Earlier this month, Edward Wasserman, Knight Foundation Professor of Journalism at Washington and Lee University and writer for the McClatchy Newspapers, published the most important piece of analysis I have read in the New Year. The article appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram under the evocative heading, Media AWOl in Exposing Iraq War’s Many Follies. The original article was published on Wasserman’s Blog on New Years Day under the title Remember Iraq?. He asks why the ending of the Iraq War has been neglected by the media in contrast with its beginning, which got off the ground with blanket coverage of foot-stomping, earth-shaking, “shock and awe.” Remember how every media source had to have a reporter embedded with the troops in the Invasion? Remember the coverage when victory was celebrated, “Mission Accomplished” announced, on the Abraham Lincoln in 2003? Remember when Saddam Hussein was caught? Remember the card deck of evildoers? Remember how surprised we all were to find ourselves in the middle of an insurgency and a religious civil war? Remember Abu Ghraib? Remember how important success was to the presidential candidates in the 2004 and 2008 elections? Remember the importance of the “surge?”
Do you know how many American (4484) and Coalition (318) military lost their lives? Do you know how many American military were wounded (31827)? Do you know how many Iraqis died and how many more were forced to leave their homes and became refugees? Do you remember that in those prosperous times we could afford to run the war “off budget?” Could that have had anything to do with our present economic malaise? Do you remember how many weapons of mass destruction were found?
Where are the media when the country needs them to lead it through a comprehensive assessment of the war? I fear they’re embedded with the presidential candidates as they cross the country seeking votes. Should the outcome of the war be brought up as an issue in the fall election? I hope so. President Obama’s administration did not cause our budget woes by itself, without the Wars’ and the Bush administration’s massive contribution.
I’ll leave it to you to read what Wasserman has to say in his blog essay. I hope to read what you have to say as well? Please comment on the topic if you have the chance.
We’re war weary. We surely remember much too much about this war on some slumbering level of consciousness. We’re glad it’s over. There’s another one, we try not to forget, that also must be ended. We’re happy our service men and women are home. But we’re not likely to conduct a systematic national review of this war anytime soon, and probably not at all. I see no sign that Congress is anxious to conduct hearings. While good books will be written about the war, and some will read them, most of us are headed earnestly into the future. The Japanese haven’t been able to face up to their conduct in China and in World War II. The great powers show little sign of having learned anything from their colonial adventures, or from the two world wars they insisted upon fighting? Have we learned anything from the debacle in Vietnam? Have we even come to terms with our own Civil War? I think not.
All of this is a shame, of course. We are an animal that can learn from our mistakes, and we should. We’re a nation that possesses the institutions and personal freedom to face up to our failures and to learn from them. That remains our challenge. We need a media devoted to thoughtful, depth journalism. But how are we to entice the media back from the limelight and away from the shimmering celebrities to do journalism again?
Let us not be guilty of intellectual cowardice as we welcome our returning heroes home. For their sake and ours, let’s carry out a fair examination of what happened in this war, noting bluntly its gains and horrific costs, and ask ourselves, in the name of the God for whom it was so fiercely fought, what should be taken as its lasting worth.
January 22, 2012©