When I was in Vietnam we went to great lengths to keep the media out of our area of operation. If the media were present, we were obligated to protect them, which took away assets we needed to ensure our own protection. Military vehicles and aircraft are designed to perform a mission and carry a certain number of personnel to accomplish that mission.
Media personnel take up space and that space is needed to be filled by military personnel in order to accomplish the mission. Embedding media in those spaces brings with it a certain degree of insecurity for the entire mission and the soldiers involved. Back in the civilian world, would you limit the number of firemen on a fire truck to make way for the media to ride along? The answer is no, of course not. The requirements for a military mission and combat force are no different than those needs of a crew on a fire truck.
The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is very operative in this instance. Things go on in warfare that are not pretty and, quite frankly, gruesome. With the media in attendance, combat operations take on a whole different look. Actions on the part of the combat troops are taken out of context and misconstrued in such a way that the troops cannot conduct operations with the degree of ferocity that is often times necessary without having those actions held up to scrutiny by the media and, ultimately, by the public. Things happen in combat. Mistakes are made. Civilians get in the way and sometimes are put in harm’s way by the enemy to throw our troops off from their mission. Thus, we get rules such as obtaining permission to fire on opposing combatants before you can engage and destroy them. Our recent wars have seen increasing lack of ability on the part of our troops to identify opposing force combatants as they aren’t distinguishable from the general population since they don’t wear any identifying uniforms.
It is just this same sort of scrutiny and familiarity that recently brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal not only from his command, but also from his outstanding career. The Rolling Stone reporter didn’t mean for the general’s comments to harm him in any way, but they did when McChrystal’s commander in chief got wind of them. McChrystal’s comments about the whole combat situation were not unlike comments you might hear around the drinking fountain, but given the general’s status, his comments were taken as not supporting the administration’s policies and thus he was fired. Everybody gripes about their job from time to time, but military generals are supposed to be gung ho to the bloody end. Freedom of speech does not exist in the military, period.
That’s not to say that military types can’t be creative about how they carry out their mission. The trick in the military with any mission is to get the opposition to die for their country so you don’t have to die for yours. It’s like a football game for keeps. Loser dies. That’s not pretty but it’s how war is waged.
If our troops had not had to embed the media with them, along with trying to conduct their mission and bring these conflicts to a successful end, we may not have had the 1,000 killed in action in Afghanistan and the casualty count in Iraq.
Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.