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March 31, 2008

Winter Soldier II: The Inconvenient Truths Americans Won't Hear from the Media

The other night as my husband and I drove home from a party in Washington, DC we spoke of the war. As we drove, we wondered how historians will one day view contemporary events? It's strange to think that in the time of Herodotus, there were only the verbal accounts of survivors with which to reconstruct battles. Future historians will have many and varied sources to work with: news accounts, blogs, emails and letters, pictures and video taken with cell phones, even YouTubes. It boggles the mind. One might, at first, think such a plethora of sources would yield a more accurate picture of war: lead historians to a swifter consensus about what happened; what it all meant.

I wonder, though. Will all this information clarify, or confuse? Will we, with our human tendency to sift out what confirms our own biases, simply seize from this abundance what we find useful and discard the discordant notes?

The evening, in any event, had been enjoyable but a bit strange. It was a fairly small gathering - no more than forty people - and consequently everyone knew my husband had recently returned from Baghdad. It would not be unfair to say we were very likely the only adults there who continue to support the administration. For me, it wasn't all that different from hundreds of similar encounters I've had over the past year. It gets old, being asked what my husband thinks of the war; of our prospects for success?

It's not, actually, that I don't understand the question. Certainly it's a natural one under the circumstances. What bothers me so much is that, though I try not to inject my own opinions into my response (which necessarily makes it more dispassionate and less positive an assessment than my own would have been) there is always that slight turning away, that tell-tale tightening of the mouth when what they hear doesn't confirm their pre-existing biases.

What they want to hear, you see, is that everything is a hopeless mess over there, and that we're losing. And it frustrates people enormously to have someone who was actually in Iraq for an entire year contradict the narrative.

What to do, what to do? But soon enough, you see The Narrative kick back in: "those people" are just administration shills. They are going to parrot the party line, so we can safely discount what they say in favor of the authentic, unbiased voice of some paid Iraqi stringer with unknown sectarian loyalties, supervised by a professional journalist whose strict neutrality can be trusted (since he isn't on the scene and strongly disapproves of the war).

There's an inherent check here. Though one can't trust people in the military to put aside their personal feelings and tell the truth, professional journalists and anonymous Iraqi stringers living in a war zone absolutely can be trusted to do the same thing. Got that?

My husband had ducked outside midway through the evening to have a cigar with my youngest son, and I found myself dodging the familiar litany of sympathy.

"How long was he over there?"

"Just a year."

"That must have been awful for you."

"Actually, it's really not that bad, though of course I'm quite pleased to have him home again."

[tightening of the lips]

Oops. I forget to play the role again. I am supposed to be bitter and angry. Or was it traumatized and desperate? I keep forgetting? Some four star admiral, years ago, accused my Navy father of being Overly Well Adjusted. I seem to suffer from the same malady, or perhaps it's just the unassuming little Pinot Grigio acting like Vaseline on the lens through which I view life. From where I stand in my corner people watching, everything looks just the tiniest bit softened around the edges.

But that's the way I like it. I've never seen any point in being Edgy. Life is way too full of hard edges. I have very little use for anger - the only way to stay furious, it seems to me, is to adamantly refuse to see anyone else's side but your own. Once you break down and admit you're not the only person on the planet who ever manages to think of a plausible point, it becomes difficult to maintain a truly self-righteous wad of indignation.

But this month, an interesting bit of national indignation is about to repeat itself. It should be amusing to see how much of the skepticism rigorously applied to military men and women who did their duty will be meted out to those who, at least if past history is any indicator of future performance, were something less than zealous in the performance of theirs. In the 1970's, investigative journalism became a household world with the Watergate scandal. Soon, intrepid journalists were investigating all sorts of things.

That is, when it suited them. Some things, like the outcome of the first Winter Soldier investigation, quickly disappeared down the memory hole of history:

From March 13-16, 2008, members of the antiwar group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will gather in Washington, DC to "testify" against the US military at a protest event called Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan. The name "Winter Soldier" is taken from the infamous 1971 event at which members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) related gruesome stories of crimes they claimed to have participated in or witnessed. The VVAW insisted that rape, torture and murder were standard practices for the US military in Vietnam. Organizers of the new IVAW tribunal, which is supported by several former VVAW leaders, say the 1971 conference was where "a courageous group of veterans exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War." In reality, it was part of a sophisticated, vicious propaganda effort designed to poison public opinion against the US military. Newly discovered records now reveal what happened when Army investigators asked VVAW activists for evidence of the hundreds of crimes they claimed to have seen.

In 2005, I visited the National Archives at College Park, Maryland with Vietnam veteran and researcher John Boyle. Sifting through the limited material available, we found summary data for the WSI allegations the Army had investigated. The Army's Criminal Investigative Division (CID) had opened cases for 43 WSI "witnesses" whose claims, if true, would qualify as crimes. An additional 25 Army WSI participants had criticized the military in general terms, without sufficient substance to warrant any investigation.

The 43 WSI CID cases were eventually resolved as follows: 25 WSI participants refused to cooperate, 13 provided information but failed to support the allegations, and five could not be located. No criminal charges were filed as a result of any of the investigations.

The CID summary reports are revealing. Most of the WSI participants refused to provide evidence to support their allegations. Some made statements that were contradicted by other witnesses, were discredited, or were not substantiated by subsequent investigation.

Several of the VVAW activists backtracked significantly on their WSI statements

But you see, there was no penalty for going back on their original stories. None of them had testified under oath.

Like another hotly debated Vietnam-era controversy, the "spitting myth", the documented facts of Winter Soldier I turn out to be far different from the received wisdom unquestioningly passed on by the mainstream media and many Left-wing pundits and bloggers:

Many 1967-72 Spitting Incidents Are Documented in the Press.

Hundreds of Vietnam-era veterans have publicly claimed in recent decades that they were spat on by citizens or anti-war protesters because of their military status, either before they went to Vietnam, when they were on leave, or after their returned from overseas. Yet several journalists and at least one scholar, sociologist Jerry Lembcke of Holy Cross, think that such things never happened, that they are an “urban legend.” Lembcke claims: “Stories of spat-upon Vietnam veterans are bogus.”

...I have been looking into these and other claims by Lembcke and they appear to hold about as much water as do his notions about a primal (wet) unconscious.

It is surprising that, without his having done an exhaustive review of published sources in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lembcke would manufacture such a speculative argument, essentially treating hundreds of eyewitnesses as victims of “false memory” (at best).

...Contrary to Lembcke’s claims, I quite easily found many accounts published in the 1967-1972 period claiming spitting on servicemen.

Unfortunately it is the lie that persisted while the more complicated facts somehow were never 'discovered' by our intrepid investigative media. In yet a third instance of pervasive and continuing anti-war bias the term "Swift Boating" has, in popular parlance, come to connote a dishonorable ad hominem attack on a brave truth teller. The actual facts behind the spin are much more complicated. How many journalists who leapt to the defense of John Forbes Kerry bothered to "investigate" the backgrounds of these "Swift Boaters", or listen to their stories?

How many Americans, when they hear the term "Swift Boater", think of Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Bud Day, America's most highly decorated living veteran?

Name: George E. "Bud" Day
Hometown: Sioux City, Iowa
POW time: 5 yrs, 7 mos, 13 days
Entered 1967- Discharge 1973

Medal of Honor
Air Force Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross

How many of them think of Colonel Leo Thorsness, another Medal of Honor recipient and POW?

How many of them think of Admiral Jeremiah Denton, POW and United States Senator?

Where, in all the wrongly directed outrage at the supposed besmirching of Kerry, a decorated 'war hero' who spent all of four months in Vietnam, was the outrage at the slander of American Medal of Honor recipients who were tortured in Vietnamese prisons for years on end? Where were the media? Where was the concern for fairness and objectivity?

How many Americans, when they are spoon fed sensationalistic stories of real Iraqi "atrocities" by real "war heroes" from IVAW, will hear from our investigative journalists that these war heroes include men who have already lied to us?

Men like Jesse MacBeth and Jimmy Massy? [Ed. Note: Scott Pigeon has asked me to note the Jesse MacBeth is no longer a member of IVAW and that the organization now requires a DD214 for membership. So noted.]

If this piece in the Washington Post is any indication, we will not. Indeed, despite the best efforts of some good men, the media's war stories do echo that earlier Winter Soldier: biased and incomplete:

in late February, I was contacted by a reporter from the Syracuse Post-Standard who wanted to interview me about the upcoming WSI II. I tried to impress upon him the importance of taking the sort of statements he was likely to hear at WSI II with a substantial grain of salt. It was important, I stressed, for reporters covering this story to “dig deep,” asking for details and ensuring that those making the claims were credible.

I told him that the Vietnam generation of journalists who bought the WSI political theater hook, line, and sinker, had merely enabled the dissemination of political propaganda and were complicit in defaming a generation of decent men, most of whom did their duty in Vietnam with honor and restraint. I told him how Jug Burkett had done what journalists should have been doing — asking for documentation and insisting on details — when he unmasked numerous phony Vietnam “veterans,” as recounted in Stolen Valor. I told him that if reporters were truly interested in the truth, they should do what Burkett did: get the name and service number of every one who testified during the WSI II, use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to gain access to their real records, and then check to see if that individual was in a position to have committed or witnessed atrocities.

I haven’t seen much in the way of mainstream reporting on the WSI II event, so I can’t yet tell if today’s reporters are less credulous than their Vietnam-era predecessors. I can only hope they are.

I wish I could be that sanguine about this. Here's what a sympathetic blogger had to say about the Winter Soldier II "testimony":

From the title of the panel, we were looking forward to this panel….

The panel was an embarrassment….

A panel at Winter Soldiers promises testimony. Testimony is based on what you saw. A witness in a court of a law attempting to 'testify' to what they themselves didn't witness would be reduced to rubble under cross examination. For this panel, such requirements were largely tossed out

Would that the Washington Post, my hometown paper, had been as impartial and open-minded in its coverage. But that would have been expecting a degree of objectivity and professionalism I fear we may never see when it comes to journalists and war.

Posted by Cassandra at March 31, 2008 05:14 AM

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Posted by: David M at March 31, 2008 11:20 AM

IMHO, all this information will allow people to pick and choose what they want to believe. Much as it has always been. Some will seek, sort, and balance objectively en route to a more thorough understanding, while other will seek reinforcement for their beliefs, objectivity be damned.

Grim linked to an interesting post on reality and the perception thereof the other day. When so many people have little to no first hand knowledge of the world beyond their environment of home, work and electronic entertainment, how can they be expected to apply the proper weight to the opinions and/or insights of those who actually have first hand experience with the topic in question.

Instead, they have but to switch on their favorite comm device to read the words of or to hear from an authority, of their choosing, who will make pronouncements fitting their world view. And of course those pronouncements will be based upon credible unnamed, unverified, sources. Localized first hand experience is discounted when compared to the knowledge and insight of the self proclaimed authorities on the more complex, big picture doncha know. And of course we all know that their choice of credible sources can beat up your source of credible sources... on paper.

I won't even bother to recount my little episodes of encountering loathsome behavior from US citizens when I served in the early to mid seventies. What would my and a few of my shipmates first hand experiences matter when compared to the major media's representatives?

Stiff upper lip Milady! You fight the good fight. My thanks to you and the Colonel.

Posted by: bthun at March 31, 2008 11:38 AM

Overall, I think we're going to be OK. There are still enough like us, the sons of 3rd generation West Point graduates who still enter the military and serve our country for 25 years and the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who join up and serve honorably for 4 or 5 years because that's what you do if you're a patriot and love your country just like all the young women that decide to embrace the military, graduate from the service academies and get on with fighting the long war. We're not a military of 12 million like the greatest generation but I would submit that even that generation could not rival the service of our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My thanks also to you and the Colonel.

Posted by: Curtis at March 31, 2008 12:08 PM

Still throwing around MacBeth, eh? You conveniently forgot to mention that IVAW took care of that situation. Every organization has it's problem members. Pro war groups, such as Gathering of Eagles, have attacked gold star fathers and slandered both veterans and active troops. I haven't seen their members kicked out. IVAW has gotten more strict on it's CoC since the early days, and also has a more elaborate verification process when joining, such as requiring a DD 214.

I do agree that testifiers should go under oath though. When someone says they will however, you pro-war people say, "well, so and so's testimony wasn't juicy enough anyway, it was just whining about war", and what not. IVAW could say the sky is blue, and your first reaction is to disagree. Skepticism is fine, but be reasonable. Rather than bring up non-related things like John Kerry and believe that your speculation and emotional opinion proves you're right, stick to the real life items at hand.

Maybe in time, some of the testimonies will be proven true, and some will be proven false or exaggerated. Unless photos or video were taken at the time, the best evidence will probably be other soldiers. Will that ever be good enough for you? Do they have to be pro-attacking-countries-for-made-up-reasons for you to believe them by default? I want the bad ones weeded out just as much as anybody else who simply wants truth. But even when pro and anti-Iraq-war groups agree on something, like the shortcomings of VA, the pro war crowd can't help but criticize the testifiers with speculation and personal insults. It's just sad. Their yellow ribbon magnets must have some *fine print.

Posted by: Scott at March 31, 2008 07:59 PM

I have been following this story for awhile. Scott, in his post above, amongst his silly ass generalizations, points out that the IVAW has taken steps to weed out the McBeth and the Masseys.

Yes, Scott. IVAW took care of that situation, after being very embarrassed by it. They have an anti-war agenda, and they obviously did their level best to come up with controversial testimony. Unfortunately, according to the blog accounts I've read from several PRO-war bloggers who were there, there wasn't much "there" there.

You characterize those in favor of the war as having an agenda which causes them to doubt these testifiers. How about the fact that the organization promoting the testimony has an agenda? Why wouldn't anyone be skeptical of them?
Especially in light of the secretive manner in which they screened people, at the event, who might be from, "the other side."

In other words, Scott, pot, meet kettle. There is also buzz that the anti-war crowd was quite disappointed in the testimony. Not damning enough to suit them.

Moving on. Cass, I thought this would interest you, as it talks about the process they used to authenticate the testifiers:


Posted by: JannyMae at March 31, 2008 09:11 PM

Pro war groups, such as Gathering of Eagles, have attacked gold star fathers and slandered both veterans and active troops. -- Scott

Evidence, please?

Posted by: JannyMae at March 31, 2008 09:12 PM

My point is not unreasonable, Scott. It was simply this: words have meaning. If you want to use the name "Winter Soldier", you are taking on all the historical baggage that this implies, and deliberately so. You don't get to then wave your hand and disown John Kerry. You deliberately invoked his name by calling this Winter Soldier II.

Winter Soldier was a spectacle the media has given a free pass to for well over 33 years. If you mean to use the mantle of Winter Soldier, you have willingly assumed the mantle of a fraudulent antiwar protest that was investigated and found to be pretty much groundless. And the media have hyped it for three decades.

Poor choice, my friend. Very poor choice.

Stand on your own, if you wish, and I'll listen. But if you deliberately invoke Winter Soldier, you're already coming into this with a heaping helping of skepticism from anyone who remembers Vietnam.

Posted by: Cass at March 31, 2008 10:35 PM

Let's take this bit by bit:

I do agree that testifiers should go under oath though.


When someone says they will however, you pro-war people say, "well, so and so's testimony wasn't juicy enough anyway, it was just whining about war", and what not.

Are you seriously contending that it's enough just to be under oath? That if you take an oath, it ceases to matter whether what you then testify to is substantively convincing? Come on, Scott.

IVAW could say the sky is blue, and your first reaction is to disagree. Skepticism is fine, but be reasonable.

I don't think I have been unreasonable. Feel free to point out where I have been.

Rather than bring up non-related things like John Kerry and believe that your speculation and emotional opinion proves you're right, stick to the real life items at hand.

Already addressed. Your deliberate choice of Winter Soldier II makes the Kerry comparison germane because you invite it by calling yourselves the second incarnation of Winter Soldier. If you conduct yourself in a more above board manner, those suspicions will be allayed.

Posted by: Cass at March 31, 2008 10:41 PM

Great post, Cass.

Posted by: TigerHawk at April 1, 2008 07:13 AM

"Rather than bring up non-related things like John Kerry and believe that your speculation and emotional opinion proves you're right, stick to the real life items at hand."

Aw geez Cassie, you stole my thunder! John Kerry is "non-related" when THEY choose to call THEIR farce WINTER SOLDIER II? Speculation and emotional opinion? Huh? Facts are facts and what you had at Winter Soldier I was a bunch of liars, traitors, seditionists, and bogus pogues that hadn't been within 100 clicks of anything resembling combat. Led by that vastly experienced four month combat vet with the Purple Heart for fraggin' himself in the butt with his own grenade, John F'ing Kerry! My head shakes in rapt wonderment! :-o

Man, talk about throwing yourself under the bus with anyone that has half a brain or is conncected with the military. You can take that one statement and realize there will be nothing, nada, not even a little, of anything that will come out of this that will be credible.

Reminds me of that line from Forrest Gump; "Stupid is as stupid does"!

Posted by: JarheadDad at April 1, 2008 09:20 AM

I've not given WSII much of my attention having seen the original when it first came out, sequels usually being pale shadows of the original production, so please excuse my ignorance, or not... But it seems to me that if you want to make a case of unjust actions on the part of ChimpyBushCheneyHitlerHalliburtonEvilMercenariesЯUS, or any case for that matter, you have to be willing to be deposed or questioned under oath and to have that testimony challenged. Then the depositions/testimony in toto can be evaluated and judgments rendered*. Being sequestered in a room of kindred souls making statements is not the same thing and merits little more credibility than one might give to tales of ghosts told around the campfire.

All that I have seen or read about WSII so far seems to me to be little more than theater in the round... The next generation of Congressional hopefuls and 15 minutes of fame seekers playing to a like-minded crowd.

"fraggin' himself in the butt with his own grenade"
Well in all fairness, he did take out an imminent threat in the form of Asian rice, sympathetic to the VC.

*Officials with the last name of Murtha are exempt from this requirement.

Posted by: bthun at April 1, 2008 10:36 AM


the rice vat didn't do nuthin' to nobody! :-o

Posted by: JHD at April 1, 2008 11:17 AM

There is safety in not only numbers but also familiar settings. Since people choose which beliefs and world views they will invest in, people thus build their house of cards with the cards being the various beliefs and facts they take to be true.

WHen you contradict a person's world view or if new facts and interpretations of facts contradict a historian's working hypothesis, a mental conflict develops. Now you have to consider whether you are in danger due to a mistake you have made or whether the new stimuli is in fact a false alarm and of no consequence to your views unless you take it to be true.

Most human beings prefer security and familiarity. Even the hippies prefered to be surrounded by what, to them, was familiar. Bongs and pot, for example.

Human beings instinctually know that the "unfamiliar" like the dark or strangers, are inherently causes of instability and threats to your self.

The ability of a human being to take the risk of considering new stimuli and modifying their world view, determines how intellectually honest that human being is and how successful that person is in solving real problems in reality with real solutions.

If a person discounts new facts and data simply because it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, this can lead to long term dangers and failures.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 1, 2008 03:34 PM

Stand on your own, if you wish, and I'll listen. But if you deliberately invoke Winter Soldier, you're already coming into this with a heaping helping of skepticism from anyone who remembers Vietnam.

And even from people, like me, that don't remember Vietnam personally, it is still quite audacious to consider that people to this day still feel pride in how they effected the destruction of an entire nation full of people.

Winter Soldiers II celebrates the death and destruction caused by the enemies of humanity. That's quite audacious, especially since they think we can't and shouldn't do anything about them.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 1, 2008 03:36 PM

If you criticize S, then it makes him feel uncomfortable with his self-selected philosophy and world view. There's a sub-conscious knowledge and awareness that being wrong is not a good thing, that being wrong should entail physical pain because if you are wrong too many times, you won't feel anything at all ever after.

Therefore it is more comfortable for some people to think all the problems are with other people, rather than within themselves. That lack of introspection, however, trades long term benefits for short term greed. In the long term, the defeat of south vietnam damaged the long term progress of humanity and removed from the playing field potential allies that were desperatively needed once the next round of warfare came about for America and mankind, i.e. Islamic expansion.

That's not a real problem though for the people that would rather trade their future's and other people's futures simply because facing the fact that they are wrong would be too much of a hassle.

The deal with the devil, in the end, is about temporary but immediate gains traded for long term goals and salvation.

The Left, in the example of slavery and motivating people to go to war with each other, have become very experienced in making deals with evil for personal advantage.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 1, 2008 03:44 PM

Let's dig up Gen. Smedley Butler and burn his body. ;)

Posted by: Gary at April 3, 2008 08:12 AM

I see Scott never came back and backed up his claims, or responded to anyone.

Not that I'm surprised.

Posted by: JannyMae at April 4, 2008 03:32 PM