(By Ray D.)
SPIEGEL ONLINE writes today that "the USA is crying over its dead soldiers." This incredibly smug, arrogant comment begets one simple question: What nation would not cry for its dead soldiers, regardless the situation? In another piece, entitled "After Iraq Duty: Traumatized US Soldier Dismembers Girlfriend", the publication details one particularly gruesome and sensational murder. Yet instead of treating it as an isolated incident, the article transitions the horrific murder into a broader discussion of mental health within the U.S. military. A subheadline halfway through reads: "US Soldiers often end as psychological wrecks." The article claims that "researchers" now believe that their are "hundreds of thousands of mentally ill GIs." To back the claim, the author cites a study from the Government Accountability Office, from September 2004. As further evidence of the so-called trauma, he cites a rash of killings in which soldiers murdered their wives or partners...back in 2002. One has to wonder why he didn't cite more recent facts, like those that appeared last week in the Washington Post:
"Nearly 64,000 of the more than 184,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have sought VA health care were found to exhibit potential symptoms of post-traumatic stress, drug abuse or other mental disorders as of the end of June, according to the latest report by the Veterans Health Administration. Of those, close to 30,000 had possible post-traumatic stress disorder, said the report, which was completed in August and recently obtained by the Associated Press.
Kussman said the number of troops reporting symptoms of stress probably represents a "gross overestimation" of those actually suffering from mental health disorders. Most of the troops who return from Iraq have "normal reactions to abnormal situations," such as flashbacks or trouble sleeping, Kussman said."
Note the difference in tone. Unlike SPIEGEL ONLINE, the Washington Post actually attempts objectivity. The Post mentions both the positive and negative aspects of the story. Instead of simply declaring hundreds of thousands of US troops "mentally ill" with little supporting evidence or clarification (as SPIEGEL ONLINE does) the Post actually attempts to explain the facts and details behind the headline.
For SPIEGEL ONLINE, the headline is the story and the author works to align the facts to support his premise. Facts that don't fit the headline are simply omitted. And, as we know from three years of covering SPIEGEL ONLINE, the headline is very often a product of the ideology and bias of the editors. In this case, the headline is a product of the publication's long-term campaign to malign and vilify members of the United States military.
Operation "Rambo": The Secret Special Troops of the USA
This is particularly ironic considering the fact that the good people at SPIEGEL ONLINE owe their freedom of speech to the very people that they so enthusiastically demonize. Let's not forget that it was the American soldier who stood guard along the Iron Curtain, not the German journalist.
That said, we know that war takes a tremendous toll on all involved, particularly members of the military and their families. The picture presented the German public, however, is one based largely on extremes, spin and preconceived stereotypes. The larger forest of reality is being missed for all the ideological trees: Iraq is the greatest debacle in human history and American soldiers are either barbaric murderers, trigger-happy Rambos or demoralized victims.
A favorite line of late has been that the US military is fighting with its "last contingent". This despite the fact that the US military has announced it will meet recruiting goals for 2006. The Army, which has taken the most casualties, has exceeded recruitment goals. But don't expect those facts to be mentioned anytime soon in most German media. They don't fit the image of a demoralized, crumbling U.S. military widely popularized and accepted as fact in much of the German media. In other words, they don't support the desired headline.
Panorama Propaganda Revisited
Another popular line has been to present American soldiers as sadistic murderers and criminals by playing up sensational cases and implying they are part of a larger pattern. ARD Panorama "journalists" Voelker Steinhoff and John Goetz have exhibited particular skill in this field. Just compare two televised reports they worked on recently depicting members of the U.S. military as brutal murderers. Both reports omit key facts and both imply that alleged murders and atrocities committed by American troops are part of a larger pattern in the United States military. Even the music and format are the same...
Not only does this style of "journalism" dehumanize members of the United States military, it also presents readers a warped version of reality that has little to do with the search for objective truth. But, then again, publications like SPIEGEL ONLINE and programs like Panorama have never been interested in the search for objective truth.
The bottom line is this: The larger context and balancing facts required to place sensational cases into perspective are downplayed or simply omitted. The ultimate loser is the German news consumer and anyone interested in transatlantic understanding. Sad but true...
UPDATE: Yet another outrageous example from Stern: An article detailing Seymour Hersh's assertion that US forces in Iraq represent the "Most Murderous US Army of All Time."