In “The Media and the Military,” an article in the November issue of The Atlantic – arguably the best serious magazine in America today – Robert Kaplan writes of the great social and cultural divide that exists between the nation’s elite journalists and its soldiers.
Nowhere is that divide more evident than in the “starkly differing” (Kaplan’s words) ways that President Bush is viewed by members of the military and members of the media. Soldiers – certainly noncommissioned officers (NCOs) – hold Bush in high regard “for subjective cultural reasons. His voice is a clear, simple one that speaks of a clash between good and evil, between good guys and bad guys. Bush talks like a believer; he is unabashedly Christian. He says openly that it is all right to kill the enemy, which goes a long way with military fighting units.”
An Air Force master sergeant told Kaplan, “I reject the notion that Bush is inarticulate. He is more articulate than Clinton. When Bush says something, he’s clear enough that you argue about whether you agree with him or not. When Clinton talks, you argue over what he really meant.”
Kaplan adds that Bush “connects with sergeants and corporals in the same visceral, almost tribal way that I saw Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a sophisticated European Jew who relaxed to the music of Chopin, connect with the tough, working-class Oriental Jews of Israel’s slums and development towns a quarter century ago. The Oriental Jews, like American NCOs, were looking not for subtlety or complexity but for clarity. How deeply does this man believe? Will he fight to the finish?”
The same issue of The Atlantic carries an uncommonly eloquent letter to the editor from Stan Coerr, a major in the Marine Reserves, which drives home Kaplan’s point that reporters and soldiers generally inhabit separate moral and political universes, as should be clear from the following excerpts:
“… I was commander of five U.S. Marine air/naval gunfire liaison teams, and also the liaison officer between U.S. Marines and British army forces…. As dawn broke on March 22, 2003, I became part of one of the largest and fastest land movements in the history of war. I went across the border alongside my brothers in the Royal Irish, following the 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton as they swept through the Ramaylah oil fields…. I killed many Iraqi soldiers, as they tried to kill me and my Marines…. I saw, up close, everything the rest of you see in the newspapers: dead bodies, parts of dead bodies, helmets with bullet holes through them, handcuffed POWs sitting in the sand, oil-well fires with flames reaching a hundred feet into the air and a roar you could hear from over a mile away.
“… Along with the violence, I saw many things that lifted my heart. I saw thousands of Iraqis in cities like Qurnah and Medinah – men, women, children, grandparents carrying babies – running into the streets at the sight of us, the first Western army to arrive. I saw them screaming, crying, waving, cheering. They ran from their homes at the sound of our Humvee tires roaring in from the south; they brought us bread and tea and cigarettes and photos of their children. They chattered at us in Arabic, and we spoke to them in English, and neither understood the other. The entire time I was in Iraq, I had one impression from the civilians I met: Thank God someone has finally arrived with bigger men and bigger guns to be, at last, on our side.
“Let there be no mistake, those of you who don’t believe in this war: the Baath rulers were the Nazis of the second half of the twentieth century. I saw what the murderous, brutal regime of Saddam Hussein wrought on that country through his party and their fedayeen henchmen. They raped, murdered, tortured, extorted, and terrorized for thirty-five years. There are mass graves throughout Iraq only now being discovered. The 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment liberated a prison in Iraq populated entirely by children…. The war was the right thing to do then, and in hindsight it was still the right thing to do….