29 April 2007

Winning hearts and minds...

...one journalist at a time.

It doesn’t matter how skeptical of the war a journalist might be, according to an Army public affairs officer (PAO) who spoke with me about it on condition of anonymity. “So often, they come out of that experience and – even if their opinion of the war hasn’t changed – they’re completely won over by the troops.”

“I was one of those,” admitted Beriain, speaking broken English and blinking away tears. “No matter what you think of the war, or what has happened here, you cannot be around the soldiers and not be completely affected. They are amazing people, and they represent themselves and the Army better than anyone could ever imagine.” A retired Army officer concurred, telling me that “young troops are some of the best good will ambassadors we've ever produced. It would never occur to one to not tell you what he's really thinking, and they are so earnest” that it is almost impossible not to be won over by them if given enough time.

The biggest recent case of a journalist with an anti-war mindset being completely overwhelmed into a change of heart by American soldiers, according to the PAO, was a Greek reporter who had been embedded with a cavalry unit that became entrenched in a 45-minute firefight with insurgents. Taking cover and fearing for his life for the almost hour-long duration of the battle, the journalist had the best view possible of American soldiers in action against an armed and murderous enemy, and credits his having lived to tell the tale directly to those young troops.

“He had tears in his eyes as he talked about it,” said the PAO. “He just kept saying, “they saved my life, they saved my life...these are great men; they are heroes.” He couldn’t get through the story without choking up – and this was a man who had arrived here with all of the disdain for the Iraq mission and for the American soldiers who he saw as the bad guys in this fight.”

Maybe we should deploy a couple of battalions to Capitol Hill.

And who knows? With enough boots on the ground we may even close up that troops/mission disconnect thing.

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