Much of the U.S. press corps covering our military seem to work overtime reinforcing Hiram Johnson’s on-target comment, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”
Perhaps I should cut my colleagues some slack because of the fog of war, the skill of the Pentagon’s damage-control spinners and also because, less a squad or so of serious military reporters, most journalists on the GI beat couldn’t tell a tank from a turtle if it were running them over. But when reporters ignore or fake the truth about our warriors, I get as mad as Mike Tyson on one of those days.
Right now, I’m ready to bite off a lot more than an ear. What’s got my Irish going is the book “No Gun Ri – A Military History of the Korean War Incident” by Maj. Robert Bateman. Historian Bateman not only brilliantly depicts the early days of that war and just what a heartbreaker it was, he also blows away a big story the media jumped on three years ago during yet another ill-informed beat-up-the-military campaign.
Although I’d served in Korea in chaotic 1950-51 and saw many civilians get caught in the crossfire, I’d never heard of a massacre at No Gun Ri until the headlines exploded in 1999, accusing the troopers of the Army’s famed 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment of war atrocities. I’d fought alongside the regiment and spent time in hospitals with heroic 7th Cav troopers, but unlike the early scuttlebutt from Vietnam that signaled the bloodbath at My Lai, I’d never heard even a whisper from the usually reliable GI grapevine about No Gun Ri.
Since the story didn’t smell right, it wasn’t exactly a shocker when I soon discovered the “atrocity” was barnyard droppings created by a hero wannabe named Edward Daily – who wasn’t anywhere near the front, machine-gunning civilians as he claimed. In fact, he was a grease monkey, lubricating trucks far behind the lines, who made up the whole shameful mess and awarded himself a chestful of medals and a battlefield commission for extraordinary combat leadership along the way.
Daily claimed he got his kill-’em-all orders directly from a major at battalion HQ, although even a recruit knows majors seldom give orders directly to gunners. Nothing else reported by the Associated Press made much more sense, starting with the absence of bodies or mass or individual graves after the massacre. Or the seven war reporters who were with the 7th Cav at the scene – were they all blind or just not up for reporting what would have been the scoop of that brand-new war?
Daily’s exposure would have put an end to this sleazy incident, except that the AP reporters who broke the story subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting!
Bateman’s meticulously researched book points a damning finger at the AP reporters for basing their investigation primarily on Daily’s fairy tales, even when there was enough doubt to drive a Sherman tank through the holes in his testimony. They flat ignored the facts, Bateman notes, choosing juice over the truth.
As with the Gary Condit circus, the rest of our media couldn’t pile on fast enough, and the press was soon into a major media feeding frenzy. NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw – who apparently didn’t bother internalizing the credo of choosing the hard right over the easy wrong while researching his best seller, “The Greatest Generation” – actually flew Daily to Korea so he could tearfully confess to the world from the “killing fields of No Gun Ri” how he’d mowed down innocent civilians.
Neither Brokaw nor AP has yet to set the record straight. Nor have they bothered to apologize for this bad story to the men of the 7th Cav who fought and died on the Korean peninsula. Or to their families. Or to the American people.
Korean vets from that terrible “Forgotten War” should not forget this slam to their honor and should demand that the Pulitzer Committee re-examine its procedures and standards – and withdraw the prize from AP.
At least in his fine book, Bateman shoots straight. Let’s hope the next time there are rumors of a made-in-the-USA military atrocity, our media will try Bateman’s approach and aim before they fire.