Modern Heroes

Discussion in 'Multinational HQ' started by Trip_Wire, Oct 15, 2007.

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  1. Trip_Wire

    Trip_Wire RIP

    Modern Heroes

    Note: Link to article allows only members to read the entire article.)

    Modern Heroes

    October 4, 2007; Page A19 WSJ

    I'm weary of seeing news stories about wounded soldiers and assertions of "support" for the troops mixed with suggestions of the futility of our military efforts in Iraq. Why aren't there more accounts of what the troops actually do? How about narrations of individual battles and skirmishes, of their ever-evolving interactions with Iraqi troops and locals in Baghdad and Anbar province, and of increasingly resourceful "patterning" of terrorist networks that goes on daily in tactical operations centers?

    Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith became the first soldier in the Iraq war to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was killed in action when his outnumbered unit was attacked by Iraqi forces at the Baghdad airport on April 4, 2003, and is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

    The sad and often unspoken truth of the matter is this: Americans have been conditioned less to understand Iraq's complex military reality than to feel sorry for those who are part of it.

    The media struggles in good faith to respect our troops, but too often it merely pities them. I am generalizing, of course. Indeed, there are regular, stellar exceptions, quite often in the most prominent liberal publications, from our best military correspondents. But exceptions don't quite cut it amidst the barrage of "news," which too often descends into therapy for those who are not fighting, rather than matter-of-fact stories related by those who are.

    As one battalion commander complained to me, in words repeated by other soldiers and marines: "Has anyone noticed that we now have a volunteer Army? I'm a warrior. It's my job to fight." Every journalist has a different network of military contacts. Mine come at me with the following theme: We want to be admired for our technical proficiency -- for what we do, not for what we suffer. We are not victims. We are privileged.

    The cult of victimhood in American history first flourished in the aftermath of the 1960s youth rebellion, in which, as University of Chicago Prof. Peter Novick writes, women, blacks, Jews, Native Americans and others fortified their identities with public references to past oppressions. The process was tied to Vietnam, a war in which the photographs of civilian victims "displaced traditional images of heroism." It appears that our troops have been made into the latest victims.

    Heroes, according to the ancients, are those who do great deeds that have a lasting claim to our respect. To suffer is not necessarily to be heroic. Obviously, we have such heroes, who are too often ignored. Witness the low-key coverage accorded to winners of the Medal of Honor and of lesser decorations.

    The first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror was awarded posthumously to Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith of Tampa, Fla., who was killed under withering gunfire protecting his wounded comrades outside Baghdad airport in April 2003.

    According to LexisNexis, by June 2005, two months after his posthumous award, his stirring story had drawn only 90 media mentions, compared to 4,677 for the supposed Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay, and 5,159 for the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England. While the exposure of wrongdoing by American troops is of the highest importance, it can become a tyranny of its own when taken to an extreme.

    Media frenzies are ignited when American troops are either the perpetrators of acts resulting in victimhood, or are victims themselves. Meanwhile, individual soldiers daily performing complicated and heroic deeds barely fit within the strictures of news stories as they are presently defined. This is why the sporadic network and cable news features on heroic soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan comes across as so hokey. After all, the last time such reports were considered "news" was during World War II and the Korean War.

    In particular, there is Fox News's occasional series on war heroes, whose apparent strangeness is a manifestation of the distance the media has traveled away from the nation-state in the intervening decades. Fox's war coverage is less right-wing than it is simply old-fashioned, antediluvian almost. Fox's commercial success may be less a factor of its ideological base than of something more primal: a yearning among a large segment of the public for a real national media once again -- as opposed to an international one. Nationalism means patriotism, and patriotism requires heroes, not victims.

    Let's review some recent history. From Sept. 11, 2001, until the middle of 2003, when events in Afghanistan and Iraq appeared to be going well, the media portrayed the troops in an uncomplicated, positive light. Young reporters who embedded early on became acquainted with men and women in uniform, by whom they were frankly impressed. But their older editors, children of the '60s often, were skeptical. Once these wars started going badly, skepticism turned to a feeling of having been duped, a sentiment amplified by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

    That led to a different news cycle, this time with the troops as war criminals. But that cycle could not be sustained by the facts beyond the specific scandal. So by the end of 2004, yet another news cycle set in, the one that is still with us: the troops as victims of an incompetent and evil administration. The irony is that the daily actions of the troops now, living among Iraqis, applying the doctrines of counterinsurgency, and engaged regularly in close-quarters combat, are likely more heroic than in the period immediately following 9/11.

    Objectively speaking, the troops can be both victims and heroes -- that is, if the current phase of the war does indeed turn out to be futile. My point is only to note how the media has embraced the former theme and downplayed the latter. The LexisNexis statistics reveal the extent to which the media is uncomfortable with traditional heroism, of the kind celebrated from Herodotus through World War II. If that's not the case, then why don't we read more accounts about the battlefield actions of Silver Star winners, Bronze Star winners and the like?

    Feeling comfortable with heroes requires a lack of cynicism toward the cause for which they fight. In the 1990s, when exporting democracy and militarily responding to ethnic and religious carnage were looked up upon, U.S. Army engineering units in Bosnia were lionized merely for laying bridges across rivers. Those soldiers did not need to risk their lives or win medals in order to be glorified by the media. Indeed, the media afforded them more stature than it does today's Medal of Honor winners. When a war becomes unpopular, the troops are in a sense deserted. In the eyes of professional warriors, pity can be a form of debasement.

    Rather than hated, like during Vietnam, now the troops are "loved." But the best units don't want love; they want respect. The dilemma is that the safer the administration keeps us at home, the more disconnected the citizenry is from its own military posted abroad. An army at war and a nation at the mall do not encounter each other except through the refractive medium of news and entertainment.

    That medium is refractive because while the U.S. still has a national military, it no longer has a national media to quite the same extent. The media is increasingly representative of an international society, whose loyalty to a particular territory is more and more diluted. That international society has ideas to defend -- ideas of universal justice -- but little actual ground. And without ground to defend, it has little need of heroes. Thus, future news cycles will also be dominated by victims.

    The media is but one example of the slow crumbling of the nation-state at the upper layers of the social crust -- a process that because it is so gradual, is also deniable by those in the midst of it. It will take another event on the order of 9/11 or greater to change the direction we are headed. Contrary to popular belief, the events of 9/11 -- which are perceived as an isolated incident -- did not fundamentally change our nation. They merely interrupted an ongoing trend toward the decay of nationalism and the devaluation of heroism.

    Mr. Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic and a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, is the author of "Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground," just published by Random House.
  2. scaryspice

    scaryspice LE Moderator

    Which probably means you are infringing copyright by posting it in its entirety Trip?

    The point of the "no full articles" post at the top of this forum was to:

    a) Prevent copyright breach
    b) Prevent huge cut and pastes with no further comment.

    How about providing some "further comment" on this one? :)
  3. My god scary how long have you been a Mod...wheres your silly avater, the one with the wanna be's !!!!!!!!!
    or is the present one just because of the time of year....

  4. Having read some your posts on another thread, you must win the prize for stating some really daft things.....
  5. My dear Lord. im extracting the p@@@ for the other per normal some of the numbnuts have misread....
  6. Zeitgeist aka 'Spirit of the Age'

    Your Avatar is a very close likeness of the love child in ' Alien 3 '

    Is this you ?

  7. Really? Are you usually the only one in step too?
  8. I am tonight....its the marching myself to the Gd rm very soon...
  9. Ah have been on google !!!!!!!
  10. Trip_Wire

    Trip_Wire RIP

    My comment on this article?

    OK, here it is:

    1.) I think it was well written and an accurate statement.

    2.) I agree 100% with the writer.

    3.) I think it also applies to other Countries military and Media.

    BTW: My purpose for the 'note' was to let Mods (Like you.) know why I didn't just post a link to the article. Since I did post the whole article. (Prevent huge cut and pastes with no further comment.)

    I doubt that the requirement to sign-up to read the WSJ article had anything to do with preventing copyright breachs, etc. A lot of online newspapers require people to do this for various reasons not associated with copyright breaching, etc. (More like needed stats.)
  11. scaryspice

    scaryspice LE Moderator

    I don't really need to dignify that with a reply do I? :roll:

    Trip - I realise that the "membership sign-up" for many online papers is freely available, I note however though that for more than the "two week free trial" you have to PAY to get membership of the online version of the Wall St Journal (from which the article is taken), hence the copyright comment.

  12. My god are the wrong person....apologies my posts will mean nothing to you ...aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh ill get my coat...
  13. Trip_Wire

    Trip_Wire RIP


    Sometimes, I wonder if you are a bit selective, as I see others seem to cut and paste large articles without comment from you, but of course they have all been fellow Brits. yes, I know I have a reputation for cut & pasting, etc. ... still!

    I hope I'm misreading this and you address all on this, not just Yanks.

    BTW: I didn't think the article need any comments from me, I thought it was self explanatory.

    Ta-Ta Old Chap!
  14. I really do think Kagan is being rather disingenuous here. To address his specific case i.e. the imbalance of reportage regarding the MOH recipient and the Quran debacle we have to appreciate that they are, in nature, two very different kinds of story. The first would describe one single solitary action which ended when the soldier was killed and was described in full by Centcom and Pentagon briefers. The second was a chain of events about which more information became available over time as it was leaked out, detailing cover-ups and systematic abuse, not to mention the fact that it became part of the wider story about the wisdom of the policy of detaining people at Gitmo- which, incidentally, most people with a law degree (including the JAG Corps) oppose.

    As to why the media doesn't report on the actions of those who receive honours- at least part of it is the sad, simple fact is that from a strategic point of view their actions have no bearing on the wider situation. Time and time again, in any number of wars- from Vietnam onwards- the following picture U.S. forces dominate the tactical sphere, but gradually lose control at the operational and strategic levels.

    In the grand scheme of things it matters not one jot that PFC Gomer Pyle USMC held down a Bn sized force of fuzzy wuzzies armed only with a feather duster and some colourful language, or that Anbar Province and Baghdad have quietened down to roughly 2005 levels of violence, when there is no structure in place- or even on the horizon- that could possibly sustain a peaceful Iraq once troops leave. As a result, soliders and marines will be cycled through in perpetuity.

    If Kagan wants to know why the troops are "pitied", then there's his answer. They might well fighting and dying hard and be getting their job done, but eventually they have to hand the situation off to other people in order that the strategic (ultimately political) objectives might be achieved and I challenge anyone here to give me a meaningful operational definition of what the US and/or Iraqi strategic objective even is right now, let alone their plan for how they're going to get there. As far as I can tell at very best, the force in Iraq is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.

    As to the idea of a national media, whose purpose does that serve? In what kind of crazy-assed world is Kagan living when he suggests that voters in a democratic society should not be exposed to alternative points of view to "my country, right or wrong". In a volunteer military, fighting men and women get to make a conscious decision to go down that path, but it is not only the right, but the responsibility of the people they serve to become informed as possible and to question EVERYTHING. If the media has stopped printing the government-approved narrative, it is because time and time again, that narrative has been proved to be misleading, misrepresentive and generally more full of holes than a Swiss cheese on a Texan rifle range. How many times have we heard that progress is being made, or the insurgency is in its last throes or the war can be paid for with oil or we will be greeted as liberators? The media isn't running the stories the government wants any more because the government has been shown that it cannot be trusted. It really isn't that hard a concept to get your head around. If Bush wants to tell these stories, then he still has the biggest microphone in the country, but you can't just blame the media if people choose not to believe him any longer.

    I'll leave a discussion of Kagan's tautological defence of the the idea of the nation state vs international society for later because that would take a while- not least trying to explain to the aged and not very bright here what tautological means- but in the mean time, Trip, I suggest you grab hold and read a copy of The Utility of Force, by Gen Rupert Smith. Hopefully it'll be able to explain to you the idea that your concpetion of war has not existed since WWII and until you and a whole bunch of supposedly smarter people in much higher places grasp that concept, we're doomed to repeat the same pointless mistakes time and time again.
  15. I saw a good message in the article, cheers trip (don't often hear that round these parts)

    Crabtastic, you are too complicated for me