News reporting on the war consists almost entirely of itemizing casualties. Headlines say: "Two Marines killed by roadside bomb." Rarely do the accompanying stories--let alone the headlines that are all that most people read--explain where the Marines were going, or why; what strategic objective they and their comrades were pursuing, and how successful they were in achieving it; or how many terrorists were also killed. For Americans who do not seek out alternative news sources like this one, the war in Iraq is little but a succession of American casualties. The wonder is that so many Americans do, nevertheless, support it.
The sins of the news media in reporting on Iraq are mainly sins of omission. Not only do news outlets generally fail to report the progress that is being made, and often fail to put military operations into any kind of tactical or strategic perspective, they assiduously avoid talking about the overarching strategic reason for our involvement there: the Bush administration's conviction that the only way to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, long term, is to help liberate the Arab countries so that their peoples' energies will be channelled into the peaceful pursuits of free enterprise and democracy, rather than into bizarre ideologies and terrorism. Partly this omission is due to laziness or incomprehension, but I think it is mostly attributable to the fact that if the media acknowledged that reforming the Arab world, in order to drain the terrorist swamp, has always been the principal purpose of the Iraq war, it would take the sting out of their "No large stockpiles of WMDs!" theme.
One wonders how past wars could have been fought if news reporting had consisted almost entirely of a recitation of casualties. The D-Day invasion was one of the greatest organizational feats ever achieved by human beings, and one of the most successful. But what if the only news Americans had gotten about the invasion was that 2,500 allied soldiers died that day, with no discussion of whether the invasion was a success or a failure, and no acknowledgement of the huge strategic stakes that were involved? Or what if such news coverage had continued, day by day, through the entire Battle of Normandy, with Americans having no idea whether the battle was being won or lost, but knowing only that 54,000 Allied troops had been killed by the Germans?
How about the Battle of Midway, one of the most one-sided and strategically significant battles of world history? What if there had been no "triumphalism"--that dreaded word--in the American media's reporting on the battle, and Americans had learned only that 307 Americans died--never mind that the Japanese lost more than ten times that many--without being told the decisive significance of the engagement?
Or take Iwo Jima, the iconic Marine Corps battle. If Americans knew only that nearly 7,000 Marines lost their lives there, with no context, no strategy, and only sporadic acknowledgement of the heroism that accompanied those thousands of deaths, would the American people have continued the virtually unanimous support for our country, our soldiers and our government that characterized World War II?
We are conducting an experiment never before seen, as far as I know, in the history of the human race. We are trying to fight a war under the auspices of an establishment that is determined--to put the most charitable face on it--to emphasize American casualties over all other information about the war.