Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Martial Law?

The Pentagon has announced it is imposing a new level of censorship on the Press via its Manual of War, which categorizes journalists as potential adversaries, spies, and/or belligerents -- thus removing them from access to coverage of abuses within and by the Military, as well as accurate depictions of combat situations.  Is this a precursor to the imposition of Martial Law as we note unconstitutional Military [civilian law enforcement] exercises such as Jade Helm.

To be sure, we've had our share of irresponsible idiots, like Geraldo Rivera, masquerading as journalists [we had to evacuate one embedded in our guerrilla unit in Southeast Asia when he panicked during a firefight, shrieking that his personal safety was in danger].

On the other hand, we've had a tradition of professional journalists, civilian and military, attached or embedded with our combat units throughout our history; their purpose, to keep America informed on how its Military family members were doing in the combat environment, and what the current war was/is all about.  Their reports ranged from frivolous pap, humor, pure documentation, or, hard-core blood and guts reporting showing folks back home that our combat troops are wounded, torn apart, mutilated, and sometimes die horrible deaths in combat.

World War II was covered by a variety of famous journalists, a number of whom were killed in combat.

Bill Mauldin and Ernie Pyle were two of the most respected journalists, with Mauldin most notable for his cartoon characters Willie and Joe whose stories were compiled in Mauldin's book Up Front, with Willie and Joe, featuring anecdotes and combat situations with which soldiers of any war can empathize.

Pyle was killed in 1945 when the unit [77th Infantry Division] in which he was embedded assaulted a Japanese stronghold [Lejima] near Okinawa.

Much of the horrors of war went unreported since the American public would be unable to stomach it.  Saving Private Ryan changed much of that with the Normandy Landing scene in which American troops were ripped apart on the beach.  Journalists were embedded with the invasion landing, and they took reels and reels of film both for historical reference and for eventual release to the public.

Following official review of these films, War Department Public Affairs officers decided the carnage was too gruesome, and announced that all the films had been contained in one bag which was accidentally lost at sea as it was hoisted aboard.  We're not sure where the films are housed today; perhaps in the national archives.  It would not be a stretch to suspect that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks reviewed some of this footage to prepare the Normandy Invasion scene in "Private Ryan".

As on-the-scene reporting by journalists declined due to restrictions by local commanders, books and movie scripts were created by Veterans, giving us fairly accurate depictions of battles and combat conditions; movies like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, We Were Soldiers, and Hamburger Hill, among others, provided first hand accounts not only of the combat, but also of the deadly errors and friendly fire strikes that are not uncommon on the battlefield.  Such accounts are rarely reported by journalists.

Do we need journalists embedded with our Military?

Of course!  It keeps our Military honest and in check.

For the most part, we can be proud of our Military's image as the friendly soldier helping out the down-trodden in oppressed areas.  Our favorite image is that of the average GI giving a candy bar to some little kid in a war-torn environment.  Our least favorite stories are about topics such as My Lai, or torture cells, or Abu Ghraib.

We recall conducting an interrogation [non-hostile] in Laos on a North Vietnamese Army [NVA] officer and asking him why the NVA insisted on torturing US PWs.  He was stunned, and retorted -- "Because you [the US Army] does it!"  We asked what he was talking about and recounted the story of an American commander who ordered his troops to cut off the ears of NVA dead and wounded to prove his "body count".  He noted it was even covered in the US Military paper "Stars & Stripes".

Hatchet Hank

So, we called over to a friend in Saigon on a secure phone to learn more, and he sent over a copy of the Stars & Stripes with a headline story of Lt Col Henry Emerson [aka: The Gunslinger], a Battalion Commander in Vietnam who issued his troops hatchets to mutilate the bodies of Viet Cong and NVA troops to strike fear into them.

Oddly, Emerson was treated as a hero rather than a war criminal.  [We later served as a detachment commander under Emerson when he was the 18th Corps commander at Fort Bragg.]

So, even with Press coverage of combat, it would appear that some journalists self-censor to "get the good story."

In Laos, where we conducted "The Secret War" [which the VA still refuses to recognize], we provided an official brief to a credible young journalist on NVA Order of Battle, showing him specific areas of operation, identifiers of the cadre of each of the four NVA regiments, and aerial photography of the NVA regiments in battle formation.  At the US Ambassador's direction, we answered the journalist's questions in detail, and provided him all the information he requested.

Peter Jennings
We then transmitted his story to Time Magazine and waited anxiously for the published article.  Several weeks later, the magazine arrived, complete with story, which  bore no resemblance to the story the journalist had submitted.  He was shocked, and nearly in tears when he saw what his New York editors had done and swore to us he had no knowledge of their actions -- or motivations.  In essence, it turned out to be editing by an anti-war element in the newsroom.

The journalist swore off print Media and moved into the world of television reporting, and ended up as ABC's World News Tonight -- Peter Jennings.

We trust that this Military censorship concept is not a precursor to the imposition of Martial Law, and hope that at least some of our news Media has some degree of integrity and can publish fact to keep us informed.  Then again, we have the Internet as a fallback position.

Editorial Note:
Senate Majority Leader McConnell [R] set the stage for Martial Law in his recent [2016] proposed legislation.  Worth a read to see how this will work.