By: Joe Strupp
The deaths in Iraq of Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance Gray are hitting closer to The New York Times than most, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal. That’s because the duo were among seven soldiers who penned a controversial Times column critical of some elements of the war just last month.
“It brings it home and it reminds you how distant most people are from this war,” said Rosenthal, who said the soldiers sent the column unsolicited to the paper seeking its publication. “It would be ludicrous to say this war has now touched us, but it has in a way. These are guys who had been more public.”
Mora and Gray, who died Monday in a vehicle accident in Western Baghdad, were among seven soldiers who co-wrote the column that ran in August and raised concerns about the operation there.
Among the column’s statements: “In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.”
The column sparked a strong reaction from Pentagon officials, who defended the U.S. operation in a statement, but stopped short of punishing the soldiers for speaking out.
Rosenthal said Deputy Editorial Page Editor David Shipley handled arrangements with the soldiers, including making sure they were comfortable with the likely negative reaction.
“They said from the get-go they did not want to be paid for this,” Shipley said, declining to reveal his payment scale, but said most freelance columnists are paid several hundred dollars. “It was a definite statement from them.”
“It was a really wonderful piece, we thought. I am proud of them. I thought it was great and what the Op Ed page is for,” Rosenthal said. “We had heard they got some grief from bosses about writing about this. But this is the 21st Century and people communicate with each other. Not every soldier in Iraq buys this Potemkin war that they are selling.”
Rosenthal added that their deaths drive home the impact the war continues to have on individuals, even with talk of later pullouts and drawn downs: “How many American lives, how many Iraqi lives are enough?”
The military had responded to the Op Ed: “It is important to note that as individuals voice their opinions on matters, that those viewpoints are representative of their personal perspective,” the Pentagon statement said at the time. “With approximately 160,000 Americans serving in uniform here in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, you’ll probably get that many different perspectives if you ask each of them.”