When the 173d Airborne Brigade jumped into northern Iraq, Tom Aspell of ITN referred to it as the "173d Airborne Division," inadvertently increasing it from a 3000-man unit to a 15,000-man unit.
Jim Graves, former managing editor of Soldier of Fortune, and the only member of his Marine squad in Vietnam who was not killed or wounded, remembers boarding a Guatemalan army helicopter with a young lady, a reporter for a large metropolitan daily. They were going out to the combat zone, but she wore heels and a skirt. As they ducked under the rotors she turned to him, giggled, and said, "Is this what they call a 'chopper'?"
An adversarial relationship grew up between the military and the press after Vietnam. The military realized that in its 200-plus-year history they had only fought one war with no censorship, and they had only lost one. The same one.
For a time -- Grenada, Desert Storm -- they simply stonewalled the press, treated them like mushrooms. You know, kept in the dark and fed bullshit.
Now the pendulum has swung the other way. An embedded report can be spun, but not spiked. An example of spin is the brouhaha over whether we'd gone in heavy enough. From the amount of verbiage you'd have thought the Iraqis were pushing us into the sea. Coalition forces, the Americans, the Brits, some Aussies -- and here's one you don't hear much about, some Polish Spec Ops people -- had advanced from Kuwait to Baghdad in two weeks with fewer than 50 battle deaths. On Iwo Jima some 200-man Marine companies lost more than that in the first ten minutes.
What this commentary showed was that there are two schools of thought in the Pentagon, usually represented by tankers and jumpers. The tankers believe we should go heavy, deliberately. The jumpers opt for light and fast. This time the light-and-fast guys won, and they came out looking mighty good.
What I really love about embedded reporting is that it shows our GIs as they really are, bright, dedicated, courageous, self-sacrificing. Like the young Marine squad leader, wounded and in the hospital, desperate to get back to his men, lest any die without his guidance. Like Jessica Lynch, Palestine, West Virginia's Miss Congeniality of 2001. She fired up all her ammo against a vicious ambush, and when her first rescuer identified himself as an American soldier, she's reported to have replied, "I'm an American solder, too."
My first two years in the Army were spent teaching basic training, and I came to love GIs. I thought then that they were the greatest kids in the world. I'm glad to see they still are.
But don't be deceived that from TV you can experience war. In war there are no jump cuts, no station breaks, no instant analysis. When you have seen war, you have seen death up close and personal. When you have seen war on television, you have seen a pattern of colored dots on a cathode ray tube.