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08-27-04, 06:38 AM

To the Troops: Tell Your Story

By Raymond Perry

In a major article published in The Wall Street Journal on May 27 profiling the Marines in a major battle in Iraq, reporter Robert D. Kaplan described how Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment (The “1st of the Fifth”), entered the heart of the city of Fallujah.

This is the same unit that first entered the Citadel of Hue as the Tet Offensive was stamped out in Vietnam.

As at Hue, these Marines were cheated of their victory in Fallujah.

At Hue, the Marines killed 5,113 enemy troops, at a cost of only 147 dead and 857 wounded. In their 1968 victory they uncovered the mass brutality of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops (thousands and thousands in mass graves). But the American news media muted their victory at best, all but ignoring the brutality of the Viet Cong. Walter Cronkite and other commentators gave the strategic victory to the enemy.

As Kaplan wrote, Hue became “a metaphor for the military’s frustration with the media: a frustration [now] revisited in Fallujah.”

In an earlier article on the Iraqi insurgency (“Just Don’t Call It Another ‘Tet Offensive’ ”, DefenseWatch, Apr. 21, 2004), I noted that the reality of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a clear defeat for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. It was the Fourth Estate – ignorant of the rural war and French history, misunderstanding the Tet Offensive as a desperate attempt to grab victory, and one that had failed at that – handed the strategic victory to North Vietnamese army commander General Giap.

In a recent presentation of his book, “Dawn Over Baghdad,” Karl Zinsmeister discussed a common methodology of gathering information by the Fourth Estate. He was quite critical of those who remain in a hotel room until a mini-disaster happens. They then come out, analyze the event, then file their story.

What they report is true. They have done some research and it is accurate. But they have missed the bigger story of what is happening in Iraq. They ignore the hard work, day-by-day sweat and forbearance of our soldiers, and they completely miss the progress in nation-building.

There is eerie similarity to the role of newsman Walter Cronkite in his Tet Offensive commentary and contemporary TV analysis of Iraq. Cronkite reported on the Vietnam War from the comfort of New York and then jetted into Vietnam to pronounce the war lost as Tet wound down. Thus the hard-won battlefield victory of Tet and the long day-by day-grind of winning the rural war evaporated from the grip of the Marines of the 1st of the Fifth.

It is very clear members of the Fourth Estate are intentionally working to mold public opinion to their view of the world. They do not do their homework, observe and report the facts. Journalism is not their goal – molding perception into reality is their goal. What they say may be accurate but it is not the whole truth. They have not pounded the same dirt the Marines have. Many have remained safely in their hotel rooms.

To put this in context, Kaplan reported, “Whenever the Marines … crossed the path of a mosque [they] were fired upon.” Mosques in Fallujah were havens for snipers, gunmen, and used as ammunition dumps. The insurgents clearly “forfeited the protective status … of the Geneva Conventions.”

There is a responsibility to understand that our soldiers face things like this, to report it straight up, and to note that under the laws of war they would be fully justified in leveling these structures. Ignoring these issues gives our enemies haven and starts an insidious process of abandoning our soldiers in the field.

Another example, reported by Kaplan: In the town of Ramadi an entire squad of 12 Marines was taken down, one at a time, with a Soviet sniper rifle. The precision of this sniper was so extraordinary that Marines concluded he was either an imported Jihadi or an elite member of the old regime.

The American people have a right to know and understand that their soldiers are facing such hazards of war and where these hazards come from.

The news photos of the few ineffective holes in mosques are truly testament to the extraordinary restraint of our soldiers. The reality of this restraint, unexplained to the American people, is that this restraint means more unnecessary deaths among our soldiers, our youth. The American people have a right to understand this and journalists have an obligation to explain this.

Our soldiers are demonstrating extraordinary restraint, humanity toward the innocent, and efforts at rebuilding Iraq. The Abu Ghraib Scandal notwithstanding, our soldiers rate having this story told. It represents the other 90 percent of the many forms of battles our soldiers are winning every day.

I saw that commentary, the one that handed the war to General Giap. I saw the frustration of the military up close and personal throughout the late 1960s and 70s. It almost destroyed our military.

As each American serviceman or woman returns home he or she has one remaining duty to the nation: You must tell the story that the Fourth Estate will not.

Tell it to your family and friends, visit your Rotary Club, Lions Club, Scout Troops, Schools and 4 H Clubs, and any other organization that will let you in the door. Speak out on behalf of the hard work that they do not know about.

In a C-SPAN discussion of his book, Karl Zinsmeister, told the troops’ story of doing the impossible and doing it well. They have simultaneously fought a war and built communities. In his talk he described the following examples.

This is what I have to say to the troops:

You know that the majority of the sermons by the Imams are at least neutral if not positive toward the nation-building you conduct. You know that today services such as electricity surpass the availability of the best services under dictatorship, this despite the interruptions of the jihadis’ sabotage.

As mentioned by Kaplan, you know that leaders have studied the Koran. Colonel Fuller of the 82nd Airborne Division sat down with the Imams in his area and drew them out on what the Koran taught about murder and Holy War. You have worked with the thousands of unemployed youth and taught them how to run businesses and work and innovate like they never did under a command economy.

You have done far more than the absent Red Cross and United Nations. Day in and day out you have braved the jihadis, rolled with the punches, and done some really off-the-wall things to get the nation of Iraq going again. You know that the majority of the Shiites are working with you.

The Fourth Estate will only tell what fits its model and that does not require them to walk, day by day, with their boots in the same dirt as yours.

The American people must hear your story warts and all. It is a good one. It will make a difference to the nation.

Do your duty.

Lt. Raymond Perry USN (Ret.) is a DefenseWatch Contributing Editor. He can be reached at cos1stlt@yahoo.com. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com.

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