Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Perspective

I live in Oakland, CA. It's a pretty nice place; at least, parts of it. I get e-mails from the neighborhood watch group, just because I think it's a good idea to know what my neighbors are thinking, seeing, etc.

Now, parts of Oakland are rough, riddled with gang violence, drug trafficking, drive-by shootings, and the sorts of things you find in the bad parts of just about any major city. This is not true of the area where I live. There is some crime here. You would expect that in an area where relatively affluent people live not too far from those in greater need: some burglaries, purse-snatchings, car thefts, etc. But to hear some of the neighbors talking, you'd think we lived in Baghdad or something. We don't. Even the worst parts of Oakland are nothing compared to a war zone.

And it strikes me that most people have no idea. No perspective. In part, I suppose that's because of the lack of actual news coverage of the current war. I am old enough to remember tuning in to the evening news, hearing Walter Cronkite intoning the day's death tool in Vietnam, accompanied by pictures of fighting and pictures of flag-draped coffins.

Here's Cronkite, in a 2002 interview, talking about the differences:
Since the Vietnam War, Cronkite said, the media has not been allowed to take its cameras, pencils and notepads into the field with the soldiers to give an accurate account of what is happening.

During World War II, reporters were in fox holes, and during the Vietnam War they were on the battlefields.

In many cases during WWII, the reports would have to go through intelligence officers all the way up the ladder to London, where top military censors decided if the information could be released. If security reasons prevented its release, the news was held until the threat passed. But information was not kept from the American public.

Cronkite said Americans may have thought they got the full story during Operation Desert Storm, but the media was denied much of the type of access it had been granted in the past.

"[In past conflicts], you wrote it to be the history," he said. "We have no history now of the Persian Gulf War. We have only what the military reporters wrote and thatÂ’s what their bosses told them. ThatÂ’s not good enough."
Of course, the U.S. government won't allow pictures of the coffins of today's returning dead. We get pictures of the aftermaths of car bombings: people combing through rubble or a shot of a burned-out vehicle, and it doesn't look that different from a domestic natural disaster, an industrial accident, or the remains of the .

But there is a difference, and it's real. This is manmade, done in the name of a government. And those who claim otherwise do a disservice to both those who serve and those for whom they fight. This column puts that in perspective:
Day-to-day life here for Iraqis is so far removed from the comfortable existence we live in the United States that it is almost literally unimaginable.

It's almost impossible to describe what it feels like being stalled in traffic, your heart pounding, wondering if the vehicle in front of you is one of the three or four car bombs that will go off that day. Or seeing your husband show up at the door covered in blood after he was kidnapped and beaten.

I don't know a single family here that hasn't had a relative, neighbor or friend die violently. In places where there's been all-out fighting going on, I've interviewed parents who buried their dead child in the yard because it was too dangerous to go to the morgue.

Imagine the worst day you've ever had in your life, add a regular dose of terror and you'll begin to get an idea of what it's like every day for a lot of people here.

War is hell. A much more hellish hell than the everyday life of even the worst-off among us here at home. Or maybe the Secretary of State has these problems wherever she travels in the U.S., too:
In a reflection of the deteriorating security situation here, Rice's plane was forced to circle Baghdad for almost an hour before landing because of a mortar attack near the airport.
This came after she had to leave her regular plane for something more secure:

Traveling from Israel on Thursday morning, Ms. Rice had to abandon her comfortable official jet at an American air base in Turkey and to board a C-17A cargo plane equipped with antimissile technology for the final, 90-minute leg into Baghdad; that procedure has become routine for all high-ranking Bush administration officials visiting Iraq.

From the airport in Baghdad, Ms. Rice flew by military helicopter to the heavily fortified American-controlled Green Zone, bypassing the dangerous, explosives-strewn airport highway into the city.

Things are great! Just like being at home. Oh, maybe she doesn't have to wear the flak jacket at home.

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