Yet the Iraq of Corporal Mayer’s memory is not solely a place of death and loss. It is also a place of hope. It is the hope of the town of Hit, which he saw transform from an insurgent stronghold to a place where kids played on Marine trucks. It is the hope of villagers who whispered where roadside bombs were hidden. But most of all, it is the hope he saw in a young Iraqi girl who loved pens and Oreo cookies.
Like many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq, Mayer looks at the bleak portrayal of the war at home with perplexity – if not annoyance. It is a perception gap that has put the military and media at odds, as troops complain that the media care only about death tolls, while the media counter that their job is to look at the broader picture, not through the soda straw of troops’ individual experiences.
Yet as perceptions about Iraq have neared a tipping point in Congress, some soldiers and marines worry that their own stories are being lost in the cacophony of terror and fear. They acknowledge that their experience is just that – one person’s experience in one corner of a war-torn country. Yet amid the terrible scenes of reckless hate and lives lost, many members of one of the hardest-hit units insist that they saw at least the spark of progress.
Why is it that the reporters don’t see what the troops see?
“It comes down to the familiar debate about whether reporters are ignoring the good news,” says Peter Hart, an analyst at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a usually left-leaning media watchdog in New York.
Part of the reason that such stories usually aren’t told is simply the nature of the war. Kidnappings and unclear battle lines have made war correspondents’ jobs almost impossible. Travel around the country is dangerous, and some reporters never venture far from their hotels. “It has to have some effect on what we see: You end up with reporting that waits for the biggest explosion of the day,” says Mr. Hart.
So why doesn’t the press embed with the soldiers and Marines? Michael Yon has done that with great success. But I guess if they did that they might not see the war as an American defeat like their editors want.