Making up for advancing the view that soldiers in Iraq are upset by anti-war opponents at home? Exactly two weeks after the NBC Nightly News featured a report from Richard Engel about how “troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war,” Friday's NBC Nightly News ran a dispatch from Engel which showcased soldiers who want the war to end. Engel ran just one soundbite, from a Staff Sergeant with the First Infantry Division, who declared: “It is pretty much almost a lost cause. I mean, nothing it seems we do is doing any good. Every country goes through a civil war. So, I mean, maybe it'd be better for them to have a civil war and hash it out and then try to help them after that." Engel added about the unit he had traveled with which narrowly escaped an IED explosion: “They all told me it's time to end this war. And, Brian [Williams], the soldiers also asked why it seems from here there are no plans to end the war, just discussions of battle tactics?" (Screen shot is of Engel inside the Army convoy vehicle)
My January 26 NewsBusters item (with video), “NBC's Engel Relays Frustrations of Soldiers Disturbed by Opposition to War Back Home,” recounted:
[The January 26] NBC Nightly News gave rare voice to soldiers in Iraq disturbed by criticism of the war back home. Embedded with the Army's Stryker Brigade's Apache Company (the Fort Lewis, Washington-based 1st Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment) in Hurriya, Richard Engel relayed how “troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they've been fighting for. Twenty-one-year-old Specialist Tyler Johnson is on his first tour in Iraq. He thinks skeptics should come over and see what it's like firsthand before criticizing." Johnson asserted: “You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me."
Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun directly took on the spin of war critics, complaining that “one thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war. If they're going to support us, support us all the way." Engel soon powerfully concluded: "Apache Company has lost two soldiers, and now worries their country may be abandoning the mission they died for.”
After the January 26 report aired, an outraged Williams Arkin, a military analyst for NBC News, posted an angry screed on his daily WashingtonPost.com blog in which he scolded the soldiers for daring to be critical of Americans back home:
....I'm all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn't for them to disapprove of the American people....
These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.
Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order....
We pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?"...
For a more extensive excerpt from Arkin's January 30 rant, check the February 2 MRC CyberAlert.
The segment on the February 9 NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams: “We have an unusual and unexpected firsthand look tonight at just how dangerous it is on the ground in Iraq. Our veteran correspondent Richard Engel was embedded today with the U.S. First Infantry Division in a Sunni neighborhood called Adel in western Baghdad. It was billed as a routine patrol, part of this new security crackdown. What you're about to see, as Richard now reports for us, is what passes for routine in Iraq these days.”
Richard Engel: “Our patrol was headed to a mosque, just a routine mission to monitor the Friday sermon. But as the convoy passed a trash dump -- soldiers call it the death field because of all the bodies they find here -- an IED exploded. It was detonated by remote control. We got lucky. It was badly timed and exploded just ten feet away. I was taping with a small camera.”
Engel to his camera: “Inside here it still smells like gun powder. Luckily we were able to drive through it and no one in this convoy was injured. But we're still assessing, checking if there are any other bombs in the area.”
Engel, back to narrating: “The soldiers call this 'gettin' blown up.'”
Copley: “It gets the adrenaline going a little bit, don't it?”
Engel, in the Humvee, responding: “I certainly does.”
Engel: “It's the second time in less than two weeks for Staff Sergeant Chris Copley.”
Voice: “How you feeling?”
Copley: “A little shook up, but I'm good.”
Engel: “But back at the patrol base, Copley and others wondered what are they doing out here?”
Copley: “It is pretty much almost a lost cause. I mean, nothing it seems we do is doing any good. Every country goes through a civil war. So, I mean, maybe it'd be better for them to have a civil war and hash it out and then try to help them after that.”
Engel: “The soldiers eventually decided to monitor the sermon from a rooftop. They all told me it's time to end this war. And, Brian, the soldiers also asked why it seems from here there are no plans to end the war, just discussions of battle tactics. Brian?”
Williams: “And Richard, their attitude as usual is unbelievable towards all this violence. You again today got very lucky as you said. Got very fortunate. Do they at least feel as well equipped as they possibly could be against this threat, this IED threat that's been around a long time, but is getting more specific?”
Engel: “Certainly. The vehicles they travel in are much more protected than the ones used early in the war. Had this been one of the earlier modeled up-armored Humvees, there probably would have been casualties. There were no casualties in this attack today. Still, these Humvees are not impenetrable. Earlier in the week, some of the soldiers I was embedded with were hit by a larger IED. That IED tore the door off the Humvee and the soldier inside had to have both of his legs amputated.”
What are the chances Arkin will denounce Copley?