Déjà vu in a liberated Iraq

Winning the war is half the battle; what's harder is winning hearts

by David Kopel

Oct. 25, 2003, Rocky Mountain News

Here's what a major magazine has said about America winning the military battle, but losing the peace: "The troops returning home are worried. 'We've lost the peace,' men tell you. 'We can't make it stick.' A tour of the beaten-up cities" just "six months after victory is a mighty sobering experience for anyone."

There, "Friend and foe alike, look you accusingly in the face and tell you how bitterly they are disappointed in you as an American. They cite the evolution of the word 'liberation.'" Not long ago, "it meant to be freed from the tyranny." Yet, "Now it stands in the minds of the civilians for one thing, looting. . . ."

"When the British and Americans came," the population "felt that at last they were in the hands of civilized people. But instead of coming in with a bold plan of relief and reconstruction we came in full of evasions and apologies. . . ." Many people "blame America because they expected so much more from her."

The words above could have been published in Time or Newsweek,or The New York Times,or most of the rest of the American media, including the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post,regarding the current situation in Iraq.

But instead, the words come from the Jan. 7, 1946, issue Life magazine, regarding the situation in post-Nazi Europe. Life was then the most influential American magazine, and the article was written by John Dos Passos, a major American writer of the 20th century.

Kudos to the Jessica's Well weblog for posting the full text of the 1946 article, at kultursmog.com/Life-Page01.htm on the Web.

Just because the media insist that we're losing overseas doesn't mean that we really are.

A few weeks ago, identically-worded letters were sent to about 500 newspapers around the country, printed in about a dozen, and claimed to be written by a soldier from a hometown in each newspaper's circulation area.

In articles from the Gannett News Service (Post,Oct. 12, 15), the letters were traced to a lieutenant colonel in Iraq, who perpetrated the hoax.

Unfortunately, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd used the story and added a fabrication of her own. According to a Dowd column, reprinted in the Post on Oct. 17, President Bush's "PR campaign shamelessly included bogus cheerful form letters sent to newspapers, supposedly written by soldiers in Iraq."

This is a flat-out falsehood. No one has offered any evidence tying the phony letters to the White House. Only the outrageously irresponsible and malevolent Dowd has made this accusation, for which she offers not a shred of evidence.

Kudos to the Post and sportswriter Bill Briggs for commencing a weekly series investigating college football fan violence against people who support the visiting team. Such thuggery has long been ignored or tolerated by colleges that piously but wrongly claim that their athletic departments always promote good sportsmanship.

Unfortunately, Briggs actually grades "Trash Talk" as a virtue that schools are supposed to display. So if fans display miserable sportsmanship, and taunt out- of-state visitors, that's supposed to show the school spirit. By legitimating trash talk, the Post exacerbates the problem that the series is investigating.

When is a weblog not a weblog? When it's on the Post website. The Post has rolled out a "Bloghouse" section featuring six alleged weblogs. The writers usually write once or twice weekly, and in about the same word lengths as printed columns (except for the Colorado Journal,which has short text and pretty pictures of Colorado beauty).

The on-line columnists have, collectively, a set of specialties remarkably similar to a newspaper's set of printed columnists: sports, consumer affairs, metro news, a senior editor's wisdom about everything, and a leftist political column.

Except for Dani Newsum's contributions, most columns have, at most, only a few weblinks to non-Post material. Despite the Post's claim to present "all types of blogs," the "Bloghouse" is really a home for regular newspaper columns, but without the ink and cellulose.

To see true newspaper weblogs, check the websites of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (which has several blogs, my favorite of which has Microsoft news and rumors) and the Sacramento Bee,whose "California Insider" weblog has become required reading for anyone who seeks to understand the Golden State's politics.

But do give some credit to the Post for setting up an online chat with Mayor John Hickenlooper - a nice innovation in making the government more accessible to the governed.

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