Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Using Heroes as Propaganda Pawns is Shameful

You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war.
- William Randolph Hearst to artist Frederic Remington in 1897 when Remington reported to Hearst from Cuba that there would be no war there

With so little good news recently, the Bush administration has to be thinking, "What next?" after the two heroes most associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, have come back to haunt them.

Tillman was the NFL star who, after 9/11, gave up his multimillion dollar contract to join the elite Army Rangers. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, with the government reporting that he was shot by the enemy. Jessica Lynch, meanwhile, was taken captive by the enemy in Iraq during the early days of the war in 2003, with the government reporting that she fired every bullet in her weapon before being seized (she was rescued nine days later).

These were great stories, providing faces of dedication and bravery to an administration that needed to show the American people that its judgment was sound. The only problem was, much of the stories were not true.

Yesterday, Lynch and Tillman's brother, Kevin, testified in front of the House Government Reform Committee, and both reported dismay with the way the military disseminated false information to the American people. Yahoo!/AFP Article

Lynch testified that when she was captured, the story released to the media was of a "little girl Rambo" who engaged in a fight with the enemy, fired all of her bullets, and was then captured. The truth, however, is that she was riding in a vehicle that was attacked, and she did not engage in a battle with the enemy. On CNN this morning, Lynch explained that she was knocked unconscious and woke up in custody.

"It was not true ... I'm still confused as to why they choose to lie and try to make me a legend," Lynch testified, according to the Yahoo!/AFP Article . Lynch's idealism is refreshing, but her naivete is apparent. The turning of a 19-year-old female soldier into a Hollywood war movie character was just one bullet point in the administration's overall plan to sell a bogus war. This effort started long before Lynch ever got to Iraq, and it continues to this day. And, of course, there was the matter of Bush's re-election campaign needing to reassure the American people that Bush was the man to lead the country in a time of war.

Meanwhile, Kevin Tillman, Pat Tillman's brother, also testified at the hearing, telling the committee about the Army's report to the family after Pat Tillman's death. "Our family was told that he was shot in the head by the enemy in a fierce firefight outside a narrow canyon," he said, according to the Yahoo!/AFP Article. But, soon after, the family found out that Pat Tillman was the victim of fratricide, killed by "overzealous" members of another U.S. unit. Kevin Tillman also had joined the service after 9/11, giving up a baseball career to do so.

While Lynch did not accuse the Army of doing anything deliberately or for political purposes, Kevin Tillman had no qualms expressing his view of the situation. "Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters, and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable," he told the panel, according to the Yahoo!/AFP Article.

Tillman went on to testify, "A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation's foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was utter fiction" and the product of "deliberate and careful misrepresentations" by the military.

Tillman revealed that soon after his brother's death, the Army destroyed evidence, falsified reports and did not perform the autopsy in accordance with regulations.

The testimony of Lynch and Tillman comes as the President and Congress move towards a showdown on the future of the war in Iraq. As I wrote yesterday, Bush has been essentially saying, "Give me a chance to run the war, and let's see if the surge works." The experiences of Lynch and Pat Tillman just provide more evidence as to why Congress has to stand up to Bush and tell him, "No."

The President loves to talk about how he supports the troops and accuses anyone who disagrees with him of putting U.S. servicepeople in jeopardy. But, in reality, nobody is more of a menace to the troops than Bush himself.

Lynch testified at the hearing, "The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate lies." Lynch and Tillman were undoubtedly heroes. They voluntarily served their country and paid a heavy price for doing so. Bush, on the other hand, is not. He allowed the use of these heroes to further his ambitions. His administration acted as badly as William Randolph Hearst had. It is as if they said, "You provide the potential heroes, and we'll provide the heroic situation." Only, they forgot that these people were already heroes. And, by using them as tools in a propaganda campaign, the administration was as far from heroic as you can get.