So, a journalist videotapes something we'd rather not believe can happen -- a Marine killing a wounded, unarmed enemy. The official response is that the incident is under investigation. And the unofficial response is: from people who feel the war is a misguided, ruinous dead end -- people like me -- that the incident somehow shows how senseless and tragic the whole adventure is. And from people who appear to feel that all the devastation of life and treasure in Iraq is just part of the cost of preserving our freedom and security -- a view I find mind-bendingly out of touch with reality -- there's rage: that a reporter would dare do his job, that the actions of one of our soldiers would be questioned, that anyone could second-guess the need to blow away a wounded enemy, regardless of the circumstances.
Of course, the reactions on the other side (here and here for instance) go a lot farther than that. Kevin Sites, the journalist who shot the pool video, is now the enemy, "a turd," "a slimy bastard," and worse. Another blogger urges: "Note to all soldiers: If a prize-greedy journalist films something you don’t want aired because you know it could get your fellow soldiers killed, take the camera and destoy [sic] the film. You have the permission of the people who support you and NOT the savages you are so rightly killing." Some posts even advocate violence against the journalist.
What's stunning is the desire, on one hand, to deny what the pictures show, and on the other to punish or even shut down the source of the information. The right-wing site MichNews ("Most In-Depth, Conservative Honest News & Commentary) ran a column today that made the modest, unhysterical charge that Sites is an accomplice to al Qaida and Saddam Hussein and decrying how the video besmirched the "heroic warrior." The column, by someone named Irwin Graulich, calls for a boycott of NBC and its owner, General Electric for "their despicable practices."
OK, I was moved enough by that last piece of writing to send a letter in response:
Dear Mr. Graulich:
Regarding your piece "Fahrenheit Fallujah," two points:
First, have you seen the videotape? If so, you would seem to be intentionally mischaracterizing it. The individual or individuals involved did not face any kind of "split second decision [sic]" in this case. Indeed, one voice can be heard identifying the wounded enemy as casualties from the previous day, then other voices discuss whether one of the wounded men is feigning death; then comes the shooting. If it's improper to jump to the conclusion that the videotape
shows a Marine committing what amounts to murder, it's also improper to characterize the tape as showing a Marine facing a life-and-death situation with no time to assess the situation.
Second, your comments about Kevin Sites amount to slander of a journalist who has a long and very accessible record of sympathetic coverage of our troops in Iraq. Far from portraying them as heartless killers, he's done as much as any U.S. journalist I'm aware of to put a human face on a group of people who've been called upon to do an inhuman job in inhuman circumstances. Don't take my word for it -- check out his independent writings on the war at kevinsites.net.
The truth of this war is ugly and savage. It's also ugly and savage to so casually condemn those who honorably and professionally try to convey that truth.
Trying to respond reasonably and respectfully in this situation may be absurd. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, comes back in response.