The Human Decency Doctrine For Wartime Reporting

When did the Language of War become so insensitive and pop-'culturized'?

You hear it with everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Peter Jennings. It used to be that the use of 'trendy' Language in the context of war topics was left to, well, Bloggers and bloggerheads. But now, with mainstream media crossing the gap to pick up the nasty habit too, there's an atrocious banter going on around some horrific moments of Our lives -- that's right -- Yours & Mine.

Today's abuse is pretty hard to miss. With a devastating attack on a U.S. military base near Mosul, killing and wounding untold numbers of U.S. and coalition troops, contractors, and civilians, the news was promptly discussed as a "Lucky Strike" on Mosul.

Macabre to you too? I mean, whose side are they/we on?

Why, oh why, was it not called a "Massacre at Mosul?"

OK, we get it that from the Insurgents' perspective, any successful and unanticipated assault on troops like ours who were eating their meals, could feel like a 'high five' moment. But please oh please, do NOT report it as "High Five for the Insurgent Team" because folks, this is NOT football or basketball! [A Sunday morning news program included one jughead who was so enthusiastic in his play-by-play discussion of the unfolding of the campaign leading up to the January elections, that he used every football metaphor I've ever heard. Even the all-male panel was somewhat speechless for a second or two.]

The 'Lucky Strike' remark was bad enough but then the wolf-hound went on to question a retired General about the soft-sided facility where the troops were eating, if they weren't out there like so many, "sitting ducks."

Listen up, more than 20+ families are going to get some pretty awful news this week and having a metaphor like 'sitting ducks' anywhere in the archives is just plain boorish. Nobody needs to hear it or think it because better judgment should prevail by the professionals who are reporting news. If there is a news item or an investigation into the armoring of camps, then fine, relate that topic to their vulnerability. Where is Walter Cronkite when we need him?

For those of us who haven't been to A.N.Y. School of Journalism but have a Fair Amout of Common Sense and can educate those poor fools who couldn't be trained about what we know, here are our basic principles -- let's call it --

The Human Decency Doctrine for Wartime Reporting

1. No use of cliches, metaphors or pop culture references (songs, movies, games) in the coverage of military assaults, kidnappings, beheadings, prisoners-of-war, heroic acts, lost limbs, etc.

2. When in doubt about showing pictures of human remains or humans in shock in response to the remains of their comrades, err on the side of not showing. If it's newsworthy, 72 hours later, ask permission of the commanding officer, the troop shown, and the next of kin, if they have been notified and with a military chaplain present. [Note: you won't get past the first checkpoint.]

3. Do not use Toll-free number or Internet polls to ask Americans what should happen to Sadden Hussein or Chemical Ali. This is not the 'Bachelorette' and we don't want you to use the characters of war and us to become part of Your Sweeps Week.

4. If you have gone to the time and trouble to track down an Expert to talk to Viewers and their perspective is valuable, let him/her speak. Shut up already! Tell your sponsors that you may be going over the normal time for advertising breaks because Real Life just doesn't fit neatly around 30 or 60 second segments for cellular telephone service or department stores.

5. Cover (photograph and text with date) every casket that returns to the states. Every life matters. Show some respect. Show them coming home.

Do you have others to add?
Write and we'll send a new & improved list to the AP, the network owners, major network sponsors, and the FCC.

Let's stake our claim on this piece of the Airwaves. They were intended for You and Me.
Together, we can make a difference.


The Appointee -- Tuesdays at Ten

After another season of the Donald's, The Apprentice, it occurs to me that the White House could learn a lot about vetting their appointments to all sorts of positions including the cabinet, supreme court, and lesser crowns like ambassadorships. They could simply create a 'reality' tv show and let the country help weed out the candidates.

The recent embarrassment over NY's Bernard Kerik to Homeland Security isn't the travesty that the press is making it out to be. It would have been worse, sure, if he had already started the job. So, ok, enthusiasm ran high already, and in the 2nd term things got a tad sloppy with new people playing it a little loose on background checks. I don't think that 'bad' day [the day Kerik's sordid past hit the fan] begins to compare with the 'best' day in Baghdad, so why are we giving it so much newsprint? I don't think President Bush or Rudy G. should keep beating themselves up over it. Let it go already!

We can learn something from this, though.

We learned from the Clinton administration that nearly nobody is qualified to be Attorney General of the U.S. Save for missing a law degree, I used to think I could volunteer -- I never 'smoked' you know what (let alone had the inhalation issue to contend with), didn't have that nasty nanny-gate problem, but then, ooops, nevermind. . . forgot about dear Vera, the short-term house cleaner a life-time ago. She didn't want to report her income to the government and I didn't want to twist her arm about it so I didn't pay the 'employer's' part of the social security either. There I go, disqualifying myself from Attorney General. That was just one of Kerik's transgressions.

But just imagine -- if we had 100,000 candidates for the cabinet secretary of Homeland Security [The Apprentice gets 1 million applications; I'm assuming not nearly as many people would want this job as working for the Trumpster], and taking all sorts of prequalifications into account,we narrowed the search to 20.

Then, what if we planned a 20-week television program based on weeding out the undesirable candidates each week, pitting them against each other one by one, while we, the audience, learn more and more about them, their character, grace-under-fire pressure, and you know, whether they floss -- important stuff.

I think we'd have a hit all right. And we'd probably be no worse for the wear. We might even have a darn good Appointee for the position of whatever post we were trying to fill -- just name it -- the process works for any of them in the federal government.

Sure, we would still have the CIA and FBI clearances, newspaper leaks, old lovers' tapes discovered [a la Clinton], and quirks like practicing surgery on 'rescued' cats [see Sen. Frist online articles] but we would have a better chance of airing our dirty laundry in advance.

See, it's not that we couldn't wear dirty socks a 2nd day, but sometimes, well, you know. . .you just want to sniff them to be real sure.


Help the Troops & Their Families!

No matter your politics, there are U.S. troops around the world who are feeling the pangs of prolonged separation from their families and friends, many of whom are located in harm's way. Their conditions of daily living and survival at 'work' are not great; we all wish it could be better. Separating the causes and the finger-pointing for a moment, let us remember that there is something that we can all do. You pick what that something is and just DO IT!

FORGET THAT IT MAY NOT (PROBABLY WON'T) REACH THEM BY DECEMBER 25. They're still going to be there the day after, the week after that, and the month after that.
The need goes on. This is NOT just a Holiday appeal, Got it?

Whether it's a church activity sending sweatsuits to injured soldiers (there are too many to
list -- check with yours) or a centralized program to help those wounded with a variety of soft clothes and toiletries (see: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/), if you want to support specific goods going to troops, there are programs for you.

Http://www.anysoldier.com provides a wide array of options for you to choose from all the way from care packages to program support. It's admirable how this program began; be sure to check it out. Even the hardest of hearts can't help but be moved by some of the needs identified by representatives of individual units that can be selected all the way from Branch of Service to Male or Female to nurses or soldiers. You can read their list of needs and then take a look at your own grocery cart each week and suddenly you just know you CAN make room to help these courageous troops whose return home remains uncertain -- some turkey jerky, baby wash/wipes for basic hygiene, or batteries -- the needs are not beyond your ability to help. Pick one; in your mind 'adopt a battalion' or a unit and do the best you can.

Another great grassroot effort that has evolved into an amazing organization can be found at http://soldiersangels.org/heroes/index.php You can read about their work and select from a wide array of ways to help out including returning troops and families who try to reach wounded sons and daughters to support them during treatment and recovery.

The Red Cross working with the Red Crescent Society has tried to administer aid to civilians in Iraq. Most aid agencies are, for the present, in too much danger of being killed or kidnapped to provide direct support of civilians. However, there is hope that there will be a time again when they can resume their aid. Contact your local branch of the Red Cross (see your telephone White Pages) and ask how you can best help, typically through a financial contribution.

If you live within 200 miles of a military base you will likely find outreach programs in the community that you can join and support. Sometimes these are administered through VFW, American Legion Posts, or other community groups. If you are interested in particularly helping young, struggling families of deployed troops then this may be the best route for you to offer assistance. Sometimes the gift of telephone calling cards, grocery store gift cards, and help with school uniforms for children can provide amazing relief to the parent left behind trying to stretch a check until next pay period.

Again, don't confuse your personal ideology with politics or government and what's at stake in supporting the human beings from our country who are in positions of extraordinary risk and discomfort. You CAN help a fellow citizen, a fellow human being, without risking whatever opinions you have because that is what being a caring human being is all about. Have the courage to try it today, if you haven't already made the commitment to do so.

Then, keep on giving, even if it hurts, because it hurts them a whole lot more.


Any Town, U.S.A.

Across the country, scores of World War II servicemen, their wives, and the nurses who tended the troops are dwindling daily. Any newspaper in Any Town, U.S.A. lists the obituaries of the men and women whose commitment to duty made all the difference in a grueling era of deprivation and fear.

Yet there are still precious souls among us who, upon casual conversation, can be persuaded to take us back in time -- their time at war, to their lives interrupted.

It's interesting to hear the rationale for which service branch was selected. "Well, I knew I could use my mechanical engineering and machinery talents on a naval ship and frankly, I didn't think I would be much use with a gun. At 6' 4" I just figured I would be a splendid target, that's all," and the like explain why Earl entered the Navy instead of the Army as many of his New Jersey friends and neighbors did.

A couple of those Jersey fellows were Earl's high school buddies and before the war they practiced an extracurricular skill as a team -- acrobatic leveling or balancing. At one time (the now near-90 year old man was regaling me with stories encompassing the heart of a century), Earl was on his way to becoming a professional leveler. I never knew this term. But when Earl explained it to me, I could imagine how the performers who climbed higher and higher on top of him needed to count on the steady stance of the underpinning form of their colleague -- Earl. Earl, the human leveler.

As he talked, Earl's eyes twinkled remembering those days and I could almost see in my mind's eye the shapes of bodies climbing higher and higher to the sounds of awes from the audience. I felt goosebumps.

For a time it surely seemed that Earl and his band of brothers were headed for the professional performing circle. Favorable auditions were granted and they felt at age 18 the world was just beginning for them.

And then the U.S. entered WWII and the performance artists placed their skills in the hands of their country instead.

Earl and I talked about the twists and turns in one's life, how doors open and close without our awareness that sometimes they are altering our lives forever. That he would, post-war, meet a gal, Margie, in his college town, who shared his old love of acrobatics, herself using a trapeze at times, seemed almost too good to be true. Their love was immediate and he was overjoyed to discover that he could level her just like he had leveled the fellows a few years before. And so life was good for them.

As we talked over old times and how he came to become an engineer in Silicon Valley instead of the circus performer traveling on-the-road, lovely Margie walked over grinning to ask him a simple question. "What's the name of our road?"

Earl answered her gently and she happily walked back to her friends. His eyes weren't twinkling as before when he told me that Margie now has Alzheimer's Disease. But they still danced the night away at the holiday party with other retirees who returned to celebrate the occasion with fellow workers. We were grateful Earl and Margie were there.

And I was so thankful that he shared this and other vignettes of the lives of the WWII generation at a time when I'm communicating with soldiers in Iraq and some are struggling to adjust to life after Iraq. There's never a comparison between wars, eras, nor people of course.

I am reminded that real courage is born of those who serve. And those who keep a level head while continuing to 'Level' their beloved through the storms and trials of disease are heroes indeed, because their course too, like soldiers, is uncharted, yet steadfast.


Nixon's Right Hand Man Tells Troops to Suck It Up

Some news days are almost too surreal to believe. Today was one of them.

Chronicling both Pres. Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's flights of fury to Camp Pendleton, CA and Camp Buehring, Kuwait respectively allowed them to acknowledge the time-honored Pearl Harbor Day occasion with real troops, not just veterans. And of course, it was to buck up the morale of the troops, the ones already there and bone weary and those who are dreading going even with all of the honorable duty talk in the world hanging over their heads.

Not surprisingly, Pres. Bush's visit was, well, presidential. Pendleton has lost around 270 Marines in Iraq. Camp Pendleton understands what sacrifice is. During the emotional visit with family members and troops, he gave the broad appeal to all Americans to help out however they can with military families. So many Americans have been doing this from the first troops' deployment; he hardly had to ask, but it was a good, strategic request of the whole country in case anyone out there has had their heads buried in P. Hilton videos. He was in fine form, truly presidential. It was only a shame that he didn't send somebody else to Kuwait instead of old Rummy.

It's possible that there are many factors at play with Rumsfeld. Age, too many years with pharmaceutical companies, and the obvious -- he's got a 'lock-in' now as a lame-duck Defense Secretary so perhaps he thinks he's untouchable. After all, did you vote for him? Think about it. How do you impeach a Defense Secretary?

Well, Secretary Rumsfeld did not prepare enough for the tone of his encounter with troops in Kuwait. You know, the kind of drill that we all learned in Business 101 -- "Worst case scenario: what do you do if the cash register jams and customers are lined up at the door?" Duh. You have to be prepared for thoughtful, seasoned, and accommodating responses to your 'customers. . .'

Like it or not, Rumsfeld, that congressional-go-lightly Princeton fellow who kowtowed to Nixon all through his Watergate days (somehow never getting burned himself), is more than a little OUT OF TOUCH with reality, the kind of reality that troops know in the field. This is the same Rumsfeld who never got the tiniest bit dirty in bloody combat himself, lucky devil. His brief aviator days in the mid-1950's allowed him to miss WWII, Korea & Vietnam. Talk about luck.

Two major points stuck in the craw of troops in the audience. Too bad more women weren't there; he might have been hissed off the stage (kidding).

1. A serious and well-presented question was asked about by a true 'Volunteer' [that's what Tennessee troops are called historically] as to why they still have inadequate supplies of armor for their vehicles. Just imagine what Pres. Bush might have said way over at Camp Pendleton. I suspect he would have said something like, "It's my understanding that we're nearly up to full capacity with supplying armor for military vehicles, but I take your question seriously and we will look into it."

Not old Rummy. He just cracked that verbal whip right back at Army Spc. Wilson and said,
"You go to war with the Army you have."

"Arguments of convenience lack integrity and inevitably trip you up."

Let's face it, that whole audience in Kuwait had Rummy's number and was just too darn polite to carry him to his Limo in pieces.

2. The 2nd Hot Button issue that's on many troops' minds and is more than a bit sensitive as lawsuits flurry about like a Nor'easter is the "stop loss" problem which means the effective use [or abuse] of soldiers preventing them from retiring or quitting when their time is up. It's pretty hard to not know about this from newspapers and TV programs where disabled veterans are being dragged out of their homes, 4' 8" 60-year old grandmothers are being hauled back to training, and mothers of infants who thought they had fulfilled their commitment are now in uniform. Oh yeah, it's a sensitive issue.

To say that we don't have a Draft is, in light of all of this, just a plain Lie. We may not have a lottery like we did in the 60's & 70's (yet) but we have a draft, de facto. It's just that the people taking it on the chin are those already in the military and those who have ever been in who could in any way be hauled back by some technicality.

So when Rumsfeld was asked about how much more of this "stop loss" power they were going to use on troops who would otherwise be eligible to retire or quit, quick to answer, the Defense Secretary just said that this was a good, sound principle and
"It's nothing new, it's been well understood by soldiers."

But that presumes that all of these people could simply be misguided, crazy, or wrong. But maybe something ELSE was "well understood" by these soldiers, something RUMSFELD SAID:

"I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that."

What do we make of this Secretary, the counselor to Nixon, Reagan's envoy to Saddam Hussein (remember when he was our friend?), a man on the board of a global technology group for nuclear power stations off North Korea (remember, the Bad Guys?), and curiously the CEO of Searle who might be called "old Bitter & Sweet" who got FDA approval for an artificial sweetener by the name of aspartame. Rumsfeld's very proud of his achievements for turning business profitability around -- usually, like at Searle, it's at the expense of the jobs of rank and file workers.

Do you think Rumsfeld got the war confused with a giant Widget Factory and by losing troops and not shipping all of the supplies needed he can demonstrate greater profitability? Wow, that's tough talk isn't it, kind of like calling someone guilty of war crimes.
But, to Quote RUMSFELD:
"Prune -- prune businesses, products, activities, people. Do it annually."

But what's clear is this: Rummy's a man who loves the Business of war but only tolerates troops. Can we afford to have a Secretary of Defense who is so indifferent, antagonistic, if not hostile to the men and women who implement his plans? Is he really the Best and Brightest that our Country can find for this important job?

I'd go back to Kuwait and ask some of the men and women who spoke up at the Secretary's apperance -- ask them who they would be inspired to follow. I have faith in my fellow Americans, something that Donald Henry Rumsfeld does not share. He was not forthcoming like that Tennessee 'Volunteer' at Camp Buehring.

No, Rumsfeld did not resign at the end of the first term like so many other cabinet members. But just because he didn't offer his resignation does not mean that our President doesn't know how to request it. Let's give President Bush our support NOW to help Secretary Rumsfeld retire. We don't want to 'stop loss' him now, do we?

And if it helps ease into it, LET'S REMIND RUMSFELD OF SOME OF HIS OWN WORDS:
"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."


Killed in Service

There will be many more analyses, investigative hours, and possible charges over the recent report that NFL player turned-soldier Corporal (Army Ranger) Pat Tilman was killed last April by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan. The tragedy of his death stands alongside the collective tragedies of more than 1,400 coalition troops as of this writing.

When you step one hour, one day, one week or one year away from the fact of the individual case what remains is this – he or she is dead, just the same. However, wherever, and whenever the loss, the loss remains as true and real to those who know what loss really is.

Not all deaths are reported and counted in the same way, however. And the “KIA” (killed in action) numbers are the ones we, the public, tend to watch closely. (It makes me wonder if COs are given performance evaluations in which their mortality counts are a measure of their success so they don't want those car accidents, heart-attacks, and drug overdoses to drag their record down.)

Further, we can’t help but marvel at the slug-sticky trail left by those (official investigators?) whose tangled webs were well practiced to confuse or deceive us (to mix metaphors while mangling a quotation along the way) about the truth behind the big 'incidents.'

And that brings us back to Corporal Tilman. Much will be made of this friendly fire incident because of Tilman’s high profile case – he was well known, highly admired, fondly respected and loved by many.

But there are also lesser known cases of friendly fire that we ought to study just as earnestly if we are to learn anything about our commitment to troops and to truth.

Take Marine Corporal Jason David Mileo, for example. Mileo, from Pasadena, Maryland, survived the April 2003 assault on Baghdad but was mistaken for an enemy soldier when he was killed. It took a year for military investigators to lay partial blame on Cpl. Mileo (!) for causing the confusion that led to his own death.

According to the U.S. Central Command, Cpl. Mileo (at the time, unarmed) had removed his flak jacket and helmet and was smoking a cigarette – conduct violations – when he was shot in the back by fellow Marine snipers and spotter. Yet, the report, a full year in the making, absolved military responsibility by saying:

“Even though no one event or person was the catalyst for Corporal Mileo’s death, one break in the chain of events may have spared his life.”

Hmmm. . .I'd like to know who wrote that line; it's sort of Zen-like, kind of out of touch with the Reality that most of us know and live with.

Counting ‘friendly fire’ deaths is perhaps the hardest count of all because of the admission of guilt and the implicit responsibility (public outrage, loss of support for the war, lawsuits, to name a few) that accompanies it. But it’s hard to tell the survivors of those who died from accidents, ‘noncombat weapon discharge,’ disease, or even suicide that their loved ones’ deaths were not brought on at least in substantial part by their service to their country.

It’s time that the algorithm change. Since the U.S. Civil War, at least, military deaths have been tracked by disease, accident, suicide, death-in-combat, murder, among other categories.

But just as we don’t send out brightly dressed fifers and drummers in advance of marching troops anymore because it doesn’t fit modern warfare techniques, we need to stop segregating deaths-in-service by cause.

The aggregate death count – the total count of souls lost -- is good enough for me because they all matter, even those whose futile destinies lay in their own hands by their acts.

After we’ve seen the movie based on the death of Cpl. Tilman, try to remember the movies that you won’t see – of young fellows like Cpl. Mileo whose father's thoughts should linger with us all:

“His death was noble because he was a soldier who willingly went into battle to fight for freedom and liberty and he fell. And he lost his life.”

What else is there to say? The count with Tilman and Mileo?
Two more were “killed in service” of their country.



Milbloggers & the 'Experts'

[The following letter was sent to a Northeast newspaper to set the record straight on their reporting.]

Dear newspaper editor,

Thanks to the Internet, we're reading your newspaper in Baghdad as well as in Arizona. Your November 21, 2004 article ("Dispatches from the front") warrants some serious clarification for readers.

You see, as it is, the reporter might have left you with the impression that a Milblog by the handle "Life in this Girl's Army" was an easy kick-back "college kid's diary." On the contrary. Those of us who have kept up with Sgt. Lizzie's writings know that this Blog was a creative and expressive outlet for her and a way to stay in touch with family and friends.

Along the way (and not part of her own plan, I might add) she's educated perfect strangers like me and connected us with other Bloggers, creating a pretty powerful network of that old American spirit. You remember -- people extending their hands and helping each other as they best can.

Multiply the power that comes from someone like Sgt. Lizzie! Just imagine, because of her, in a small way I've helped a horribly injured soldier get his family to Walter Reed; 'adopted'
the family of a deployed Marine for holiday support; sent telephone calling cards to soldiers; and helped a returning reservist's family who unfairly lost his stateside job get back on their feet. Again, I say, multiply the power that comes from Sgt. Lizzie's impact on others.

Well, yesterday, Dec. 4, in that foreign soil, wearing her uniform in service of her country, Sgt. Lizzie's truck hit an IED. (We learned from her mother who updated her Blogsite.) You see, no one in Iraq is a "college kid" as you suggested. No one is exempt from great peril, pain, suffering, and death.

Sgt. Lizzie was injured, was hospitalized, but she was lucky; her comrade, the driver, behind her, God rest her soul, was not so blessed.

It would do a gross disservice to the military personnel who serve in Iraq or elsewhere in the world in harm's way (as well as Sgt. Lizzie, in particular, since she was identified in this article) if your information was not updated for readers.

"Dispatches from the front?" Not such a simplistic article to write, now is it?

You see, just like looking in our rear-view mirrors, "Objects may be larger than they seem." When you read a Milblog in the future, do not trivialize what you do not understand.

Santa & His Grinch

Doesn't seem fair on top of everything else to be picking on Santa, does it?

But out there, in shopping malls and department stores around the U.S., thousands of children line up to sit on Santa's lap and tell their innermost secrets and wishes for the Christmas season. Turns out, this is good for business too. You see, Santa Claus helps bring in numbers of shoppers who spend extra time and dollars that keep the private sector as profitable as possible. That profit comes at our expense -- yours and mine. So, Santa's visitation is also being underwritten by you and me and the impact of our hard-earned dollars is seen in those centers of shopping delight. My thought is this: I 'own' part of Santa and you do too!

Here's what's on my list for Santa this year. Instead of telling children of soldiers who are deployed in military service in Iraq and elsewhere that their parents (who cannot afford the rip-off 'studio portrait package') may not use their own cameras to take a couple of their own photos of their kid on Santa's lap, welcome dependents of Military Families warmly and with Dignity to a modest giveaway package that won't break anybody's corporate bank account. That is, try a little human kindness. Give a little for goodness sake. For some of these families the 'kid-on-Santa's lap picture' was going back to Iraq with the troops for their next deployment -- any day now.

Don't make me name names you corporate Grinches! Get your magic marker and a poster board and mark up the latest special for Military Troops and Their Families (with ID of course) your best offer and win some goodwill and additional business besides.

Because the war will be over someday, so we hope, and some of us won't forget what corporate citizens do for our troops and their families when it matters.