Saturday, May 06, 2006

Catching up on a view from behind the NYTimes paywall: Bob Herbert

In retrospect, I should have included Bob Herbert among those journalists recognized by Lyssa Strada as being Real Men. All along, before and during the war, Herbert has consistently written about the impact of the news on the lives of real people. The war, the tax breaks, Katrina, the increasing wage gap and the new uneasiness of the now precarious middle class, are among the stories he has tackled with humanity and insight.

In a recent column, "Warfare as It Really Is" (May 1st), Herbert describes some of the realities of war as seen in the documentary, "Baghdad ER," (due to be released on May 21st). An excerpt:

Above all else, war is about the suffering of individuals. The suffering is endured mostly by the young, and these days the government and the media are careful to keep the worst of it out of the sight of the average American. That way we can worry in peace about the cost of the gasoline we need to get us to the mall.''

Baghdad ER'' is going to tell us right in the comfort of our living rooms that there is really horrible stuff going on over there in Iraq, and whether we think this is a good war or a bad war, we need to be paying closer attention to the human consequences.''

We tried to put a human face on the war,'' said Sheila Nevins, the head of documentary programming at HBO. ''It's a part of the story that hasn't really been told.''

[snip]

A member of the operating room team, commenting on the amputation of a soldier's thumb and the partial amputation of his ring finger, says that the patient who immediately preceded him ''lost his left arm and his right leg above the knee. And, you know, there was a couple of marines in here the other day, one lost both his arms, the other lost both his legs. And this is a bad injury, but certainly could have been worse.''

The movie does not shrink from those instances in which the G.I.'s do not survive. We see doctors all but begging the patient to make it. We see buddies weeping. We see a chaplain speaking softly to a mortally wounded marine:'

'We don't want you to go. We want you to fight. But if you can't, it's O.K. to go. It's O.K. to go. But we'll be right with you. If you get better, or if you go.''

In an even more recent column, "When Warriors Come Home" (May 4th), Herbert bemoans the invisibililty of the wounded to most Americans, who are shielded from such images by a press that is all too willing to oblige the president by not writing about the devastating personal cost to those who serve in Iraq, and are grievously wounded, yet survive injuries that will change their lives. Not to mention, the effects on their families...

The extent of the suffering caused by the war seldom penetrates the consciousness of most Americans. For the public at large, the dead and the wounded are little more than statistics. They're out of sight, and thus mostly out of mind.

The media are much more focused on the trendy problem of steroids in baseball than, say, the agony of the once healthy young men and women who are now struggling to resurrect their lives after being paralyzed, or losing their eyesight, or shedding one or two or three or even four limbs in Iraq.

The truth is that the suffering comes in myriad forms. I spoke by phone this week with Stefanie Pelkey, a former Army captain who lives in Spring, Tex., with her 3-year-old son, Benjamin. Her husband, Michael, a captain with the First Armored Division, was sent to Iraq just a few weeks after Benjamin was born. Michael was a big man, 6 feet 4 1/2 inches tall, who loved to play golf and, like President Bush, ride his bicycle.

[snip]

A civilian family therapist eventually told Captain Pelkey that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that he be put on medication. Ms. Pelkey said her husband seemed hopeful after receiving the diagnosis, but just a week later he shot himself to death in their living room.

Ms. Pelkey told me that her husband had been reluctant to discuss his time in Iraq, but she knew that he had seen soldiers die, and that he had been affected by the sight of civilian casualties and the suffering of children.

In Ms. Pelkey's view, her husband was as much a casualty of the war as a soldier killed in combat. ''Just as some soldiers perish from bullet wounds or other trauma of war,'' she said, ''Michael perished from the psychic wounds of war.''

3 Comments:

Blogger Tiresias said...

What can we expect when chickenhawks who ducked Vietnam try to regain their manhood with a phony war?

3:46 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

As always, great piece Karen! I also wonder how much the attitude towards the violence around is has been tempered by the cartoony style of violence in video games and on television. People become so inured to it that it somehow loses its power.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Karen M said...

That's just what we need, another cartoon, or maybe a sitcom, featuring recognizable caricatures from the lapdog press.

Only on Fox (or cable) would that be possible... with a couple of the main characters played by Foghorn Leghorn and the chickenhawk that's always after him.

9:04 AM  

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