I watched the Charlie Rose show last night. The show was a rebroadcast of selected interview spots with Robert F. McNamara. In one spot, Charlie Rose asked him why he had not weighed in on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. McNamara stated he will not comment out of fear of hurting the war effort. He also fears helping the enemy effort. “The current Sec Def has access to information I may not have” he replied. “How can I comment?” (I paraphrase).
This is a journalist quizzing a former statesman. It made me consider my own feelings about reporters, now typically embedded with units of our armed forces. As if combat wasn’t difficult enough.
I harbor no particular fondness of McNamara, aside from finding his interviews interesting. I do not dislike him, but I can see why others might. He was a key figure managing a war that to this day is discussed with emotion as if it were yesterday. I had two cousins in that war, and both returned physically whole. I have a best friend who had an oldest brother. That brother did not return, and his name is on the wall. One only needs to compare lives lived, with lives absent, to feel the gravity of a war’s lasting damage.
I can understand why McNamara refuses to comment. Part of me gets it, and that may be from being in the service. Part of me likewise understands that in a free society, you need open debate about the course of great undertakings that use monstrous amounts of a nation’s resources, and the lives of its youth.
If a reporter was embedded in my squad or platoon, I’d have to ask him or her “ok, so are you an American?” and I’d ask “what is your objective in riding along with my platoon? To report it as it happens; to report a side of war unseen; to personally observe the unrelenting weight of combat and stress?” In other words, you have to choose a side. You are not the Red Cross.
“Have you considered your being here as having a distracting effect on my unit?”
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I watched one hour of 360 where Anderson Cooper, a journalist, was commenting on a politician’s controversial decision, saying “is that leadership?” I had to wonder – what does he know about leadership? I did not ask for his opinion on leadership, and probably never will..
I do not believe journalists or investigative reporters are Priests, owing allegiance to some greater unquestionable good. How close do you have to get to war, to be satisfied it is indeed war? The stress, hardship, sadness and enduring scarring is not new, and it is not news. It seems to be the latest entertainment for a society with so many distractions that boredom of too many choices becomes a license to do and view the previously unthinkable. Reporters serve it up in buckets.
I really have no issue with investigative reporters seeing some worldly ill, and working hard to expose it, so that society can then correct it. But some things are hard enough without a reporter interpreting what just happened. You want to experience war, and be in the “experienced combat and lived” club? Then raise your hand. And even then, you might not get admitted.