Interesting editorial choice

As is the rest of the media, the Times is making much of the fact that 4,000 American troops have died during more than five years of war in Iraq. I won’t repeat here (or, at least, I won’t repeat at length) my oft-stated belief that, while each death is a personal tragedy, this is a volunteer military that has graciously and with extreme bravery stepped up to help defend all of us and that, thank God, it has been blessed by an extremely low casualty total compared to wars of similar scope and length. But I digress….

As always, I’m leery of MSM articles about the War dead, since I can’t escape the feeling that they’re written less to honor the dead than to score political points against the war. “See, you stupid chickenhawks — wars kill people, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.”

Still, the Times has done a nice job giving life to several men who died within the last year in Iraq. One of them, Daniel J. Agami, doesn’t sound at all like the typical liberal stereotype (one that is completely false) that sees American soldiers a naive minorities sneakily enticed into the military by bribes and promises so that corporations can get rich off their blood. Instead, he sounds like a real American — someone who is one in that rich blend that is the American melting pot, and who believes in what this country has to offer and willingly puts his life on the line to defend it:

Private Agami had time for everyone, and everyone had time for him. Affectionately called GI Jew, he held his religion up to the light. He used it to build tolerance among the troops and shatter stereotypes; few in his unit had ever met a Jew. He flew the Israeli flag over his cot in Adhamiya. He painted the words Hebrew Hammer onto his rifle. He even managed to keep kosher, a feat that required a steady diet of protein shakes and cereal.

He is a mensch, something that is also reflected in the letters and emails his family made available to the Times for this profile.

And yet, when it came to Army Specialist Agami, the Times made a rather unusual decision — it used his picture as the major photograph to illustrate the article. Choosing his picture would not be so unusual, of course, if it weren’t for the fact that the picture the Times chose has Agami sitting in front of a huge Israeli flag. Reading down into the article (way down, almost near the end), it makes sense why he would be photographed in front of this flag: “He flew the Israeli flag over his cot in Adhamiya.” Given that Agami willingly fought for and died for this country, I don’t see anyone having a problem with his choice of decor.

What is a problem is the fact that the Times uses this particular photograph to illustrate an article about American troops who have died in Iraq. One simply can’t escape the impression that the Times is trying to send the subliminal message — a very strong subliminal message — that Americans are fighting and dying for Israel, not for America.

It would be nice to believe that the Times highlighted this particular photograph because its editors wanted to make the point that ours is an exceptionally pluralist army, made up of Americans representing the vast tapestry of race and religion that enriches America. Given the Times‘ political biases, though, it’s very difficult to escape the conclusion that some editor couldn’t resist making a political point even as he followed a directive from on high to honor America’s war dead.

UPDATE:  The Times has changed the picture about which I blogged, but Atlas Shrugs captured it.

On a different point, as someone reminded me in a private email, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and one need not jump to any conclusions about the Times‘ motives — as I’ve tried not to, commenting only on the peculiar impression the chosen photo made.  My problem, of course, is that, while a cigar may just be a cigar, sometimes it matters whose cigar is at issue — and the Times has not shown itself to be friendly, or even neutral, towards either Israel or the U.S. military.

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  • Mike Devx

    The use of that picture to highlight the USA’s connection to Israel and the troubles in the Middle East is no accident. It is not an out-and-out attack, but it is one of those subtle pokes that, repeated enough, forms a compelling message. Complete with plausible deniability to boot!

    This is exactly similar to the trick that Bill Clinton pulled late last week when he said, “I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,”

    Again, especially when taken in context, there’s complete plausible deniability here. And yet, and yet, and yet… Bill Clinton NEVER says anything he doesn’t mean to say. He knows better than to launch any all-out attack on Obama. So, for now, the patriotism and racial attacks will all be very, very subtle. Repeated enough, they too will form a compelling message over time.

    The Clintons are the Tom Delay of Democrat power politics. It is ALL about power and winning to them, and not one ounce of integrity or honor in the mix. It is power, it is winning, and yes it is massive corruption. I for one will be glad when the Clinton machine is laid to rest. I hope it gets laid to rest and she returns to the quiet role (quiet relative to the Presidency) quiet role of Senator. At least for the first time I am seeing signs McCain might actually win this thing! Hooray!

  • Helen Losse

    I think, regardless of whether one hates the war or supports it, that calling the names of soldiers who died in action is honoring them. That is what I have heard done at anti-war gatherings in the past. It is possible to hate the war and honor those who have died in the service of their country. And it is possible also to read fewer than 4,000 names and allow the ones read to stand for others, as the one buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for each war represents many. It behooves us all to remember that each soldier was someone’s son or daughter and that the parent, who may or may not have approved of the volunteering, gave also.

  • Ymarsakar

    As is the rest of the media, the Times is making much of the fact that 4,000 American troops have died during more than five years of war in Iraq.

    Given that they and others like them helped make the figure a reality, why shouldn’t they boast about it, Book?

    “See, you stupid chickenhawks — wars kill people, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.”

    Fortunately for reporters, war doesn’t kill journalists and editors creating demoralizing hit pieces at the home front. War only kills the people that have to fight in it, not the people that sell weapons to both sides. The Times is in the unique position of touting and balancing the side of the US and the side of her enemies. The media calls that fair or objective coverage. I call that selling death merchandise to both sides. How do arms merchants ensure a profit? By balancing both sides.

    I think, regardless of whether one hates the war or supports it, that calling the names of soldiers who died in action is honoring them.

    One first must have honor before one can do honor to anyone else. Honor contains, at a minimum, the consistency of upholding your promises and claims. The denial of duty and the denial that the United States has an obligation and promise to fullfil to Iraqis, not because anti-war activists refused to make such a pledge but because the people fighting have made that pledge, is a very clear demonstration that people cannot have honor if they seek to make others break their promises.

    The inability to understand what honor consists of, creates such things as “honor killings” and the actions of the anti-war crowd when they see themselves as honoring the war dead by seeking to end the war earlier.

    It is two different views of honor at conflict here. One is where honor is based upon integrity, classical liberalism, the fulfillment of promises, and keeping one’s word as opposed to the other view of honor, where it is about cowardice in the face of the enemy, looking after oneself above anyone else, and cutting our costs by running away and conceding defeat.

    There have been many excuses made, sometimes by those that supported the war in the beginning, concerning cutting costs and dividing up Iraq or accepting a less optimum solution than the one we hoped to achieve with the mega-war started in the Middle East. After Petraeus and the Surge, those excuses are looking a bit bare.

    Because America is the tribe of Americans, many young Americans join the military to protect that tribe. In exchange, those Americans can certainly expect the tribal leadership and the tribe itself to look after the loved ones of those going out to fight external enemies. US military personnel depends upon US police security, economic prosperity, and political stability systems to make life stable for their loved ones, when they travel to the Middle East and fight there. Because they cannot protect their wife or children overseas, they depend upon us to do it for them. Sometimes we fail, when the police arrive too late to save two women and their children from a sociopathic killer wielding a knife. Sometimes the economy crashes because the tribe made unwise decisions in policy or leaders or both. Sometimes the police go beyond the line and attack the people they were supposed to protect. But often times and most of the time, Americans can expect the system of government and their neighborrs to obey the law and not cheat. Bend the law and game the system, yes, but still working within the law rather than outside it. The law that ensures protection for their loved ones against injustice.

    This is the inherent difference with Iraq, because they do not have this security guarantee for their families, making their loyalties divided between a greater united Iraq via joining the security forces and staying home/bribing AQ/accepting extortion from Sadr.

    But how does America actually guarantee that the families of military personnel will be safe and capable of exercising their Constitutional rights? America guarantees it by winning wars. One defeat, even a rumor of a defeat like Vietnam, brings entire legions of new enemies out of the woodworks. Eventually those enemies will pull America down in fire and ruin. And what will become of the families of all those that died in America’s foreign wars? Those families will have nothing to live on with their male protectors gone and dead. Families will have their moms disappear, and then the children will have to enlist and sacrifice their own lives because America’s enemies have suddenly become legion. And so America will have failed in keeping the bargain she made with the citizens, men and women, who went to fight America’s foreign wars.

    That, at the foundation, is what is meant by “we owe it to those that have died to win the war”. Cause if we don’t win the war, we make it all the more likelier for the families of the war dead to ultimately be crushed along with America. It is not soldiers that win wars or generals, it is the society that they came from. The entire society, in fact. Too many losses will erode America’s civil rights, because people will demand more security, which means more limitation of liberties. If security is not maintained in America, people will fragment into different enclaves instead of working together and protecting each other. None of these things are positive results for a family that have lost loved ones in a war.

    Can the anti-war crowd truly, honestly, claim that they have analyzed the long term risks to Americans and have made a choice based upon reality and human nature? Can they really claim that they can complete the duty that binds all citizens of America to those that died defending America? The agreement that if they should die protecting us, that we shall do everything we can to protect their loved ones? Protecting their loved ones means ensuring that America has a good record of victories in war, so that nobody else tries to think they can kill or kidnap a few Americans, some of them which might possibly be a family member of a veteran, and get what they want.

    It is far more likely that such people in the anti-war crowd have made a choice about cutting costs in the short term only. That they have never considered the long term ramifications of their actions or that they have any responsibility or duty to ensure that America does not in the future require the sacrifices of any more family members of military families. To consider that they literally have no choice or freedom about it, since duty means that once you accept it, you are bound by it. If that duty demands that you support the Republicans in this war because they were the ones that started it and are the only ones interested in winning it, then that is what you must do, if it is the price for upholding the promise Americans made to her defenders and ancestors.

    The only alternative is if people think that they don’t need to pay a price. That they can get out of Iraq and the only people who will have to pay a price are the ones they either don’t know anything about or don’t care to know anything about. That is a view inconsistent with both duty and honor.

    It behooves us all to remember that each soldier was someone’s son or daughter and that the parent, who may or may not have approved of the volunteering, gave also.

    A tribe gives of itself because it is one big extended family. When a member of that tribe dies, justice must be demanded if the death is unjust. The extended family must be notified of the injustice of this death and reparations must be sought. If reparations are not paid, then vengeance must be demanded and called for.

    That is not the problem. The problem is that too many people in America believe that everyone acts and thinks like them. That everything can be solved with courts, laws, and negotiations because that is how everything legitimate is solved in the US.

    The longer range problem may be that tribes get into blood feuds and it never stops, but that is because tribes are primitive. America is far too advanced to be called simply a “tribe”, but that is how we are seen by other tribal groups. And regardless of what they think of us, we still harbor age old instincts and customs in our society as well. We have simply channeled vengeance and justice seeking through the justice system. That has an unfortunate side effect, but that is the price we pay for security. The removal of our liberty to seek justice and vengeance for our loved ones by doing it personally.

    Everything changed in a matter of 15 minutes… About the time I was opening my MRE (meal ready to eat) I heard an explosion. Everyone started running towards the sound of the explosion. Apparently a suicide bomber had blown himself up killing four soldiers from my squadron and injuring another. Our 36 hour mission turned into another air- assault into a totally different city, the clearing of it, and 5 more days. We did find over 100 RPG’s, IED making materials, insurgents implacing IED’s, artillery rounds, a sniper rifle, and sort of like a terrorist training book and cd’s.

    It is perfectly justifiable for the media to report that in return for the lives of 4 human beings, we spent 36 hours acquiring about 100 RPGs and some IED making materials. How else can they make the point that this war is futile, Book?

    More than 150 soldiers lived in a two-story house with portable toilets, no air-conditioning and temperamental showers. Sleep came only a few hours at a time. The fighting was vicious. Adhamiya was such a magnet for sectarian bloodletting that the military built a wall around it to contain the violence.

    “They walled us in and left us there,” Staff Sgt. Robin Johnson, 28, said of the 110 men in Charlie Company. “We were a family. I would die for these guys before I die for my own blood brother.”

    On patrol, sniper fire rang out so routinely that soldiers in Sergeant Campos’s platoon seldom stood still for more than four seconds. They scoured rooftops for Iraqi children who lobbed grenades at American soldiers for a handful of cash. Roadside bombs burst from inside drainage pipes, impossible to detect from the street. The bombs grew larger by the month.

    They have to find some way of reporting bad news, Book. If they can’t find it in the present or imply it in the future, they have to search for it in the past. And what better way to do that than to use the fake honoring of American soldiers when the Times has no intent or ability to uphold the honor of anyone.

    Casualties of War

    Casualties of War is what the photostream is titled for the pictures of those that have fought and died in this war to free Arabs, Persians, and Indians from the grasp of evil.

    Not casualties in the war fought to kill the killers of children. Not casualties in the fight for liberty. Not casualties in the fight to protect America. Just casualties of war. Any war will do, Book.

    They should have titled it,

    Casualties of fighting bullies and sadists

    Then again, that wouldn’t have served their story narration, would it.

  • ProtestShooter

    My feeling is that the MSM is basically a bunch of vultures and this kind of thing is just one of those moments when it’s a little more obvious.

    One side issue is that the more I see how they work, and see the coverage in local TV and newspaper of events I was at and just how distorted it is the more I dislike these people. They’re always getting factual things wrong, they stand around forever and only put the camera on its tripod when things start fitting the narrative, they seem to actively avoid any positive stories. It’s just disgusting.

  • Ymarsakar

    There’s a photostream link somewhere below the fold of the Times link. It gives you access to all the photos.

  • Al

    Initially, reading your post, BW, I felt you were too sensitive to potential slights from a frequent insultor. But no, I agree that the NYT is stirring the pot of muslim hate for the US and what we are trying to accomplish in Iraq. It’s a more sophisticated technique than publishing the impossible story of a Gitmo interrogator flushing a Koran down a toilet, with the same intent.
    These people are too smart for their own health. I wonder which blade will finally cut their run as the “Newspaper of Record”? That of economics, or history, or the blade of the first Jihadist who makes it to midtown Manhattan?

  • Danny Lemieux

    Oh Helen, stop it! I had to re-read your column after cleaning up the coffee I spewed all over my keyboard. You actually wrote a post with which I 100% wholeheartedly agree. :-).

  • Helen Losse

    See Dsnny, There IS a God. :-)

  • jj

    Sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar, but it’s very hard to be wrong when thinking the worst of the Times.

  • Bald-Headed Geek

    I share your cynicism, Bookworm. Given the Times’ consistent bias against both the United States and Israeli, it wouldn’t seem out of character for it to kill two birds with one stone by hyping the number of war deaths at the same time as it was implying that those 4,000 soldiers died for Israel.


  • Danny Lemieux

    Still, I would love to know how the Iraqis react to such a pro-Israeli Jew fighting on their behalf. Do you think that it might change some attitudes?