And while also frustrated by a seemingly adversarial relationship, General Grant would go out of his way to assist a reporter in need - as evidenced by this story from his memoirs:
I expect there was a bit of inner turmoil involved - but if so, the General (like most) chose not to divulge the details.
In fact, most Generals are adept at careful phrasing and masters of nuanced communications. Perhaps that's why this quote attributed to Sherman tops them all:
"I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast."
IT IS VERY FREAKING NOISY IN A HELICOPTER AND I HAVE EAR PLUGS STUCK IN ALMOST TO MY TONSILS, but I figure if he wants to chat I can pop one out. I do. He's been in radio contact with the pilots, of course, and they are prepared to make me an offer.
"If you can spare 30 minutes, we can show you some of Baghdad."
Knowing me, you predict I would reply...
a. "Oh no. I promised my wife and mom and kids I would never take any unnecessary risks. Take me somewhere safe and drop me off henceforth, and waste not one more moment of my time!"
b. "Let's do it." with a freaking ear to ear grin as minor back pain suddenly disappears in an obvious message from God.
Answer in part three.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 15, 2007 12:22 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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