- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Are there no limits to the comfort and support being given to our enemies by our so-called news media? On the front page of the Oct. 20 issue of USA Today, we find the headline “Put to test, 300 Iraqi troops fled.” But in the fine print we find that 2,000 other Iraqi troops stuck with U.S. forces in taking the militant stronghold in Samarra. The one of eight who purportedly fled got the headline: The seven of eight who remained and fought were mentioned as an afterthought. American successes in Iraq are ignored or minimized — only shortcomings are highlighted.

The Vietnam conflict was lost by the treason of our news media as it falsely reported the Tet offensive of 1968 as a defeat. In 1968, I was a combat surgeon at the U.S. Naval Support Hospital in Danang. Since we were also a prisoner of war hospital, we treated the enemy’s wounded as well as our own. After the Tet offensive, we noted that our prisoners, who had been mostly Viet Cong (Communist South Vietnamese forces), were mostly North Vietnamese troops. Why? Because in the Tet offensive we killed 60,000 of the estimated 80,000 Viet Cong combatants virtually overnight. North Vietnam had to send its troops to replace the Viet Cong. The Tet offensive was an unmitigated military disaster for North Vietnam. The Viet Cong finally came out to fight (ambushes and guerrilla tactics had been the norm previously) — and we destroyed them. A national uprising against the Americans, which Tet’s simultaneous countrywide attacks were intended to incite, never happened.

Our press, however, falsely reported the Tet offensive as a defeat for the Americans, harping on that distortion incessantly until it had destroyed the will of the American public to continue the war. That misrepresentation in the press coverage of Vietnam is well documented in “The Big Story — How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington” by the longtime journalist and the director of communications at the Library of Congress, Peter Braestrup.

Our “free press” rendered futile our losses of life and limb in Vietnam. That massive deception still seems, to me, as unreal and impossible as the haunting images of those planes penetrating the twin towers on September 11.

Our desertion of Vietnam has certainly emboldened our enemy in the war on terror. One must wonder if September 11 would even have happened had we stayed and won in Vietnam. Our withdrawal graphically demonstrated the Achilles’ heel of our democracy is its susceptibility to allowing its very freedoms to be used to destroy it. We say that our freedoms do not include the right to falsely cry “fire” in a crowded theater. But we allowed our “free press” to do its equivalent in its distortions about Vietnam. We are currently allowing it to do the same thing in its reporting about Iraq, which is frighteningly similar to that about Vietnam in its misleading content, distorted focus and malignant effect.

In previous wars, enemy goals varied from changing our way of thinking to gaining control of our resources. In the war on terror, however, al Qaeda terrorists want us dead. They suffer from a boundless psychotic hate borne of envy and impotence: Only our deaths will satisfy them. During World War II, we censored our press. Yet now, in a war against terrorists — whose very life’s blood is publicity — we continue to allow our press to mislead our people and support our enemy.

Thus far, battles in the war on terror are not being fought in our homeland — yet our press is too busy dwelling on anything it can interpret as bad. The American presence continues to draw terrorists into Iraq, where we are very successfully annihilating them, just as we did the Viet Cong in the Tet offensive of 1968. But our terrorist enemies are counting on the cooperation of our media to act as it did in reporting events from Vietnam: And our media is complying. Its subtle propaganda of ending news broadcasts with the names of those killed in Iraq tears at the emotions of our populace.

Yet the very broadcasting of these names verifies how minimal our losses on the battlefields of the war on terror have been. Had the media broadcast the names of the hundreds of thousands of American combatants lost in World War II, there would have been no time for anything else. The American people need to ponder, long and seriously, the consequences of freedom of the press unfettered by responsibility, accountability or rational perspective — the freedom of the press to commit treason. We could afford to lose the Vietnam conflict: We cannot afford to lose the war on terror.

Martin L. Fackler formerly directed the Wound Ballistics Laboratory at the Presidio of San Francisco.

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