Saturday, December 11, 2004

Uneasy in Bed

The Times and the Washington Post both thought it was front-page news today that a deeply embedded reporter put a National Guardsman up to asking Rummy that embarrassing question. So once again, the blame for a bad gaffe by the Bush adminstration is p assed along to the so-called liberal media.

Alex Jones, the biographer of the Times family who is now a Harvard mentor on ethical standards of journalism, said it made him uneasy. Elizabeth Bumiller of the Times, who is notorious for her gushing about Bush, explained that it was intimidating to stand up at a news conference and ask pointed questions. After all, she said, he was the president of the United States, and this was going to be on the evening news. Others have noted that if one did, one might have a hard time being called on next time -- or even having one’s phone calls answered promptly at deadline time.

The Kissinger tapes have exposed how poohbahs of the media groveled before him -- and it doesn’t seem to have shamed them, or damaged their careers at all.

As for Rummy’s contemptuous response to the Guardsman -- Bush was asked about it at his next appearance. In his dyslectic way, he muttered something about Rummy’s winning ways. Nobody asked him to explain. But there’s been an increasing note of desperation among his defenders in the media. How’d you like to be on THEIR side these days?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Grunts Talk Back

That was a dramatic turning point in our war on Iraq. Our embedded media stood agape, while troops on their way to combat stood up to the Secretary of Defense. The news conference was held in Kuwait, because the next stretch of road to Baghdad was too dangerous. Why, then, they asked, did they have to scrounge for scrap iron and shattered bullet-proof glass to beef up their vehicles? Why did their folks back home have to scrounge for money to buy them the latest body armor? Why was their pay late and why, above all, were they being held over beyond the periods they thought they had signed up for?

Rummy sneered at them as if they were his regular press gang. He said the best stuff had to go to the regular army, and the reserves and Guardsmen just had to wait. As to serving out their time -- read the small print. There is no limit -- they’re in for life and beyond.

Actually, there’s a very good reason for those limits. Research into the history of war has found that a unit under direct fire soon begins to lose its effectiveness, and should be relieved within about 30 days. One name for it is shell shock - men diving into shell holes rather than fighting on. It might be argued that the Bolshevik revolution was a result of shell shock -- the troops couldn’t bear their government’s order to continue the war.

This one is of course endless. There never has been an exit strategy. Our government will continue to pretend that there is one, that things are getting better when evidently they are getting worse. But the troops are talking back. That is something new.

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Tragic Generation

Tom Brokaw made a packet of money with a book calling us the Greatest Generation. Well, I volunteered for its great adventure, World War Two -- and, all things considered, I still think it was the right thing to do, but I’m not as confident as I was then.

I am deeply moved by the tale of that athlete who left a rich and brilliant career in baseball to heed what he thought was the call to defend his country. It was a lie, of course, but he believed. In no time at all he was rushed to Iraq, and brought back in a coffin. The military said he died in heroic combat. Today we learn that that was a lie, too. He was a victim of friendly fire.

So are we all -- but most Americans are not quite that believing. Their national religion is hypocrisy. Time and Newsweek today both publish studies showing that large majorities claim to believe every word in the Bible -- contradictions -- misprints, flat earth and all. They believe "Thou shalt not kill" but they’re enthusiastic about capital punishment. They re shelling out big bucks at the movies to watch it being inflicted on Jesus, slowly. They believe he’s come back and chats with our president every morning - no doubt telling him how a rich men can keep his money and still make his way through the gates of heaven. They believe we zapped Saddam Hussein for knocking down the World Trade Center but we need 12,000 more troops to speed up what Bush just called our scheduled departure from Iraq -- which our military say may take another decade or more.

People being polled say all those things. I don’t think many of them really mean it. The tragedy is that a majority plays along -- and people die.