By: Greg Mitchell
Updated at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
A news analysis that I wrote last week, posted at E&P Online on Thursday, has drawn the heaviest e-mail response of any article from E&P in the nearly four years I have worked for the magazine.
The article charged the media with providing a misleading sense of the recent U.S. death toll in Iraq. The press routinely highlights “combat” deaths and downplays all deaths, including accidents, suicides, and other causes (which vastly outnumber the deaths from hostile fire).
This apparently struck a raw nerve, with several dozen e-mails arriving in our mailbox within two days, including tips on the deaths of two female soldiers under mysterious circumstances. And these weren’t the usual media junkies or political activists, but an apparent cross-section of backgrounds and beliefs. Herewith an edifying sample:
First of all, thanks for writing about the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site. It’s an important part of the Iraq story. Over the weekend, I contacted the site, and inquired about activity since your article appeared. “There has been a deluge of e-mails and my hit count went through the roof. In fact, I had to buy more bandwidth from my ISP in order to keep up with demand,” said Michael S. White [who runs the site]. “But no calls from reporters.”
One important point [Mitchell] failed to mention is that it has been widely reported by troops in the field that the reason there have been so many vehicle accidents is that, in an effort to avoid being ambushed, the soldiers drive too fast. In fact, I heard a report that in at least two incidents, soldiers killed in car accidents were actually fleeing hostile fire. These are clearly combat deaths, not accidents.
This country has to acknowledge each of the soldiers who are losing their lives and futures in Iraq. We all need to know what this war is costing us in lives and the parents need to know that their children were given proper credit for serving their country. My 25-year old son is an officer in the hostilities in Iraq. He would not be there if he wasn’t sent there. He emphasizes in letters and e-mails that the “war is not over.” His convoys are attacked every day and sometimes three times a day. Why does The New York Times and other newspapers keep labeling their war coverage “After the War”?
Why aren’t the national newspapers doing obits on all of these soldiers? The New York Times printed entire special sections on the World Trade Center dead, and won a Pulitzer for it — are these dead any less deserving?
What is also being under-reported is the number of nonfatal casualties. In what I have read it appears that there are several injuries that accompany almost every fatal attack. What do these numbers look like? This is the stuff the public needs to know.
Lawrence W. Kite
What is a “non-hostile gunshot wound?” I would have thought that getting a bullet through the body is always a pretty hostile affair. Or is this something which is somehow unique and can only be properly understood by people who have the unique ability to see nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons where none exist? Seems a little like the insane logic of Catch-22. But wasn’t that just a book?
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
A local sergeant named Melissa Valles died in Iraq on July 9. The family has not been notified what happened. This is a low-income family and they seem to think that the Army is hiding something in the death of their daughter. We are very concerned and wish to have someone investigate this death.
Margarita De La Cruz
Eagle Pass, Texas
Two simple points: there is always a large number of non-combat deaths in any action. Check the numbers. Two, the number of Americans killed, as tragic a number as even a handful is, is much overplayed. For example, a war that history books don’t even call a war [the Korean conflict] had death rates an order of magnitude higher than Iraq. So put things in perspective, for God’s sake.
Last week, my daughter called me because a co-worker’s daughter shot herself in Iraq. So I looked at the news and saw in a British newspaper a short line about a woman in the military in Iraq was shot. I was furious and wrote to papers like The New York Times demanding they ask about her suicide. Not a word from the military and not one question from the press. The mother is too bereaved and upset to talk to anyone and is now in seclusion.
The lack of curiousity in our press is very annoying. When terrorists killed 17 sailors, each got a long and loving memorial. We don’t even get the names of the dead now. Always, it is “one was killed and four injured today.” Not only that, there is seldom any description of how they died. I learned in the British and Muslim press that one soldier was on fire and ran through the streets, his face in flames, screaming before collapsing. He died but not one newspaper in America said he burned to death.
Another had his arm blown off and as he cried, clutching at it, dying, the Iraqis cheered because they want us to leave. This was hidden from us too. Finally, just this week, our press showed a photo of a dead soldier — only he was completely covered.
America should be shown the burned soldier, the one with his arm blown off. We should see the 10,000 “injured”, some of whom are missing arms and legs and eyes. Not one wounded soldier aside from Jessica Lynch, the propaganda victim of a faked-up story, has been shown.
Elaine Meinel Supkis
The announcement of five suicides of military personnel in Iraq is disturbing. Can it be determined whether they are primarily related to frustration at the conditions of military life and length of service [“I can’t take it any longer”] or are more personal [love, personal betrayal, etc.]?
Arthur G Broadhurst
Vero Beach, Fla.
One thing I have noticed about the mounting toll in Iraq is that we are always told that “such and such” number of soldiers have died and so many were wounded. The wounded almost seem to be an afterthought. The extent of the wounds are rarely, if ever described. Some of these wounded must be soldiers who have lost legs or arms or eyesight — burned, broken, and suffering people who are barely recognized as a part of the ongoing carnage. Although I have never seen any figures on the total number of wounded, it must be significantly into the hundreds by now.
This is a cost of war, along with the psychological damage done to these soldiers, which is rarely addressed. If Bush wants any respect he should go out on patrol with the grunts on the streets of Baghdad instead of grandstanding on an aircraft carrier. Then let him tell the soldiers that the war is over.
Thanks for the article on the media’s underreporting of Iraq-war casualties. I live in Elkhart, Ind., home of another U.S. soldier who died about a week ago — whose death was not reported as a combat casualty. He was Craig Boling, a reservist, age 38, who is reported to have suffered a heart attack, though the autopsy report is not in yet. As you state in your article, had he not been in Iraq, in 120-degree heat and extreme stress, he would likely be alive to see his four children grow up. The whole community is grieving his loss.
In looking for information on the high number of auto accident deaths (at least 34) suffered by our troops in Iraq, I found your article. According to the Army Times many of these deaths are described as “swerved to avoid civilian vehicle”. Time magazine recently ran an article describing the death of a soldier named Michael Coffin whose own death was caused by such an “accident”. The details of his death are rather peculiar; according to the article a civilian vehicle drove directly toward his vehicle, after which an “angry Iraqi crowd” gathered around [the] vehicle and set it on fire. This happened in full view of the crowd of another army vehicle coming up behind Coffin’s own vehicle.
In a conversation with someone whose nephew is in Walter Reed hospital, recovering from injuries as a result of an auto accident, this person stated that the civilian vehicles are deliberately driving towards the army vehicles, that in fact, his nephew had a civilian Iraqi bus drive directly into his own vehicle. These two incidents would point to a far more sinister explanation for the high amount of traffic accidents in the area, than we have been led to believe. If these “accidents” are the result of a concerted, deliberate method of suicide attacks, our soldiers are dying in combat deaths and not as the result of “fast driving.” It would also indicate that there is a resistance movement which is more complicated than a “few Saddam loyalists” or “fanatical jihadists” as the DOD and Pentagon has led us to believe. You have written an extremely important story in this matter and I hope you continue to report on this situation.
Do stay with the story re: American casualties in Iraq. I see myself again in uniform back in 1943 and during the Korean affair as through my parents’ eyes; and then watching two of my older sons on the edge of the draft during ‘Nam days; and now, with three of my sons from my second family and six grandsons all within “military age” I wonder what it will be for them. It’s haunting to think of scared 18- and 19-year-olds being brutalized and ruined because of the greed for oil and political power. As I sit here air-conditioned cool, on a soft leather chair, facing a friendly computer screen, I am appalled — yes, you will get the negative flack down the way but you have my admiration for doing a job that needs being done.
Norman Mactas Ackerman
Commonwealth News Service