The following video (after the jump) is from PBS News Hour‘s broadcast from last Friday. James Foley, a reporter with GlobalPost, was in Afghanistan, embedded with an American infantry unit, when they were ambushed by Taliban insurgents.
As gunfire rained down on the American forces from surrounding cliffs, a 19-year-old Private, Justin Greer, manned a turret-mounted grenade launcher. The video shows Greer being shot in the helmet. He reels back, but his helmet has saved his life—the bullet only breaks the skin.
Later, we see that the lead truck in the convoy is on fire. The driver, the most seriously injured soldier in the attack, lost his arm to the elbow. The video shows his fellow soldiers carrying him to an evacuation vehicle.
On Monday, Pia de Solenni, a regular contributor to the National Review Online whose brother was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, objected to PBS airing the video:
“The journalists who prepared the segment would argue that they’re just reporting the facts. Ah, but these are selective facts. Did they show footage asking the soldiers whether they have any positive interactions with the Afghans? Did they ask the soldiers what they think of their mission? No, and they didn’t even allow them the expression of an f-bomb. So much for hearing the soldiers in their own voices. Instead, they were exploited by the graphic images of their activities. As the saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. But if an audience is too fragile to hear certain words, surely it’s too fragile to see real life casualties.”
“Segments like this convey nothing but fear and futility. They give no context to the situation. To me it seems that they undermine the concerns of our soldiers insofar as they create greater fear and anxiety for families, precisely what the soldiers don’t want, all in the name of journalism so slanted that it looks more like propaganda aiding the enemy.”
After seeing the video, do you think it’s too graphic, or that it is “so slanted that it looks more like propaganda aiding the enemy”? I don’t.
I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to lose a loved one to war; nor can I imagine how heartbreaking it must be to see the same war fought in one’s living room on a Friday evening two years later. In the column, de Solenni rightly faults PBS for failing to warn viewers that they were about to see graphic footage.
She is also correct when she says, “this is real life.” The war is real, and the sacrifices of American servicemen are real, and more than ever, the American public must be reminded how real it is.
Unlike the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought by volunteers—as a result, the realness of these wars, and the sacrifices they have required, have been borne by a disproportionate few brave Americans and their families. For the rest of us, it is far too easy to live our day-to-day lives without giving these wars (yes, we are still at war in Iraq) a second thought.
This video contains “selective facts,” but that’s what journalism is—-and de Solenni, a journalist herself, ought to know that.
She also ought to know that Americans aren’t “too fragile” to see accurate depictions of war because the FCC doesn’t allow cursing on TV.
As for creating fear and anxiety, I can’t speak to the feelings of military families. But I have to imagine that they would prefer that all Americans know what their loved ones are facing as they defend our freedom.
The instinct to censor and control media coverage of war has never been based on concern for the anxiety of military families—it’s based on the desire to control the anxiety of everyone else.
When I watch this video, I am reminded that while I sit comfortably on my back porch, tapping away at my laptop in the cool September breeze, guys my age and younger are halfway across the world facing gruesome realities that I can hardly imagine.
The war isn’t some vague abstraction, fodder for phony pundits and politicians. It’s real. And the more I see of it, the more I appreciate these guys, and their willingness to face death on my behalf.