Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
Politicians and military commanders were lying about how wars were progressing long before the sword and the shield first clashed. And the long distances and delayed communications made censoring what was reported to citizens no big stretch.
After all, from the Greek Wars to Gettysburg, it took months for letters and casualty lists to travel by runner, boat, pony and finally rail. By the time the bad news arrived from the front, the dead were buried and the battle long over.
But as war morphed from cannonballs to aircraft to missiles, communications also zoomed along – from printing press, telegraph, radio, television and satellites to the Net.
Even so, the Thought Police headquartered in space-age offices in Washington, D.C., are still trying to bend any and all information about military campaigns. Our leaders know that in democratic America, they must have popular support for their wars, and they won’t keep it if folks start to think we’re losing and being lied to.
The propagandists’ mantra seems to be the ancient Greek proverb “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed Cyclops rules the land.” It’s become standard drill to keep the truth for the leaders’ eyes only. Especially when the real story is a downer.
During the Vietnam War, the Eddie Adams, Kevin Buckleys, Joe Galloways and hundreds of other daring young reporters brought us a blow-by-blow about what was going on.
But after dealing with the fallout, Washington vowed that never again would the press have so much access and freedom. And from Grenada to Panama to Kuwait to the reporters embedded last year in Iraq, the Pentagon has been into keeping the American people in the dark. For example, caskets are no longer allowed to be photographed, the number of evacuees from war zones and the causes behind any evacuations are now covered up, and reporters in general are ever more carefully controlled.
But one thing no one can control is the Net. Today there’s a laptop in almost every bunker, manned by grunts who are a whole lot smarter and faster than their watchdogs. Which means that despite a hogtied press corps, we’re getting the unspun word from Iraq – and the news ain’t good.
The brass are going nuts trying to stop this electronic tsunami of truth that’s washing over the land courtesy of a generation of sharp kids who’ve been armed with computers since age 4. Kids who glory in staying three irrepressible steps ahead of their minders via blogs, dummy ISP addresses and cute tricks like sending e-mails to cutouts for forwarding to guys like me.
So the brass have reverted to the weapon they’ve used to silence warriors since long before Caesar was running Rome: intimidation. The troops are being warned: Shut up; and if you don’t button it, you’ll be drummed out of the service.
Sgt. Al Lorentz wrote a piece from Iraq (See SFTT.org) titled, “A Sergeant Speaks the Hard Truth.” He now faces disciplinary action for “disloyalty” and “insubordination.” He could end up with 20 years in the slammer if found guilty.
An officer in Iraq who has asked to remain anonymous says:
The establishment here wants to present the picture that everything is A-OK when it’s too often not the case. Soldiers shouldn’t be punished or made to feel like they’re disloyal, not part of the team, troublemakers, whiners, dissenters, malcontents, etc., etc., just because they give somebody a true sitrep on certain things going on over here. But sadly this is the case.
Then there’s the personal attack on anyone with a point of view that’s different from the party line: You’re un-American; or you’re supporting the enemy or not supporting the troops. The latest tactic is to say you’re sending out mixed messages that hurt troop morale.
But according to our soldiers in Iraq, this is just not true. They say their morale is in the toilet because of how badly the war’s been handled, not because of what’s being reported or debated by politicians.
“I resent the fascist-style approach that tries to paint any objection of current policy as traitorous,” says Ken Druhut. “I am a proud vet and gratefully enjoy the freedoms that our military has provided. But this Gestapo stuff has to stop.”