for The Guardian (London)
It was pure war-nography. The front page of the New York Times today splashed a four-column-wide close-up of a blood-covered bullet in the blood-soaked hands of an army medic who'd retrieved it from the brain of Lance Cpl. Colin Smith.
There was a 40 column-inch profile of the medic. There were photos of the platoon, guns over shoulders, praying for the fallen buddy. The Times is careful not to ruin the heroic mood, so there is no photograph of pieces of corporal Smith's shattered head. Instead, there's an old, smiling photo of the wounded soldier.
The reporter, undoubtedly wearing the Kevlar armor of the troop in which he's "embedded," quotes at length the thoughts of the military medic:
"I would like to say that I am a good man. But seeing this now, what happened to Smith, I want to hurt people. You know what I mean?"
The reporter does not bother -- or dare -- to record a single word from any Iraqi in the town of Karma where Smith's platoon was, "performing a hard hit on a house."
I don't know what a "hard hit" is. But I don't think I'd want one "performed" on my home. Maybe Iraqis feel the way I do.
We won't know. The only Iraqi mentioned by the reporter was, "a woman [who] walked calmly between the sniper and the marines."
The Times reporter informs us that Lance Cpl. Smith, "said a prayer today," before he charged into the village. We're told that Smith had, "the cutest little blond girlfriend" and "his dad was his
hero." Did the calm woman also say her prayers today? Is her dad her hero, too? We don't know. No one asks.
The reporter and his photographer did visit a home in the neighborhood -- but only after the "hit" force kicked in the door. I suppose that's an improvement over the typical level of reporting we get. In the reports broadcast home by the few US journalists who brave beyond the Green Zone, Iraqis are little more than dark shapes glimpsed through the slots of a speeding Humvee.
Last month there was a big hoo-ha over the statistical accuracy of a Johns Hopkins University study estimating that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of this war.
I doubt the Iraqi who fired that bullet into Lance Cpl. Smith read the Hopkins study. Iraqis don't need a professor of statistics to tell them what happens in a "hard hit" on a house. Of civilians killed by the US military, 46% are less than fifteen years old.
I grieve for Lance Cpl. Smith and I can't know for certain what moved the sniper to pick up a gun and shoot him. However, I've no doubt that, like the soldiers who said prayers before they invaded the
homes of the terrified residents of Karma, the sniper also said a prayer before he loaded the 7.62mm shell into his carbine.
And if we asked, I'm sure the sniper would tell us, "I am a good man, but seeing what happened, I want to hurt people."