Iraq: The MEDIA

Randy Black answers Ross Rogers, Jr.:  I am certain that Mr. Rogers is interested in the facts relative to what was reported in the media during the Vietnam era vs. the Iraq war today. I strongly disagree with Mr. Rogers’ comment that "No mention of Iraqi civilians and military casualties in our media.  They are not to be counted, they do not exist". Factually, military casualties are front page news across the USA on a daily basis. The matter is Iraqi civilians may or may not be relevant to Mr. Rogers’ position since not all civilian injuries and deaths are ‘innocents’ as some who oppose the US invasion are prone to claim and most are not available for counting. In fact, it’s not possible to define ‘civilian’ victims since the insurgents in nearly all cases are dressed in civilian clothing. We have all seen video of the insurgents shooting off their rocket propelled grenades and the shooters range from children to adults, and nearly without exception, they are dressed in street clothes. Question: the mercenaries have a meeting in a house that is subsequently bombed by the US. Are the man and his wife who allowed their home to be a haven for the insurgents ‘innocents?’ You tell me. Those who oppose the US actions would have us believe that this is the case, that the US murdered two ‘innocents.’ I am not inclined to follow that line of reasoning.
It’s not as if the Iraqi insurgents are issuing press releases and holding press conferences. The insurgents, the militants, the foreign mercenaries are known to not wear uniforms, or if they do, they wear stolen Iraqi police or Iraqi military uniforms, thus the matter is moot and at best, the claims of huge numbers of ‘innocent civilian’ casualties is debatable. Even the recent “scientific study” of Iraqi casualties per Ms. Gardner’s post, from the online publication, The Lancelot, admitted that their numbers were “word of mouth” and not verified via death certificates, or medical records.
Regarding comparisons to Vietnam casualties and now those numbers compare to today’s war:
Total US personnel in uniform throughout the Vietnam era was approximately 8.7 million. Of that number, approximately 47,000 died in combat, or later from their wounds, with an additional 10,800 dead from other causes. Further, there were 153,000 wounded in Vietnam over a decade or thereabouts. Total US dead in Vietnam, including combat, injuries, wounds, car wrecks, or murdered by their captors: approximately 58,000 over about 10 years.
The Killed in Action numbers (KIA) represented one half of one percent (.5%) of those who served in Vietnam. For comparison, 1.8% of the uniformed military were KIA during WWII. During the Korean War, the KIA was .6%
Now for Iraq: Since we began the US invasion in March 2003, approximately 900 US soldiers and Marines have died in combat, with 256 from other causes (car wrecks, heart attacks, suicide, cancer, drowning, etc.). Total: 1,257 as of October 31, 2004. These numbers are compiled from several sources including the two below. This from about 250,000-300,000 troops who have rotated through Iraq, and from the 140,000 who are more or less, the ongoing troop composite.(my comment).
From the same source, it is estimated that about 11,000 US military have been treated for wounds. Some were evacuated due to the seriousness of their injuries, others with less serious injuries returned to their units the same day.

Glenye Cain says: Col. Howard wrote of the media: "Oh well, they have a bias and an agenda. Just wish they could focus on the facts like professional journalists do".  I am curious to know what Col. Howard meant by this? He appears to be drawing a distinction between "the media" and "professional journalists." Col. Howard's description was interesting to me (such things interest me in any case), but I must say it was very like much of the good coverage I have seen in Iraq from journalists traveling with the troops (Dexter Filkins and, on occasion, Martha Raddatz are two ready examples and are, I expect, in Col. Howard's category of "professional journalists"). I am not sure what extra truth he might have felt he was imparting that "the media" is not.

Regarding the idea that evil triumphs when good men do nothing: very true. It is through journalism--good journalism--and also through personal accounts like Col. Howard's that "good men" can learn about what is going on in the world. Would that more journalism were as good as that of, for example, John Burns, who has covered the Iraq war for the New York Times.

On a slightly different point, a few of my military friends have expressed frustration that the CNN reporter's video of a Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent was aired; they saw it, evidently, as an anti-American act to air the tape. But the journalists' role is not to be pro-American; it is to report on the war, and war is a generally brutalizing thing. The military personnel who die are not the only ones who "pay a price," although theirs is the ultimate sacrifice. So do their wounded colleagues, so do those that have to make horrible choices under extreme pressure, so do those who become brutal when they otherwise never would, so do civilians in the way of war. War, in all its complexity, must be reported and is best reported in that complexity. There are limits, of course, such as not giving precise location of troops, and it seems from a viewer/listener/reader's perspective that those limits are fair and observed. I have not seen any coverage on major networks, including PBS and NPR, that could be described in any way as "anti-troops." I should add that I do not have cable or satellite TV and may be missing anti-military coverage on other networks.

But, in general, if journalists were not there reporting the hard things, then "good men" might become accustomed to the notion that war is an easy thing--and that is a dangerous idea to have. War may be necessary, but it is not easy, and a society owes it to its armed forces to always keep that in mind.

RH: It is difficult to realize how much war reporting has progressed.  Now we see the action as it takes place.  In the old days, weeks or months could go by before people got news of a battle. Even in modern times there was a delay.  I was in Italy during the Abyssinian War.  I was going for a stroll near Perugia when a man came up to me and said: "Is it true there is a war going on?".

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 28, 2004