Never in American history have we known less about the soldiers fighting our war than in the current Iraq War—and there has never been less of an excuse for that exclusion than today.
With embedded reporters, instant communication, and the military granting unprecedented access to personnel, there is only one conclusion: the mainstream media is practicing self-censorship. After all, back in the day of crackling "wireless" reports and the teletype, Americans somehow learned the names of Chesty Puller, Dick Bong, Audie Murphy and "Pappy" Boyington, and details of their heroic exploits.
Even in Korea—hardly a popular war among the press—F-86 ace "Mac" MacConnel achieved some fame and had a movie made about him; while Vietnam fighter ace Randy "Duke" Cunningham was given just enough attention to parlay it into a Congressional seat (which he recently sullied in a most disgraceful fashion).
But in the Iraq War, the names Jesse Grapes and Timothy Connors are unknown to a public who would thrill to their stories if given a chance. Worse, the best-known names of enlisted personnel who have served in Iraq are undoubtedly Lindy Englund and Casey Sheehan (though the fact that he RE-enlisted during the war is left out of most stories which focus on his loony mother).
That's the ultimate point of Bing West's latest war classic, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. The press template for soldiers in Iraq War can be summed up in two words: villains and victims.
Bing West is himself a legendary Marine, and the author of "The March Up," which covered the Marines' historically unprecedented campaign for Baghdad, and "The Village," acclaimed by many as the best book to come out of the Vietnam War.
The title is a jab at journalists and the coverage—actually the lack thereof—of our soldiers' stories. West writes that Greek warriors were convinced that unless their deeds survived in poem or a song, they had gained no true or lasting glory. Reporting on Iraq is treated as though any recognition of success or SPECIFIC instances bravery is merely mouthing Bush Administration propaganda, while reporting on misdeeds is the real job of an "objective" journalist. We are force-fed the "of course our soldiers are brave, but…" line on a nightly basis, as though Man Bites Dog is a brave new innovation of new generation reporting.
The Battle for Fallujah was the biggest story of the occupation. It decimated the ranks of insurgent groups who had any degree of battle skills, and sent a message to sheiks and imams of other cities that it was time to buckle down and support an Iraqi government. And while it was a victory for American forces, there is plenty of criticism to be leveled at the Administration over how it was handled—and West does.
The victory that was achieved in Fallujah, however, was given little attention in the press. The vast majority of press reports at the time were of Abu Ghraib, and of the shooting of a wounded insurgent in a Mosque—though the latter was completely justified by the situation.
By April 2003, the backwater and historically violent, city of Fallujah had become an international embarrassment for the U.S. because of open rebellion in the city streets. When four security contractors were lynched and their bodies burned while bystanders celebrated, the pressure for action overrode the urging of Marines on the scene for caution.
Before the incident, the Marines had planned to slip into Fallujah, "as soft as a fog;" and take out bad guys quietly while forming relationships with the population. But when given the order, the Marines went in like Marines do, and the battered insurgents soon sued for peace through sympathetic figures on the Iraq governing council. Further political pressure came from Al Jazeera TV, with exaggerated reports of civilian casualties, which were endlessly repeated as Gospel by the American media.
The Civilian Authority in Iraq, led by Paul Bremmer, felt the heat, and reacted to it. Bremmer negotiated a disastrous cease-fire, which actually increased American casualties by forcing the worlds best large mobile fighting force into static siege positions. Finally, the situation once again became intolerable, and the Marines were allowed to finish the job.
West takes mostly a ground-eye view of the conflict, as the readers go into house-to-house firefights with corporals, sergeants and privates. "No True Glory" is the most immediate, brutal, unsparing, and gripping account of a complex battle situation since "Blackhawk Down."
We follow Corporal Timothy Connors who becomes a grizzled 21-year-old veteran going through a dozen firefights and emerges a true leader of men; but also General Mattis, who hoping to goad the insurgents into ending the stalemate, deliberately made himself a tempting target to the enemy—though the enemy did not bite. (Mattis will be played in the move by Harrison Ford, but don't worry, Bing West and his son Owen West, a Marine Recon officer and excellent novelist in his own right are writing the script.)
West shows that the Marines, to a man, chomp at the bit for combat; but also risk their lives for Iraqi families--and they show proper professional respect for their enemy.
A telling anecdote late in the book shows the nature of modern warfare, of the combination of high tech weapons and low tech bravery under fire-- and the character of our professional fighting force. As surprisingly effective mortar fire rains down on their position, admiring Marines gather to watch a video feed of persistent and brave insurgents dodging American artillery to fire a mortar.
"You wouldn't catch me playing dodge with 155s," says one. "Suckers are dead meat if they guess wrong on the next volley," observes another. But when the Harriers are called in and the decision is to be made, "What do you think guys, the tube or the house?" the Marines are predators again, and all business. "House!" is the unanimous chorus.
But there is enough Big Picture detail to give the reader context, as well. Much of it was unreported elsewhere. We see that Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, generally portrayed in the press as surprised that flowers were not thrown in the American path in every city, advocated for quickly training an Iraqi Army. They knew that resistance would be significant. For one thing, a short war does not kill enough of the enemy to preclude such an uprising.
It was Ambassador Paul Brenner's pipe dream that Iraq could be as quickly demilitarized as West Germany (though 1800 Americans DID die in Occupied Germany in the year following the war, despite the fact that the population largely consisted of starving women and children) and his decision to have a proportion of police to military that was in inverse proportion to that desired by the Pentagon.
Bremmer also played the biggest role in the unfortunate cease fire, when he reported to the White House that it would take weeks of fighting--rather than the two days the Marines insisted was needed--to win the first battle. In his new book Bremmer still sticks to that line, insisting that allowing the Marines to finish the job the first time would have led to the downfall of the Iraqi government.
West is even-handed, pointing out the complex balancing act of trying to build a country while fighting a war. He also shows that the Administration tended to only make a mistake once, the key to success in any war. They let the Marines finish the job the second time, and removed the two-tier chain of command, which finally was exposed by the initial Fallujah debacle.
The Iraq War is the first war in American history to be almost solely covered from the aspect of its costs from the very beginning. It took years before this tone was taken for even the Vietnam War, whose WEEKLY cost in lives was approximately the same as Iraq's ANNUAL costs. Whatever your political stripe, this takes a toll of injustice on our soldiers.
West mostly waits until the closing pages of the book--after he has thoroughly corrected the American media's ignoring of our troops' accomplishments--to make this point. This is not a fleeting current events tome about current media bias, but a military classic that will stay in print for generations.
As West wraps up: "There would be no true glory for our soldiers in Iraq until they were not looked upon as victims but as aggressive warriors. Stories of their bravery deserved to be recorded and read by the next generation. Unsung, the noblest deed will die."
When liberals or the mainstream press says they "support" the troops, that means they have shifted from the Vietnam template of villains, to the modern one of victims. The scroll of KIAs on "Nightline," the order of Democrat Governors like Michigan's Jennifer Granholm to lower flags to half mast every time a soldier from their state is killed in Iraq, and the media's insistence on including suicides and accidents in the casualty count attributed to the Iraq War (even though figures recently released through 1996 show that around 1900 military personnel are killed in accidents even in peace time), are all designed to emphasize the war's cost, to the exclusion of accomplishment.
The title, No True Glory, is Bing West's protest against this tactic, and his book stands in harsh rebuke—and it might as well be the title of every network or major newspaper style manual on how to treat this war.
More about Bing West and Owen West, the father and son authors of some of today's best military writing, can be found at www.Westwrite.com. The site also has original writing by the Wests about current military matters and the war on Islamist terror.