RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Today, we know how millions of Americans felt when Ernie Pyle was killed by a sniper as World War Two drew to a bloody close in the Pacific.
Just as technology has transformed in many ways how war is fought (from Stealth bombers and smart bombs to night-vision goggles and real-time video/data networking of commanders with troops), so has high-tech changed how those of us not at the front see it.
War is hell, as William Sherman said. Just watch it.
The death of NBC’s David Bloom in Iraq, apparently from a blood clot in his lung, hit Gulf War Two watchers like a sledgehammer Sunday morning. Like Pyle, who was killed with the GI Joes he loved so much, Bloom died at the front — at the tip of the spear.
But unlike those fans of Pyle, who had to wait many hours to hear the sad news, we were told of Bloom’s death as NBC’s Today Show came on the air Sunday morning.
It seems likely that someday we’ll be watching a reporter “live” from the front as he or she is killed. War correspondents have been killed before, of course, but what can be called “The Embed War” is bringing us warfare unlike those not involved as soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines have witnessed it before.
Every death in war is tragic – civilian and soldier. But when a journalist or another person such as a soldier we “meet” through the images and words of others and become part of our lives, the death becomes even more personal.
‘Be careful out there’
Retired Marine officer Oliver North apparently came close to getting killed later on Sunday as well. North went on a helicopter raid with US Marines and returned to report the copters had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. Others have been wounded, including John Simpson of the BCC who was wounded in a “friendly fire” incident on Sunday.
“Be careful out there,” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer told Walter Rodgers, whose live reports have made “The Apache Troop” of the US 7th Cavalry a household name in its rapid drive through the Iraqi desert.
Also at the front has been Keith Garvin of WTVD Channell 11 in Durham.
The march to Baghdad, whether you agree with the war or oppose it, has been made an almost every-moment part of our lives. Correspondents such as Bloom and several hundred others “embedded”, as the Pentagon says, with military units have brought us in real time heroism of the troops — men and women — the horror, the drama, the terror, the blood, the cold, the sweat and the tears.
Bloom, just 39 and a husband with three young daughters, was at the forefront literally and figuratively. Not only was he with the Third Infantry Division in its incredible long-distance drive to Baghdad, his reports also were among the most riveting. While he didn’t write as Pyle did, he mixed his video reports with emotion, eye for detail, and camaraderie with the troops (for example, letting one use the satellite connection to talk to his wife about the couple’s new baby.) Bloom as well as other “embeds” have made the war nearly as personal as Pyle did with his riveting prose.
He is not the first of the embeds to die. Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly died along with a US soldier when the Humvee in which they were driving plunged into a canal. And at least one British correspondent, who was not embedded, was killed.
It’s war, it’s live, 7 by 24
Through the wonders of technology, war watchers have been able to follow the drive to Baghdad in real time — a remarkable yet at times horrifying and terrifying achievement. While our parents and grandparents had to wait for weekly movies and newspaper dispatches, such as the ones so eloquently written by Pyle and others, we can tune in cable news and the Internet at any time, any place to get the latest news.
Sure, we saw aspects of Gulf War One live from Baghdad in 1991. No one watching CNN that night ever will forget the images narrated by that intrepid CNN crew cowering in a hotel. The war established CNN as a news force.
But the technology explosion following the end of that war through the 90s – the birth of the Internet, satellite TV and data transmission, high-speed bandwidth on demand via circuit and now wireless — has made this war a 7-by 24-deluge.
Through the Net and cable TV, everyone on every side of practically any debate can find news, information and opinions on which to make better informed decisions, be entertained, or harden their own views.
The idea of embedding correspondents came from the Pentagon, in part a reaction to demands from news organizations for access that was denied for the most part in Gulf War One.
As a result, ABC’s venerable Ted Koppel (three times the age of many front-line troops), Bloom, Rogers, Fox’s Rick Leventhal, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta (a doctor who has assisted in surgery with the unit he was embedded with, the “Devil Docs”), NBC’s Bob Arnot (also a doctor), CNN’s Jane Arraf and so many others have risked their lives to do their jobs.
Among the most unforgettable events had to be Fox’s Greg Keely reporting live on the first armored raid into Baghdad that lasted for three hours.
Other media soldiers, if you will, include print reporters and photographers from so many newspapers and the cameramen and engineers supporting the live broadcasts.
Geraldo and live ‘intel’
The Pentagon took risks with this strategy. Some reporters, such as Fox’s Geraldo Rivera, were removed from the front for violating guidelines on what information can be disclosed. Rivera, bending down to draw a map in the sand showing 101st Airborne positions, could have been disastrous.
Other reporters risked life and limb by reporting from Baghdad. Some were arrested, jailed and expelled. Others have been seen ducking as bombs hit nearby. Peter Arnett, working for NBC in Baghdad, was fired after he appeared on Iraqi TV, talking about how the US war plan had, in his view, failed. But before that event, Arnett provided sensational reporting of the “shock and awe” strikes on downtown Baghdad.
While there have been deaths among the correspondents, they did not die in vain. Perhaps to witness war as we have through their eyes and electronic wonders will make war a less common event in man’s future.
Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.