Friday, July 22, 2005

Who knows the truth?

As I was surfing through several news sites yesterday, I read a couple of editorials I found interesting. One, from National Review, detailed a tour of Iraq by conservative radio talk show host Michael Graham. During his tour, he spoke to at least 100 soldiers on the ground throughout Iraq and Kuwait. All, according to him, support the war and believe we are ultimately winning. The other editorial, from my hometown StarTribune, had a very different view, believing that our swift departure from Iraq is the most likely way to ensure progress here. I have always believed that when you hear widely divergent views, the truth lies somewhere near the middle, and that is probably the case here.
What angered me about the Strib's editorial was not it's conclusion, although I do disagree with it. I was appalled at the implication that the soldiers in Iraq are somehow shielded from the reality of the war: It's "not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq," she said. "The [Green Zone's] maze of tall blast walls and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too."

Pardon me? The soldiers fighting this war are blinded from the real Iraq? I am shielded from the real Iraq by nothing more than a SAPI plate and a pair of WileyX's. I deal with hundreds of Iraqis a day. I have dealt with Iraqi civilians, Iraqi soldiers, and have been inside Iraqis homes. I have lost friends. My unit is rebuilding and expanding a nearby school, and we are maintaining and improving this FOB, which will be turned over to the Iraqi Army in short order. How dare a journalist, from the comfort of a hotel in the Green Zone, make the implication that we are blinded from the real Iraq! Whose opinions of the violence are really more valid, that of the journalists risking their lives to chronicle it, or the soldiers risking their lives to fix it?

I wonder if the Strib's editorial board, when faced with the reality that most (but admittedly not all) of the soldiers in Iraq believe we are making progress, made the decision to attempt marginalize our experiences by finding an excuse to discount them. Yes, we have a Burger King, we carry pictures of our families who we do miss terribly, and we surround our FOB's with blast walls and concertina. The Strib says children aren't going to school, but I see them in school. The Strib says we are making progress in drips and drabs. Progress is progress, and if you are patient, a bucket can fill a drip at a time.

So who knows the truth? I choose to believe my own eyes.


Mary Godwin said...

Pat, I see this kind of discrepancy in news reporting as well, and I'm thrilled that soldiers currently on duty in Iraq are blogging from there to share a view from outside the GreenZone. But, I wonder if "location" is as much the problem when the question of "progress" comes up as is the word itself and the variation of meaning being invested in it. Whose sense of "progress" do we use to measure the idea? I'm reading even now that constitutional positioning in Iraq may turn the clock back to 1959 on women's rights, removing many of the equalities they've possessed (even under Saddam) for nearly fifty years. If Article 14 passes, the freedom of half the population is diminished, and the democratic foundations of the new Iraq will be robbed of meaningful balance. This is just one of the ways the word "progress" can get confusing.

Those clear motivations that carried the United States to war in Iraq in the first place have at least become confused - if they have not evaporated altogether, and without a clear sense of purpose for a U.S. presence in Iraq, it seems to me that "progress" becomes very hard to measure, a concept very much "up for grabs." Stability? Dictatorships can be stable. Freedom? Isn't that word as tricky as the word "progess" when it comes to defining whose freedom will be the measure of having achieved the goal? "Way of Life?" Again, by whose measure? Even at home, "way of life" is an embattled idea, and the notion that there is one clear model inevitably restricts the liberties of arguably deserving citizens (New Yorkers now being searched before being able to ride the subway). Regardless of which measure you choose to determine the advance or decline of "progress," however, it seems clear that when you're waging a war against an IDEA (terror, in this case), it approaches impossible to know when "we've won" and can bring the troops home. How do we know when the war is over? Maybe more importantly, how do we measure the contribution we are making to the losses, the idea that it keeps going on just because we keep investing in the idea? The more I think about it, the more complicated it gets.

These thoughts are not meant as challenges to you, Pat. I have great respect for you, and you've read my own blogging long enough to know that I struggle with these issues there, too. Instead, I mean my comments here more as a prompt for another post from you. I have come to appreciate your voice and your thoughtfulness regarding thorny topics. How do you work through the difficulty of these issues when words can so easily move around? Any response? -mg

Anonymous said...

It's amazing what the media chooses to portray on a daily basis. Some pieces are much more accurate, while others choose to put what they want to believe and what they want their readers to believe. It's crap and they will print whatever they feel like printing, regardless of accuracy!

Mustang 09 said...

Mary, The questions you ask are questions I ask myself every day, and to be honest I have not found satisfactory answers to all of them. I do have opinions. I will be addressing some of these issues in future posts, including defining victory, the horrible cost in both lives and money, and what liberty can look like in an Islamic society. I tell the story through my eyes, as an active participant. In my search for answers, I rely on people like you to help me find the questions. Thanks.

teletypeturtle said...

A friend of mine was a Public Affairs Officer in Iraq in the last year. he was very disturbed by the yawning gap between what he saw personally, boots on the ground in country, and what was reported by the media. And he was one of the people taking the media folks around and showing them the story! I know he was making the effort to show them what was happening, telling the reporters what went on. And yet somehow the other stuff was more newsworthy in the eyes of those who decide what runs and what doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

I love reading your posts about your experiences and feelings. I will post more after I see if this goes through. We think of you often and hope all is well with you and yours.
Your cousin,