Along the Tracks

Saturday, November 26, 2005
 

Talking to the right military 'experts'



As I surfed around this morning catching up on all the reading I've missed over a busy holiday week, I ran across this Mark Steyn column noting the "Arab Street" has finally awoken, not to denounce the "Great Satan" but rather to condemn the terrorists. Inside is a particular observational gem on the media and its deference to the opinions of Vietnam veterans to the exclusion of veterans of any other war.

Why is that, anyway?

Steyn notes the views of veterans of wars America lost are the only ones the media values. That makes sense, but how do they continue to get away with it?

Consider this: The U.S. had fought four full-scale wars (WW II, Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War) in the 60 years prior to 9/11, with substantial numbers of veterans living from each. From the fall of the Twin Towers, but most noticeably since the invasion of Iraq, the experts sought out and given platforms by the mainstream media are almost exclusively from the only war we lost during that time: Vietnam.

First, some respect for these veterans: They served under extremely difficult circumstances and were limited by foolish political calculations at home. The vast, vast majority (as with every war) served honorably and bravely. I praise them all for their valor and thank them and their families for their sacrifice - whether they agree with the present war or not. Their point of view on today's conflicts is as valid as that of any other veteran.

My point here is a Vietnam vet's viewpoint is not more valid than, say, a Korean War or Gulf War I vet's. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say soldiers, sailors and Marines who fought under similar conditions in the same region as the present conflict almost certainly have greater factual insight than those who fought in completely different environments and contexts. What's more, veterans of a more recent war would most likely have more experience with the equipment, training and tactics of our troops presently in the field. Thus, in at least two ways, Gulf War I vets would appear to offer insights into this particular war which a veteran of Korea or Vietnam or World War II could not. This doesn't discount the opinions of the others (again, all of equal worth), it merely points to the value of learning through experience.

Yet how many Gulf War vets appear as the primary analysts and sources for news stories? How many Gulf War vets are given the special deference the media gives a Jack Murtha or John Kerry or John McCain?

The answer is obvious: Practically none.

This single-minded focus on the veterans of America's lost war to the exclusion of its most recent victory (not to mention the exclusion of Korea and WW II vets) can be explained on several levels. First, the mainstream media is dominated by Baby Boomers, and pays special attention to those in its own generation. Those are people who lived through the Vietnam era. Older and younger veterans need not apply.

Second, Vietnam-era veterans are at the peak of their political power. They are the members of Congress, the public servants, the think tank department heads and college professors. They make up the majority of the elite whom the mainstream media worships.

Finally, as veterans of a lost war, these men (primarily) are far more likely to be haunted by memories of past military failure, and project those memories onto present-day conflicts. This doesn't mean they are necessarily "anti-war" - I'd suspect the vast majority favor use of military force to protect America and its interests, as with veterans from almost all eras of conflict. Yet the inescapable pain of a lost war, of sacrifices not universally honored by a grateful nation, of insults and labels denegrating their service - all these certainly make it more likely such veterans will be willing to publicly stand against a conflict. The media's anti-war bias thus seeks out voices where it is most likely to find confirmation of its own predetermined views.

Consider also how rarely we are presented with the insights and analysis of veterans of the present Iraq War who are now home. There are literally scores of thousands of men and women who served in Iraq in the past 2 1/2 years who have seen that country and the coalition's efforts with their own eyes. Why are they never among the sources and panelists presented by the media? The only time a veteran of the Iraq war makes news is when he or she announces opposition to it. Their unvarnished observations of Iraq itself - separate from the political circus - are never sought. It's another shameful failure of the mainstream media.

Fortunately, the Internet is changing the balance of power. Other opinions and oberservations can be found online, in blogs and New Media news sources. Whether or not the mainstream media forces America's retreat in the Iraq war, the mainstream media has lost the war for its information monopoly.


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